Ministry Today | Serving and empowering church leaders


How to deal with those essential "adjustments."

 Leading through and to change may be one of the most important and difficult things leaders do. They must discern the areas most in need of change—and how much—while balancing the capacity to assimilate and gravitate toward that change.

We’ve all seen leaders who did too much changing too quickly, blowing up their organizations with their lack of finesse and inability to pace well. Other leaders never did more than make slight variations, and then stood by helplessly while the organization lost its effectiveness and ultimately imploded. A healthy median keeps the following in mind:

Change builds on the past. Change discerns the problems and dysfunctions of the past but also sees what has provided the current foundation. We can see with clarity the values that must not change even when the practices do.

Change lives in the present. Leaders must first define the current reality—the truth about where we are and whether or not we have the right team to move into the future. This requires painful diagnostics that show us where to direct our energy and attention.

Change sketches out the future. At first, it’s a vague outline; but over time the outline becomes clearer. The opportunities and possibilities scare us but also compel us. The future motivates only when it is filled with promise.

Change is not a passive process, and a wise leader expects resistance. It’s OK, and necessary, for people to have their questions and their mistrust. They need time as well as explanation; they need to be a part of shaping and must be heard.

You will have to give massive amounts of time to people during high change seasons. Spend the majority of that time before change is implemented—or you will have much more work to do and will have dishonored people in the process.

After a period of reaction comes adjustment. This phase is largely about “buy-in,” when people integrate the new with the old and mourn the past while growing excited about the future. This second phase will simmer with resistance, and its end often is marked by movement—folks fighting with you or leaving or getting on board.

Those who stay will mark the third phase, initiative. People align or realign their giftedness and their energies to the new vision. The leader now must connect and engage as many people as possible.

Making changes also means making mistakes. Unless we get comfortable in our mistakes and what we learn from them, we inadvertently create an organizational culture of fear. And people rarely do their best or most creative work in such an environment. To become a leader who can shape others through his mistakes, you must:

Start by admitting your own. Get comfortable enough in your own skin and in God’s forgiveness to tell stories on yourself. And don’t just keep your stories in the past; when appropriate, talk about your current and ongoing struggles.

Autopsy the mistakes. Few leadership teams take the time to try to understand how a mistake happened. People must take responsibility, which takes a humility and openness that is rare. But without it, transformation doesn’t have a chance. Autopsies that lead to forgiveness and learning rather than grudge holding and blaming create organizations that are moving into the future with God.

Nancy Ortberg is co-founder of TeamWorx2, a consulting firm providing business and leadership coaching to organizations.


Feeling the tension of leading your church to the next level? In Unleashing the Power of Rubber Bands, leadership guru Nancy Ortberg offers practical tips for stretching your team far enough to grow—but never enough to snap.

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