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Along the Journey  |  

How do I get them to change?

Here are three statements I’ve made more times than I care to admit about church members, colleagues and family members:


I said the second one to myself just the other day about my husband and mowing the lawn.

As in, “If only he would mow the lawn more often–” In the balance between overfunctioning and underfunctioning, I’m the one who overall tends to overfunction, which can show up as bossiness and resentment (of course, I’m not willing to mow the lawn myself…).


In ministry (not to mention in family life) it’s easy to look at others and how things would be so much easier if they changed:



Here’s another approach: Focus on yourself and your own clarity and response.

Instead of “if only they…” you can consider what you want, what you will do and what you will not do.


Dr. Murray Bowen said, “Whatever one has to influence the crowd has to do with changing oneself within it.” He talked about “…not trying to appeal to others to do better,” adding, “The minute one starts focusing on what is wrong with the other, one has lost one’s orientation. Then whether or not you accomplish it depends on whether the other does it.” (“Leadership,” video interview with  Paulina McCullough, Western Pennsylvania Family Center, 1990)


Not trying to appeal to others to do better? Wait: Isn’t that what ministry is all about? And preaching? And stewardship? And don’t forget about  parenting too.


Not necessarily. People hate being told what to do.

I once asked a youth group, “When your parents tell you what to do, does it make you want to do the opposite?”

They all vigorously nodded. Adults aren’t that different.


Instead of focusing on what is wrong with others and then appealing to them to do better, here are five other ideas:

  1. Share one of your most important principles.
  2. Define yourself on a decision that’s on the table. (“Here’s what I think…”) Then stop talking.
  3. Ask them what they think. Then listen without trying to convince them otherwise or joining them in their view.
  4. Tell them your most important priority right now.
  5. Invite them to join you in something (without expecting them to say yes or no).


This approach means 1) you take some time, alone, to get clear about what you do think, what are your principles and priorities and ideas. And 2) you are well enough connected with people so they can hear you.

Note: if you are not trying to admonish them or change their minds they will almost automatically be more open to listen.

Oh, and here’s another idea, #6. Make a simple request, without complaining and without emotion. Like: “Will you mow the lawn this week?” After decades of marriage, I’m a little better at it.

Rev. Margaret Marcuson offers a way pastors can bring their best to their ministry without giving it all away, so they can have a greater impact and find more satisfaction. To learn more visit www.margaretmarcuson.com.

Along the Journey