8 Key Leadership Tasks for Navigating Change at Church
In my article, “A Formula for Navigating Change at Church,” I share a tried and true pattern to help leaders discern if their church has the right components to effectively guide their congregation through change. Once church leaders have processed how the Change Formula applies in their environment, leaders often ask, “What can I do to take my church through change? What are the needed skills and competencies I should be focused on?”
Here are eight key tasks for leaders to focus on in order to navigate change well at church:
1. Develop next practices while excelling at best practices.
There's a basic idiom when it comes to organizational change–yesterday's solutions are today's problems. What were you solving yesterday that created a problem for today? If we keep doing the things we were doing yesterday, they're likely not going to get us to the new place we want to go. Take time to evaluate your strategies.
As you think about best practices, ask: What is it that we're good at? What needs to begin to change?
I believe the most effective learner is the professional amateur. You must become nimble and good at learning because the skills you used to get where you are—the solutions you provided—are not necessarily all the skills and solutions you need to move forward.
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2. Distinguish the essential from the expendable.
What is essential? What I would define as essential is the DNA of the church. Kevin Ford, one of my partners, wrote a book called Transforming Church. He wrote about a church’s DNA being made up of the following: the vision of the church, the future mission, and the core values. These are not likely to change. In other words, be who God made you to be.
What might need to change is your strategy. What's expendable? The how. In my church, we decided to get rid of pews in favor of chairs and cancel Sunday school to move Bible study to home groups. You would have thought somebody had suggested we shoot Santa Claus. But ultimately, those were really just strategies.
3. Run small experiments.
Leadership is always an experiment in itself. One of my favorite phrases is in Acts 15 when the disciples said, "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us." They did not say, “It's what God said.” We might say, “We really believe this is where God is leading us.” Leadership is an experiment. Do experiments in small increments and fail fast. If it doesn't work, then try something new—being open with the congregation. When people tell me they're innovative, I ask, “What did you do that didn’t work?” Innovation only takes place in a space where people have the freedom to fail. They have the space to experiment.
4. Depersonalize conflict.
When you step into the space of leading change, you become attractional for conflict. But, it's not about you. It's simply the role you're playing. If you love God and you’re trying to walk with integrity and do what is right, you're still going to get resistance. If you don't have the tenacity or the ability to live in your own skin and face conflict, then you might want to switch roles. Leadership is about moving people into change. If Jesus spent his entire ministry making people happy, he never would have gotten to the cross.
5. Create a safe place to process.
One of the key things for leaders to do is create a safe place for people to process change and the grief that often surrounds it. In my role, I do two things: I create safe places, and I ask questions people should wrestle with. People often have the answers inside of them, but we have to create safe places for them to explore and find those answers.
6. Generate leadership and ownership.
Ministry is not the staff's job. It's the staff's job to equip the saints to do the ministry. We have to transfer ownership about the success of the church from you to the congregation. Although you love it, it is not your church.
For example, the Bible doesn’t say that Sunday school should turn my kids into Billy Graham. It's the parents' responsibility to spiritually nurture the child. But sometimes we take the ownership of spiritual development away from parents and place it on Sunday school teachers or a Christian education program. Part of the purpose of these programs is to equip parents to equip. It's about constantly shifting ownership.
7. Distribute leadership.
I hear many leaders say they are so tired. Why? It's because they are carrying too much water. Sometimes, as leaders, we feel like that's our role, but it’s really about a shared leadership.
As we took vacations when the kids were growing up, I would ask them, "Where do you want to go?" One summer, my daughter said, "Let's go study Peru." We hiked the Inca Trail into Machu Picchu. Why? Because she had done a book report about South America and Peru. But, guess who was excited about going on our family vacations? Our kids! They were invested.
Remember, the same deposit of the Holy Spirit that is in you as a leader is in your congregation. But sometimes we still live in Old Testament theology. We think, “I got it. I'll go figure it out. And then I'll come down and tell you where we're going.” Then, we get frustrated that people won't come along.
8. Mobilize others to generate solutions.
Part of leadership involves bringing people with you. One of my favorite metaphors, when it comes to creating solutions, is Pandora. When you sign up for Pandora, you indicate what vocalists you like. You listen to them and get suggestions on other artists you might like. If you like them? You hear their songs again. If you don’t like them? You don't. It's a co-creative process.
It's an archaic mentality that senior leadership is solely responsible for coming up with what everyone is supposed to be doing. If you want ownership, you have to have involvement. Remind people that it is their church. Ask, what are you going to do? Then listen. It's about engaging people in ownership and inviting them to offer and implement solutions.
About Kurt Andre
Kurt André is a master-certified coach who helps government, business, church, and nonprofit leaders deal with the practical aspects of transformational change. His passion for leader development and his interpersonal skills enables him to successfully transform groups of strong individuals into high performing teams. His professional experience includes working with multiple generations, from Baby Boomers to GenXers to Millennials. His Ph.D. work centered on post-modernism, and Kurt has long studied and consulted with churches and companies on the unique ways Millennials view and engage in the church and world, both under the banner of TAG Consulting, and his own company, Transformational Coaching and Consulting International. Kurt has written numerous articles, contributed to several anthologies and has served as an adjunct professor at Eastern University. He is currently writing a book on creating high-performance teams, titled: “Eagles in Formation; Creating High-Performance Teams from High Performers.”