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Who’s Ready For Change?

When we first began to address the health of church leadership through the Best Practices for Church Boards workshops, it didn’t take long to realize the wide range of potential that existed. Soon after the first workshop, the need to train individuals for board leadership was expressed … answered by the Personal Edition. Immediately, church boards began to express a shared desire to explore critical issues … giving rise to the Advanced Workshop. All along the way, we have been building a toolbox of resources for church leaders. So, it was only natural that churches would propel us to a higher level of response.

One of the more critical requests that emerged was for the sort of personal consultation that a church would receive as help in plotting out a future plan. The Advanced Workshop of 2007 focused on that process. The Role of the Board in Strategic Planning and Vision Development, as prepared by Dr. Horita, helped chart a process that would help church leaders fulfill the first of their two board governing imperatives: To Direct. [The second imperative, as identified by Jim Brown in his book The Imperfect Board Member … is “to protect”, but that’s another topic in itself.]

To Direct … the mandate to sense God’s unique purpose [vision] for a congregation and plot a specific course into that future [strategic plan.] As an initial topic, the advanced workshop only whetted the appetite. Over the last year, we’ve begun to discover just how many churches would ask for help to pursue the process.

For over a year, I have focused my research on various agencies who provide such help: consultation, coaching… At last count, I had reviewed 12 different programmed responses, and received training and certification in 4. These range from Outreach Canada’s Vision Renewal to Christian Swartz’s Natural Church Development … to Church Central’s Church Coaching, George Bullard’s Spiritual Journeys … the list is long. It’s been a fascinating study. I’ve discovered a number of features that are unique to each. I’ve also discovered that each have their own similar outline.

One of the great assets that we have gained as the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches has been the experience of our new president, Dr. John Kaiser. His partnership with Dr. Paul Borden has given us an inside view of  a process [Growing Healthy Churches] that has led to the Church Consultation Process that Dr. Horita has begun to deploy. That, along with the wide variety of resources that we’ve studied has open a repertoire of tools that allows us to address the unique character of each church.

One of the central issues that unlocks the process in any congregation is a readiness to change. I was fascinated to note, in my research, that change is a natural element to institutional life. In one study, it was noted that thirty years ago, churches could expect programs to have a life-cycle of approximately 5 years. It would take one to two years for people to settle on a mission, and a method, and start a ministry – that would remain effective for approximately 5 years before it would lose it’s impact and need to change.

For any number of reasons, the speed of society has shrunk the “shelf-life” of ministry. In 2006, a study posted online with Leadership Journal reported that programs now have a life-cycle of 2 to 3 years. The required time for preparation has remained the same. But, the speed of life has accelerated the need for change.

Several weeks ago, I met with a group of church leaders who have expressed a desire for a Church Consultation. As I sought to expose them to the path that they would face, we began by addressing the word: Change.

In one of the better books I’ve found on the subject, Leading Change in the Congregation [Alban Institute Publications, 2001] Gilbert Rendle writes “Working with congregations in change is not a dispassionate proposition. While working with goals and programs of the congregation, leaders will also be confronted with emotions … It is important for leaders to know what they and their congregation are feeling …The more helpful response of leaders is to wonder and question what message the feelings being expressed carry for the congregation.” [p. 106-107]

I found that it was really helpful to adapt an exercise from Rendle’s book [The Roller Coaster of Change] by asking the leaders to assess their personal attitude toward risk and change. I know it sounds simple, but my suspicion is that when you boil it down, people have one of two fears when it comes to change: They fear that there will be TOO MUCH change … or … they fear that there will be TOO LITTLE change.

We used a simple scale 1 to 5. 1 represented those who tend to fear ANY change as too much: they value stability above all else. The thought of change can be hateful to them. 5, on the other hand, represented those who delight in change and fear that they won’t get enough to satisfy their eagerness: they value creativity and flexibility.

Once we settled on the definitions, I asked the leaders to do three things: Using the scale – a line of 1 to 5 – they were to, each one, put 3 letters: M – where they felt that the majority of the membership in the congregation would land … L – where they felt that the leadership of the church was most comfortable as a group … and I – where they, personal, would identify their own attitude toward change.

The results were fascinating. They discovered that as a group of leaders, they shared more than they had expected – and were “readier” than they had thought to face the challenge. They also discovered, after some conversation, how they would be able to care for the congregation as they began to discuss new directions for the future. It gave them a place to begin.

It’s an assessment, I believe, that every group of leaders should take according to the responsibility to provide direction. As the advertisements say, results may vary … but insight is required as leaders seek to refresh vision, renew commitments, focus with clarity and serve with great effect.

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