Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"We've Never Done It That Way Before!" (Value Change in A Church)

The famous "seven last words" (actually eight!) of a church or a ministry are: "We've Never Done It That Way Before!" Changing the way a group, especially a church, does things requires immense fortitude, patience and skill. These three qualities operate in tandem, and they are systemic to value-change in a group of people. The older and more redundant the church, the greater resistance to and less buy-in there will be toward change. How, then, does a pastor or leader move forward with needed change in a church context? How do we transform the value-systems of people so that they want and value good change? 

A lot, of course, has been written on the subject. John Kotter in his book, Leading Change, has outlined a number of helpful items about changing a church. Yet, I find that many pastors and church leaders read the materials, yet fail or refuse to make needed changes. I have seen successful change transitions as well as plenty of bad change transitions. I have seen congregations applaud changes, and I have seen congregations fire the pastor or church leader because of the changes. What is NOT said, or at least not said enough, in the books is on what this blog focuses. 

First, agree to live with the PAIN of change. Sociologists and psychologists have pointed out that a major change produces shock or disorientation in our lives. Thinking may shut down for a while. People huddle together, looking for reassurance and information. Fellowship becomes defensive, restrictive and guarded. Anger, sadness and fear become major players in the change process. Sorry to say this, but many pastors simply do not do well with these waves of emotional instability among the people of their church. Additionally, most pastors want to be loving, kind, and well-liked. If a pastor or church leader cannot handle the wealth of conflicting emotions within the people as well as within himself or herself, do not attempt to change! Someone else may need to carry the ball, or the next pastor will have to handle it. I've seen enough broken-hearted, emotionally spent church leaders and pastors who have tried to walk their congregations through change, only to end up in serious depression, and even quitting the ministry.

Second, the change or changes must really, really, really be needed! What you or I perceive as needed change is often flawed, short-sighted, or outside of God's plan or God's timing. Yes, I know we leaders pray and seek God's face. Yes, I know we want the "best" for our churches or organizations, but too often we end up substituting OUR will and wants for God's will and desires. Very few of us hear clearly from God--and that is the problem. We are adept at taking what other churches have done and seeking to import some of these "neat" things to our church or organization. We get the approval from a denominational official or a pastor-friend in a much larger church down the street or across the country. What we miss in the translation of all of this "neat" stuff is GOD'S will and desires for HIS church in OUR place and time. Be honest--how many of your perceived "needed" changes are REALLY directly from God for YOU or YOUR church? They may be great for someone else at another place in God's vineyard, but they are not really for you.

How do you know when God has spoken clearly? The classic Christian answer is three-fold: (1) Does the written Word of God prescribe or imply it? (2) Do mature Christians around you affirm or validate it? (3) Does your inner sense and witness match up with Points 1 and 2? How much of YOU is in the way to really hearing GOD?

Third, carefully develop ownership from the leaders the congregation trust. Whether these are elders, deacons, church board members, leadership team or staff, they need to own the changes. I firmly believe not nearly enough time and energy is given to this factor of ownership. Compliance is NOT ownership. Agreement is NOT ownership. A majority vote is not ownership. Ownership is a matter of the mind, heart and being of a person or group. Other respected congregational leaders need to feel, sense, believe in and want to move through the changes, even if they mean losing some of their best congregational friends. 

Ownership is slowly and carefully developed over a time-period (determined by God, by the way) of prayer, of talking, of sharing, of debating, of listening, of maybe gaining some weight due to the number of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners out telling people about the needed change or changes. 

Fourth, agree to COMPROMISE what you see as needed for what you will GET from the people. Much church change is not black-or-white, as we all know. Changes come in varying shades of gray. So, you may not get the brand-new, multimillion dollar worship complex you believe is needed, and maybe justly is. You may get a renovation project that costs much less with some creative ways to handle the growing numbers of people. This failure to compromise has led to many unnecessary pastoral resignations. The renovation project, in time, may birth the multimillion dollar addition or center. The timing is up to God, anyway, and the people need to own the project and see for themselves that a new worship center is really needed.

Fifth, do a value-transformation developmental chart for the change to take place. An example. VALUE: We value excellence in worship team participation. REALITY: We use all kinds of willing volunteers of differing abilities and gifts and levels of involvement and participation. A developmental chart outlines a series of steps to get from the REALITY to the VALUE. So, in the case of needing an excellence-driven, Spirit-filled, dynamic worship team go from --

(1) Willing volunteers–to-(2) committed volunteers–to–(3) gifted, committed volunteers–to–(4) excellent, gifted, committed participants.

At each "stage" there are "trade-offs." Thus, from "willing volunteers" to "committed volunteers" the trade off is numbers of people involved in worship teams. I may have to work with a limited amount of people for a while until the value of "commitment" takes root in those interested in worship team involvement. I also have to deal with anger and frustration of people. I have to somehow show that while EVERYONE is valued in the church, NOT everyone can lead singing to God's glory and for upbuilding and witness. I may have to move a willing "terrible" singer to a venue in the church that isn't so demanding of excellence, so he/she could sing for a children's class or activity rather than the main Sunday worship. So, the key is to maintain a sense of unity and togetherness while moving forward. This is not always easy or so transparent.

Trade-offs in moving from "committed volunteers" to "gifted, committed volunteers" would be that I need not only commitment but people actually gifted in musical abilities (vocal/instrumental) who can get the team to "excellence." Thus, adding "auditions" for worship team participation becomes part of the process. I am looking at this stage for a gift-mix that fits my team(s) and that spiritually moves people toward God. The old standby: Chemistry, Character, Competence comes into play.

"Excellence" comes about as the church community begins to "expect" a certain level or standard of Sunday morning worship and participation up-front. Just as they expect a decently crafted, biblically based sermon, that makes sense and has some application to their lives, so they begin to desire and expect singers and instrumentalists filled with the Spirit who help them glorify God and lift Him up.

Most of the time I find that pastors and staff simply do not objectify the steps in culture change or transformation. It's just a muddle they hope to somehow get through or that God would miraculously intervene and make it all work out. This is the hard, nitty gritty work of planning and re-planning and visiting and re-visiting our process.

It's like computer programming. One step leads to another and another until the program is built. Missing steps mean the program will not work. So you have to plan, plan, plan and debug, debug and debug to get it right. It takes a lot of PATIENCE and time commitment from the leadership to make this process work. Thus, at our church, for instance, many people are content with "willing volunteers" who have some giftedness, but are sketchy at commitment. The concept of "excellence" has been rejected out-of-hand by many since that is what they see and know from the mega-church two miles away. Of course, "we don't want to be like THAT CHURCH!!!" in the thinking of many people. Thus, it takes courage and much time to move from one stage to another.

Such change takes a man or woman of God who is satisfied with God's timetable, God's way of working with and in his or her people, and God's adding new people to that staid body who will help provide congregational ownership.