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Organizational Development and the Church

Part Four: Change Leadership in the Church

By John Michael De Marco

In 2006, Edward E. Lawler III and Christopher G. Worley debuted a remarkable business book entitled, Built To Change: How To Achieve Sustainable Organizational Effectiveness. The authors emphasize that the most successful companies will stay responsive to external changes and challenges through a fluid process of strategizing, updating their competencies and capabilities, and constantly adjusting structures, systems people and rewards toward achieving top performance.

Businesses, churches, and parachurch ministries all benefit from the same intentional fluidity as the rapid rate of technological economic and social change is significantly — if not severely — impacting all three spheres. The thriving churches of the first part of the 21st century are being pastored by leaders who see change not as an occasional event but as a way of life, always eager to shape the wineskin to fit what the Spirit is pouring out here and now.

Leadership author and speaker Bob Buford notes that what is needed in church leadership these days can best be explained by a set of four archetypes developed by Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist.

“The first (archetype) is a warrior; a warrior is a doer,” notes Buford. “Second is king; a king isn’t a doer, but brings order to an organization. The third is a sage or wisdom figure; and the fourth is a lover, someone who loves something outside of themselves — not just in a sexual sense, but has an appreciation of music, art, a sunset, etc.”

He continues, “There are a lot of people who can’t graduate from being warriors to kings, and not many people graduate from being kings to sages. Sage to lover is not a transition; it’s something you are in different forms your whole life. The lover changes with the other seasons.

“But a lot of pastors aren’t drawn to the responsibly of changing from doer to leader. It’s not in their nature.”

Leading From the Center

James O’Toole, author of the book, Leading Change, writes that all leadership is about leading change. O’Toole uses as his model the French expressionist painting of Christ’s entry into Brussels. The painting depicts a massive crowd, with Jesus riding on a donkey.

“He’s right in the middle, sitting on the donkey, a little higher than the crowd but in the midst of the crowd,” reflects Al Winseman, The Gallup Organization’s global practice leader for faith communities, on the painting. “He’s leading from the center of the organization. I think that’s a very powerful image.”

The paradox of the church, Winseman continues, is its nature as an institution that people look to as the last bastion of stability in a sea of change. Yet, the mandate of the church from Jesus is to be the agent of change in the world. “You’ve got this tension, the expectation many people have that at least in the storms of the change of life the church is the last refuge because it will never change. Pastors and church leaders really need to look at that creative tension. God never changes, but yet is continually changing. That’s a whole theological excursion in itself.”

Pastors, Winseman adds, need to help people navigate change. “One of the demands of leadership is making sense of the world around them, their own experience, and the experience of the organization. It’s kind of being an interpreter of reality for people. Leaders very much need to be in tune in what’s going on with culture. In a lot of ways they need to be cultural anthropologists.”

Adds speaker and consultant Nancy Ortberg, “As much as we all recognize the need for change, either the pace is so relentless that we can’t keep up or we don’t see the need for change. Most people just don’t gravitate toward change. I think one of the biggest roadblocks is collaborating with people in the church community to get people to share the vision, not just have the vision thrust upon them.”

Ortberg points to another best-selling business book, Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, as demonstrating that people will give buy-in to change if they have a voice in the process. “People are reasonable enough where they don’t always have to get their way,” she adds. “Change takes time. Most of us are very impatient.”

Another hurdle to leading change is a lack of clarity from leaders concerning what the change specifically is, Ortberg cautions.

“Some leaders are so vague that it’s difficult for people to get on board; where is it that you want to take us?” Another roadblock is the mistrust we have to own up to. Many leaders have used their leadership in inappropriate ways. There’s not a good way to microwave trust. It takes time, it’s fragile.”

Change Leaders in the Trenches

Dan Betzer, senior pastor of First Assembly of God in Fort Myers, Florida, reflects that change is a constant. “It is said that the average successful business has major changes every 3 years or fewer. The average church changes every 50 years. The Assemblies of God, in general, is in dire need of major transition — governmentally, philosophically, and methodologically.”

Betzer notes that his own congregation has changed the way it does services, continually modifying time schedules to accommodate the surrounding society in Fort Myers. “We try to upgrade the music all the time. That doesn’t mean we’ve abdicated the old, but we’ve integrated the new and made the old sound like it was just written. We don’t emulate anybody because that’s pretty hard to do. Great churches are led by people who are geniuses. If you try to wear their armor, it’s like David with Saul’s armor.

“Most of these changes help us win more people to Christ and help them grow,” Betzer adds. “Jesus was ultra conservative theologically, but in His application to the people He was extremely liberal. I’ve tried to live by that. I think Jesus is the role model for a pastor.”

B.G. Nevitt of Glad Tidings Assembly of God in Decatur, Illinois, has “regular sit downs” with people in his congregation, “to find out what’s the heartbeat, what’s going on in our community, what people are experiencing, and what are their hurts. If we don’t have the pulse of our community, we’ll never reach it.”

When Nevitt entered the ministry, people warned him that the elderly would be resistant to change. “Absolutely false. They are the greatest cheerleaders of change, if you bring them along the journey with you. If you don’t, sure they’re going to resist it because they don’t understand what you’re doing.”

One example of avoiding assumptions about change concerns a chandelier that hung in his sanctuary, Nevitt notes. “It was made by people in the church, and looked like a gigantic, old wagon wheel. Half the church loved it, and the others hated it and were afraid to sit under it. Previous pastors tried to take it out, and it nearly split the church. The deacons said, ‘You can do anything else you want, just leave the light alone.’

“There was one family left whose name was on the plaque,” Nevitt continues. “I told them the church needed to diversify light, instead of having one fixture in the center. … I said, ‘I won’t do anything without your blessing, but it’s hard for the older people to see their Bibles. We need more light.’

“The guy looked at me and said, ‘I’ve got the hoist; do you want me to bring it in tomorrow and help bring it down?’

“The wife looked at me and said, ‘The last pastor tried to take it down, and we gave him fits. But you asked us, and he didn’t.’

“You’ve got to take people along.”

“People now are accustomed to the instant,” observes Rod Loy, senior pastor of North Little Rock First Assembly of God. “Instant response to their questions. I get mad if I e-mail a customer service rep and don’t have a response within 3 hours. We want to leverage change in our once a week world, an every Sunday approach to leveraging change. There’s nothing else in their world that takes 7 days to get interaction and feedback. I publish my e-mail address in the bulletin. I tell people you’ll always hear back from me within 24 hours, unless I’m off the grid, in which case it will take me 48.”

Loy continues, “Because people are now living in this interactive world, they want to interact and relate to the changes as they are occurring. We are not wired that way in the church. I’m not sure people are always resisting change, as we think. It’s their attempt to be part of an ongoing dialogue.”

There is a strong tendency in today’s information-overload culture, Loy observes, for leaders to grab hold of the latest idea or principle and “come back and stuff that down through the organization: ‘We’re going to do this.’ It’s like they’re pushing this change down into a bottle, and that change is still being shoved down to one or two levels when they go and get another idea and another change. They keep piling it on top, without waiting for things to come back up,” he claims. “My rule is you get to stuff one thing at a time, and you don’t get to stuff the next thing until that one thing comes back at you from the bottom levels of the congregation.”

He notes, “We’re on one core value a year. I’m teaching Every Soul Matters to God. I’m just stuffing that, stuffing that. I knew we understood that one when I watched some junior highers in a drama for fine arts, and their theme was Every Soul Matters to God. When the shirts for the singles ministry said ESMTG on the shoulder, we got it. It’s through the organization; it’s coming back to me, and now I can do the next one.”

In a culture that is convinced that everything must happen now, Loy warns, the frequent result “is that nothing completely happens.”

Six Concerns To Consider

Leadership author and speaker Ken Blanchard, summarizing his Concerns model for leading change, says one of thebiggest problems he’s seen with pastors and other leaders is “they think about the change they want to make, and the big thing they’re pitching is: What are the benefits of the change? People don’t want to hear that. Their first concern is information: Tell me more about it? The second thing people are concerned about is personal: How is this going to affect me? If we raise money for this, will it take away from our ongoing budget?

“What you resist, persists,” Blanchard warns. “If you don’t give people an opportunity to express their concerns, they bring them out later. In the process of sharing concerns, the concerns often go away.”

The third concern for a change initiative is ordering the key steps of implementation. The fourth is the impact or the benefits of the change. “One of the biggest things I’ve been able to help people do is realize that you have to address the first three areas before you talk about the benefits,” Blanchard points out.

The fifth concern of change is collaboration, Blanchard says. Who else should be involved in the change? The final concern is refining the changes the church has implemented.

Concludes Blanchard, “The greatest leadership model for all time is Jesus of Nazareth. We ought to stop looking outside the church for their leadership training. Take 12 enthusiastic believers and make them self-reliant achievers.”

JOHN MICHAEL DE MARCO is an ordained United Methodist pastor, leadership consultant and writer, based in Nashville, Tenn. To learn more, please visit www.johnmdemarco.com.

 

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