Overcoming obstacles to change
Leading is a challenge even in the most tranquil of circumstances within congregations today. When you add the layer of introducing or working toward change on top of the myriad of things already required, “challenging” may feel too soft a word. But there are ways to lead past the common internal and external obstacles to change.
“In leading change, we are leading people. We should be careful, therefore, to attack the problems that arise rather than the people we lead.”
1. Know that relationships are key.
Being a person of impeccable integrity is without question a need in any public leadership role, most especially in the church. Taking time to know and love the people whom you lead, including those who are at times hard to love, is also important. In a word, it comes back to relationships. Good leaders, leaders who earn the right to lead change, know that relationships are key — building them and maintaining them. Mobilizing the right people to support the change initiative is far easier when one already has a solid relationship with those people.
As a leader, you will always be steps ahead of those you lead in any change process. You have been thinking, praying, and strategizing about this change for some time. A common mistake even professional communicators often make is to discount the amount and frequency of communication needed to convince others of a needed change. Getting people’s attention can be challenging. Using multiple mediums to communicate (print, digital, social, sermons, interpersonal interaction, groups) is important when we consider people’s patterns of participation and listening in today’s ministry settings.
3. Respect the past.
Many congregational members have invested years of energy, participation, leadership, and giving to their church. For these people, the relationship with their church borders on sacred. Also, the church is often perceived as the one last steady rock in a world of vast change. Is it any wonder that change in churches is looked upon suspiciously?
By showing respect for an institution’s past story, important chapters, and victories, a leader demonstrates not only respect but also reverence for the common foundation that those in the congregational system share and have inherited. Failure to demonstrate this respect and understanding of context and heritage will only reinforce inclinations of suspicion and distrust that may be simmering below the surface.
4. Attack problems not people.
One must remember that in leading change we are leading people. We should be careful, therefore, to attack the problems that arise rather than the people we lead. We want to help people see that we are for them even when we may not be 100 percent for their ideas. We want to communicate that we love and respect those we lead, even when we may be frustrated by their behavior or words.
Here are four quick techniques for dealing with the problem and not the person:
- Believe the best. Refuse to diminish or demonize one who has another viewpoint.
- Empathize with your opponent. Put yourself in his or her shoes.
- Wait a day. A cooling-off period is usually not a bad idea in the volatile work of change.
- Reply relationally. This means face-to-face or at least voice-to-voice. Don’t use a text or email.
5. Check your ego.
A troubling obstacle that rears its head in leaders is the obstacle of ego. It manifests itself as the need to be in charge of everything. Tackling complex change may be more than one leader can manage himself or herself. Delegation and group ownership will become important elements in any change process. If a leader always has to be in charge, the probability of significant change taking root in a congregational system will be severally limited.
Excerpted and adapted from The Changing Church: Finding Your Way to God’s New Thing by Daniel M. Cash and William H. Griffith, copyright © 2019 by Judson Press.