There’s an old joke about a pastor who proposed a change to the governing board. The board immediately rejected his idea, but it was part of the pastor’s strategy. The pastor waited six months, a board member made the same proposal, the pastor vehemently opposed it, and the board immediately adopted it!
Facilitating change in a home, company, or church can drive anyone nuts.
Let’s imagine that you’re weary of the way your family members remove and drop their clothes anywhere in the house. You want everyone to place their clothes in a hamper so they’re centralized when it’s time to do the laundry.
How would you institute that change in your house? Here are four ideas:
First, model the change you want to see. No matter what, you need to place your clothes in that hamper every single day. If you mess up even once, your family will use your failure as an excuse to do the same.
Be an example, not an exception.
The same idea applies in a church. If a pastor teaches that husbands should love their wives, he better treat his well – both in private and in public. If he preaches tithing, he better deposit 10% of his income in the offering every Sunday.
Second, ask key players for their input. In your family, you could call a meeting, describe the clothes problem, and ask everyone for their ideas. While this may seem unnecessary, there’s great value in this approach.
The meeting highlights the problem, invites family members to see the issue from another perspective, and tells them that you value them enough to solicit their opinions – some of which might be superior to yours.
In the same way, when a pastor wants to make a major change, he needs to identify the opinion makers and solicit their honest input about the issue. Leaders ask others what they think and genuinely listen to their ideas. Dictators don’t care what others think and impose their own goals – and will – on people.
The larger the change, the more input a pastor needs to seek. And he needs to hear from critics, too, because sometimes they see issues more clearly than the leader.
Third, explain the change over and over. If you’re in charge of the CHP (Clothes Hamper Project), tell your family what you want them to do (put their dirties in the hamper daily), why you want them to do it (to keep their rooms clean), and what the benefits will be (a cleaner home, a happier parent, a ready wardrobe).
You can’t assume everyone will remember. While you want to avoid nagging, you do want to remind and affirm them often.
21 years ago, I was the pastor of a church in Silicon Valley. After much prayer, research, and board input, I recommended to our church family that we sell our property (we lacked a worship center) and use the proceeds to launch a new church in the light industrial area of our city.
I initially thought that I only had to explain the change once in a public meeting, but some were so taken aback by my proposal that they completely misunderstood it. And those who weren’t present for our initial presentation were totally confused, especially when they heard faulty information from others.
It took me and the board a long time to put our plans together – and then we sprung it on the congregation. So I needed to give people plenty of time to understand the proposal, challenge me, ask questions, rant and rave – whatever they needed to do.
For that reason, I went into “sales mode” and communicated the proposal in a variety of ways: through messages, newsletter articles, public meetings, private conversations, group meetings, and so on. Since some people had misconceptions about the project, in the words of Ricky Ricardo, we had “a lot of ‘splainin to do.”
And it was a lot more than I envisioned we’d need – but it was the only way to keep everyone together.
Overcommunicating the proposal was boring for me but enlightening for everyone else. Every time I publicly explained what we were doing and why, I gained a few more supporters – and they were able to correct the critics.
The greater the change in a church, the more ‘splainin the pastor and leaders need to do.
Finally, permit individuals to choose their responses. With the CHP, there will be times when family members slip up. Don’t yell at them or nag them or shame them. Let them make their own choices about cooperation.
I used to tell my son, “If your room is clean by 5:00 this afternoon, you can go out with us to eat. If it’s not clean, you can stay home. It’s your choice.” While I wanted him to come with us, I wasn’t going to force him to do anything. He was old enough to make his own decisions. (And most of the time, his room was clean by 5:00.)
The wise pastor will use a similar approach: “Here is the change we plan to make. I hope that all of you will come along with us. However, you have the freedom to choose your response. You can join us or stay home. We will respect whatever decision you make.”
That’s far better than to tell people that if they don’t comply, they’re sinners who are out of the will of God and fostering division in the church.
Over the years, I discovered that whenever I became impatient about instituting a change, some people overreacted and either attacked me or left the church angrily. But when I took my time, gathered feedback, calmly answered people’s questions, and let each person decide what they were going to do – the church stayed united.
On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus reported to His Father, “I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me” (John 17:12).
The challenge for every shepherd is to keep the sheep God has given him while seeking to reach lost sheep – but he must reach the lost through the found, so it’s critical that he has their support first.
While our theology as Christians must never change, our methodologies must always change.