by Mark Taylor
How do you feel about change?
It is the universal experience of seeing things today that are so much different than they were just a year or maybe even a week ago.
Some people love change. They redecorate their living rooms, trade in their cars, or cycle their wardrobe regularly. They’re never satisfied with the way things are, always looking for something better.
Some people avoid change. They don’t want to spend the money to buy new. They don’t want to learn how to use something different. They’re comfortable with the way things are.
Where do you fall on the continuum between resisting and craving change? Your answer may say a lot about how you approach your ministry as an elder.
We live in an era of unprecedented change. By the time we understand one sociological trend, another has taken its place. By the time we figure out how to use our smartphone or web-enabled TV or self-parking car, a different version is on the market. And sometimes older folks like me yearn to retreat from the pace of change and just resign ourselves to the fact that the world is passing us by.
Of course, that’s not the attitude for a leader. Leaders anticipate, embrace, and initiate change. Leaders know you can’t build a house without digging up a foundation. You can’t grow a crop without breaking up the dirt. You can’t rear a child without constantly buying him larger shoes and shirts.
We can’t reach our communities for Christ with the same programs, building, church staff, or strategies created ten, twenty, or thirty years ago.
Do you talk about change in your elders’ meetings? Who suggests them – the elders or minister? How do you cope with suggestions for rearranging or rethinking how you do ministry?
Every group of elders must face the fact that leading and supporting change is part of their responsibility.
Five years ago, Jon Walker, minister with Willowbrook Christian Church in Victor, New York, shared a formula for coping with change. It had been offered by an elder in his congregation.
R = A/T ± S
The formula reads this way: Resistance to change equals the Amount of change, divided by the Time before the change, plus or minus Salesmanship; A and T should, if possible, cancel out.
If your church is changing what brand of coffee it serves at the welcome center, you’ll probably not encounter much resistance. The Amount of change is small. But if your church is moving from one side of town to another, you may experience major resistance, because this is a huge change. In this case you need to allow plenty of Time between when you announce the change and when it happens.
You’ll use that time to carefully explain the rationale, patiently listen to objections, and thoroughly answer questions. People need time to absorb all the good reasons for making the change. Leaders will wisely allow for all this interaction and not demand that the church follow them just because they’re called “leaders.”
During that period, the elders’ role is crucial. That’s when they’ll use their Salesmanship skills and encourage church members to agree with the proposal.
If you don’t like the connotation of “salesmanship,” then let the S stand for Shepherding. Your role in leading change is to keep the flock together, go after strays who want to wander off in a different direction, and counsel and correct members who willfully resist their leaders.
Some facts about change:
- It’s almost always difficult. By nature, people like things to remain comfortable and familiar.
- It almost always brings conflict. The most vocal among the resisters will challenge, campaign, or complain.
- It is absolutely necessary if a congregation is to grow. The seedling in your hand today cannot become a mighty tree if it remains forever in the same small pot.
To make these changes possible, a congregation needs elders who are not afraid of change, leaders who will prayerfully seek God’s guidance about which changes to make now. Your role as an elder is carefully and lovingly to lead your congregation to welcome the changes that will advance the Gospel in your community.