10 Challenges of Change

At a recent conference for pastors and leaders of my denomination, there was a call to embrace change. The first plenary speaker clearly defined reality and I was optimistic about what was to come and was not disappointed. After having time to digest the event I feel there may have been one glaring omission, or at least something I didn’t hear. 

I have been been a pastor in four different contexts. In the three congregations I have led, we have seen growth as a result of the blessing of God and the impact of change. In each of those ministry settings, people looked in from the outside and saw the romantic side of change. What they didn’t see was the challenge. Here is what I have learned about the challenges associated with leading change.

  1. There is a personal price to pay for leading a congregation through any change. It does not matter how desperately a congregation wants change, there is always a price to pay. I have been called “The Anti-Christ of the Church of the Nazarene.” I have been called, “The Worst Mistake this Church Ever Made.” A pastor needs to count the cost while understanding you likely won’t calculate the cost clearly before you begin.

  2. The people who join you in the change will also pay a price for that change. You will pastor a congregation where people have attended for decades. They will have made friends that have lasted a lifetime. When one supports the change and the friend does not, change can have a significant impact on the friendship. Mark my words here - the people God entrusts to you will pay a price for your leading the congregation through change. You must shepherd your people well through their grief. This is harder to do than you might expect. 

  3. The congregation as a whole will pay a price for going through change. Someone will ask, “What have you done to my church?” A changed congregation will pay a price for change. Those who stay will and those who leave will be impacted by the change.

  4. Many in our congregations are more in love with the idea of change than they are change itself. This is basic human behavior, I suppose. Considering the Israelites cried out to God to be set free from slavery in Egypt then complained for the next 40 years when they were set free, we should probably expect some of the same.

  5. If you start the process of leading a congregation through change, commit to the congregation until the changes become a part of the culture of the congregation. This process requires more than policy shifts. It requires a shift in the mentality of the majority that includes the leaders of the congregation. If either the majority or the leaders do not embrace the change then the likelihood for irreconcilable conflict to erupt at your departure is very high. 

  6. There is no one formula for leading change. The gospel of Jesus Christ and a relationship with the Holy Spirit forms the core of the building. Every house has essential parts but how those parts are put together and what it looks like from the outside can be very unique. Everything outside of the essentials requires wisdom, discernment and partnerships on how best to lead change according to the will of God in your particular context.

  7. Change cannot be determined by your past congregations and contexts. Each local community and community of faith need to have an impact on the pace of change and what is changed. The risk of harming a congregation exponentially increases when the local congregation and community context are not taken into account in your decision making related to change.

  8. You will need thick skin. You will be misunderstood and maligned. People will speak badly about you in public when you never thought they were capable of doing so. There will be times when your family may be attacked. This is a part of the cost. You must lay down your obsession with making everyone happy.

  9. You will need a soft heart. Jesus tells us to love our enemies and bless those who persecute us. Those who attacked you, but remain in the congregation, are still going to get sick or have loved ones pass away. They will need pastoral care. In order to give or oversee that care, you will need a soft heart. We don’t lead change to make people angry nor are decisions to be made because someone won’t like it. We lead change that will result in making disciples who make disciples and this requires we reach the lost with the good news about Jesus Christ.

  10. God will give you glimpses of how change is making a positive impact. Hold tight to those glimpses. They will keep you going and fill your heart with hope that God is indeed at work in your local context. You are right, this isn’t a challenge but…

I bought an iPhone XR today and the young man at the Apple store asked me what I did for a living. He started asking a bunch of questions that an “insider” might ask. After I asked him where he goes to church, he related how he spent the first 20 years of his life in a church that has changed nothing and seems to be protecting its tradition. He shared how he began to consider leaving his church until he heard about a different one whose mission includes, “We will do everything except sin to reach the lost.” He shared the joy that he has found in being a part of something that is impacting eternity.

Eternity is at stake here my friends. We need to carefully count the cost and press forward into the mission field that has been entrusted to us. It will be hard and there will be sacrifice. However, when lives are transformed by the power of Jesus Christ and disciples are made, you will find excitement. Our Father has sent His Spirit in front of you to lead the way. It is time to follow Him into the mission and lead in the change required for His Church to join us there.