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Leading Change and Living To Tell About It

By Aubrey Malphurs

Most of us don’t like change. It disrupts important things: our personal lives, our families, and our ministries. Change also creates confusion for most churches. When faced with changes in the church, people want to know what must change and what must never change. Change, however, has become constant in the early 21st century.

The church hasn’t fared well in the face of change. Today, 70 to 80 percent of churches are on the downside of the organizational life cycle. Many have from a few months to perhaps at the most 5 or 6 years to turn their situations around or face extinction. The issue, however, is more than how long we have before death; it’s what can God do through us as His leaders to refocus our churches—to breathe new life into them. As I have consulted with church leaders, I have seen God bless them as they have worked through the following process. I’ve divided this process into two parts: the preparation for and process of refocusing.

PREPARATION FOR REFOCUSING

Leaders must prepare the soil before planting the seed or face a crop failure. Preparation for refocusing consists of at least four features.

Select a leadership team

Early in the process select a leadership team that will lead the church through the refocusing process. We can observe this practice in Acts 6:3–7, where the Early Church selected leaders to deal with a problem concerning ministry to widows.

The Early Church was also aware of the importance of teams—New Testament ministry was team ministry. Why a team? First, you must have your leaders on board or your people won’t follow. Second, you want the church’s most gifted, committed people working on the transformation. Third, a team defuses situations, where the pastor and the board may be struggling with one another as they attempt to lead the church. Finally, a team is a bigger target for those vocal people who strongly resist efforts at change.

Who makes up this team? The team should consist of the pastor, pastoral staff, any leadership boards, and other leaders in the church, such as teachers, whether or not they lead officially or unofficially.

Who will lead the team? The pastor. However, not all pastors have the leadership skills needed to guide their churches through the change process. They may be excellent Bible teachers but may not have leadership gifts. Other pastors may be leaders, but they may not know how to lead transformationally. They didn’t receive any training in seminary and need to learn this leadership skill. If a ministry is without a pastor or its pastor is not able to lead it through transformation, then it might utilize a consultant. I’ve worked with several congregations as a consultant. Most leadership-progressive denominations can provide or recommend such people. In some contexts, where the pastor provides little help in revitalization, there may be another respected leader who can lead the team and the church through this process.

Regularly communicate with the congregation

The team needs to communicate what they’re doing to the congregation at regular intervals, as did the first-century church (Acts 6:2; 15:22–27). This communication builds trust—an essential ingredient in the leadership recipe. It’s impossible to lead without it. When ministries fail to communicate with their people, those people become suspicious.

There is little in the refocusing process about which the congregation shouldn’t know. And communication is a major means for building trust with your people. It is better to risk over-communication—to communicate until people complain or stop coming to informational meetings—rather than too little communication.

How might you communicate with your people? Hold “town hall” meetings (church family meetings) once a month, or at least quarterly, where you inform people of what is happening and answer their questions. Make sure you set guidelines for these meetings, especially if the church has a number of unhappy, vocal people. For example, let everyone know this isn’t a time to vent one’s spleen or straighten out the pastor or the board. People must conduct themselves in a Christlike manner. Other forms of communication are bulletin announcements, letters, E-mail, and Web site postings.

Involve the congregation in the refocusing process
Leaders on the refocusing team should enlist congregants for team participation on projects that enhance the transformation process. It’s much more difficult to take potshots at a process you’re involved in. For example, one team could canvass the church’s community to assess its reputation with the unchurched.

Conduct a ministry analysis

Nehemiah conducted his own analysis of Israel’s situation in Nehemiah 2:11–17. Paul and his team did much the same in Acts 15:36 through 16:5 when they revisited the churches to see how they were doing.

The purpose of the ministry analysis is fourfold. First, it diagnoses a church’s pathology. Second, it serves as a basis to prescribe a cure. Third, it identifies pockets of health on which the church can build. Finally, and most important, it creates a sense of urgency among your people that makes it difficult for even the most change-resistant congregant to object to the process. (Nehemiah and others in the Scriptures realized the importance of creating a sense of urgency: Nehemiah 2:17,18; Isaiah 55:6; 2 Corinthians 5:14 through 6:2.) After taking a church through the ministry analysis, one baby boomer said, “It was as if we were a ship floating out in the ocean, and we knew there was an iceberg out there. However, the fog was so thick we couldn’t see it, so we forgot about it. The ministry analysis served to blow away the fog, and we all discovered that we were headed straight for the iceberg.”1

PROCESS OF REFOCUSING

Once the soil is prepared, it’s time to plant the seed. God has blessed the following seven-step, seed-sowing process. Each is vital to the life of the church as all combine to form the church’s DNA, or the basic building blocks—the heart and soul of the church.

1. Spiritual Formation

The refocusing of the church must be about and must begin with spiritual revitalization. The spiritual transformation of the church is what change is all about. (In theological terms, we call it sanctification.) The goal of sanctification is the transformation of one’s life. All other change is subordinate to and subsequent to this. We change what we do (methods and forms) only to enhance Christlikeness in our people. In our change strategy, we must never forget this.

I take an entire day to walk the leadership team through the following spiritual formation process. It has proved most effective in situations where there has been infighting. Here are the steps in this process:

a. Ponder and acknowledge our own personal sinfulness (Romans 7:14–25; 1 John 1:8,10). The focus throughout is on my own sinfulness, not another’s.

b. Confess our sins to God (Psalm 51), and if necessary, to one another (James 5:16).

c. Forgive others who have sinned against us (Matthew 18:21,22; Ephesians 4:31,32; Colossians 3:8).

d. Spend time in intense, positive prayer for the church (Matthew 7:7–12; James 5:16). You must bathe the entire refocusing process in Christ-honoring prayer.

e. Commit to put off any negative “stuff” that’s polluting our lives (Ephesians 4:22,25,31).

f. Seek reconciliation with a brother or sister (Matthew 5:23,24; 18:15–19). Note the biblical emphasis on immediacy in Matthew 5:23,24. The writer seems to be saying that reconciliation is more important than worship.

g. Work hard at becoming better listeners (James 1:19–21). Many of our problems exist because we’re poor listeners. It’s imperative that congregants work harder at listening to one another.

h. Speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). The focus here is on gossip. We must speak that which is true, not that which someone purports to be true, and whatever we speak is to be said out of a motive of love.

i. Pursue personal holiness (Romans 6:1–15; 12:1,2). This sets us aside for God’s use.

j. Adopt a servant attitude (Philippians 2:3–8), asking what we can do to minister to and serve others, not what they can do to serve us.

k. Give our church back to Christ (Matthew 16:18). The problem is this: over the years, the church has become our church, not Christ’s.

A church can conclude this spiritual formation process with a public enthronement ceremony where everyone comes to the front and together they put the Savior back on the church’s throne and thereby give the church back to Christ.

Once the leadership team has experienced this process, they, in turn, take the church through the same process over the following weeks and months. For example, the pastor could preach on each issue and call the congregation to obedience to Scripture. Sunday school classes and/or community groups could follow up with discussion and application of each issue.

2. Values Discovery

In this step, the leadership team discovers the church’s core values. A core value is a constant, passionate belief or conviction that guides the church. Here are some characteristics of a church’s values

A value is constant. It doesn’t change easily. That’s why churches are slow to change. A major aspect of transformation is letting go of bad values and adopting good values.

A value is passionate. You feel strongly and care deeply about core values. That’s what places them at the core.

A value is a belief or a conviction that most members in the church have embraced as an assumed truth about what the church is and does.


The church’s core values guide it. They directly influence the church’s behavior. They explain why the church does what it does, or why it doesn’t do what it should do. An example is evangelism. If the church is involved in evangelism, it is because it strongly values evangelism.

How might the team discover the church’s core values? They can write down what they believe their church to be, based on the discussion above. They can also conduct a core values audit.2 They might collect the credos (core values statements) of other churches.3 When they read them, they will often recognize their own values. A biblical example is the credo of the Jerusalem church:

  • We value doctrine (Acts 2:42)
  • We value fellowship (Acts 2:42)
  • We value prayer (Acts 2:42)
  • We value community (Acts 2:44–46)
  • We value worship (Acts 2:47)
  • We value evangelism (Acts 2:41,47)

The team will probably discover their values by studying the church’s budget. Churches spend their money on what they value.

Some churches ask: How can we know if our core values are spiritually healthy? The answer: Compare them to a biblically functioning, healthy church. An example is the church at Jerusalem (see above). How do your values compare with their values?

Church leaders would be wise to articulate and communicate their values to the congregation. Articulating the values means developing and writing a credo that could be similar in format to that of the Jerusalem church. This would also aid in communicating these values to the congregation.4

3. Mission Statement Development

Characteristics of a mission statement

After discovering its core values, the team needs to develop a mission statement for the ministry. A mission statement is a broad, concise biblical statement of what the church is supposed to be doing.

A good mission statement is comprehensive and overarching. It briefly summarizes what the church is to be about. A mission statement is also concise. Peter Drucker says it must be short enough to fit on a T-shirt.

Short statements are memorable. Your mission statement should be no longer than a sentence. The human mind tends not to recall long or multiple sentences as well as single and concise sentences.

The mission statement must be biblical. The church must draw its mission from Scripture.

The mission statement answers the question, What does God want us to do? The answer is the Great Commission, found in Matthew 28:19,20; Mark 16:15, and other passages. A concise statement of Matthew 28:19,20 is that the mission of the church is to make (evangelism) and mature (edification) disciples.

The mission statement articulates what the church is supposed to be doing. Some leaders tell me they don’t need to write down their mission because they have it in their heads. My experience with leaders is this: If they can’t write it down, they’re kidding themselves.

Steps in developing a mission statement

Once the team understands what a mission statement is, they must next develop one.

Determine its contents. For evangelicals, the content is the Great Commission. While it may not be a simple restatement of Matthew 28:19,20 or Mark 16:15, the Great Commission must be found at the core of the statement.

Articulate the statement in writing. Writing forces you to be specific, to say what you really mean. Until you can write it down, you don’t have a well thought-out mission.

Personalize the statement to your congregation. You must use language that all your people understand. Avoid technical, biblical terms such as redemption, reconciliation, propitiation, atonement, glory, and disciple. Most church people don’t understand these terms. Instead, use contemporary synonyms that explain them in today’s terminology.

Wordsmith the statement. This step also focuses on the words. However, the idea is to use words that are simple, powerful, and memorable. This also involves using words in memorable ways. An example is the Navigators’ mission statement: Knowing Christ and making Him known.

4. Vision Statement Development

In this step, the leadership team develops a church vision statement. A vision is a clear, challenging picture of the future of the church as you believe it can and must be.

The vision must be clear. A vision accomplishes nothing if it isn’t clear to both the team and the congregation. You can’t expect people to act on unclear information.

The vision must be challenging. One aspect of the vision statement that’s not true of the mission statement is that it challenges people to embrace it and act on it. If it doesn’t challenge, then you don’t have a vision.

The vision is a picture. The purpose of the vision statement is to create a picture of what the church will look like as it begins to accomplish its mission—what will it look like to make and mature people? The vision provides a snapshot of the church as it will be in 5, 10, even 20 years.

The vision includes an important question: Do you believe this is possible? A good vision is honeycombed with potential—not what is, but what can be.

A vision concerns what must be. This addresses the passion element in a good vision. Leaders must care deeply and feel strongly about the vision. Passion communicates the leaders’ commitment to the vision.

What’s the difference between a vision and a mission? An illustration of the difference can be found in Scripture. God’s mission statement for Moses is found in Exodus 3:10: “Bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt.” However, a vision statement is found in Deuteronomy 8:7–10.

There are several ways to develop a powerful vision statement. The leader—or in the case of the church, the pastor—can take the lead and develop the initial vision statement. Once it’s completed, the team takes it and adds to it. This provides them with vision ownership. A second approach is to ask those on the leadership team to write down their vision for the church on a 3-by-5 card. The leader collects these cards and gives them to a team of writers, either from the leadership team or the congregation, who weave them together into a final vision statement.5

5. Strategy Development

The most time-consuming step is developing a strategy. Up to this point, little is controversial. However, developing a strategy may result in some fireworks. For example, the strategy may raise the issue of the style of worship the church will pursue—traditional or contemporary.

 A strategy is the process that determines how the church will accomplish its mission and vision. It is a process that moves people from where they are (lost or saved) to where God wants them to be (spiritually mature). This incorporates all the church’s ministries. It is a process that asks, “How will the mission be accomplished?” The mission asks, “What are we supposed to be doing?” The strategy asks, “How will we accomplish it?”

You develop the strategy by answering five vital questions.

Whom are we trying to reach? Who is our ministry’s focus group? The answer is twofold. The primary focus group is lost people, and the secondary focus group is the congregation.

How will we reach our focus group(s)? How will we evangelize them and then coach them to spiritual maturity? The answer lies in determining the characteristics of a mature believer, and then developing ministries that help your people assimilate these characteristics.

Who will reach our focus group(s) with these ministries? This is the personnel question. You’re not ready to determine who your personnel are until you’ve answered the first two questions. Warning: This could mean that you will need to let some staff go and hire others.

Where will we reach these people with our personnel and ministries? This is the facilities question. The team will decide if the church can minister most effectively with its current facilities in its current location. This could involve some remodeling and possibly relocating the church to a more spiritually productive area.

How much will it cost to reach our focus group with our staff and ministries in our facilities? Do we have sufficient income to finance our strategy, or will we need to raise additional funding? Also, how will we raise additional funding?6

6. Strategy Implementation

The sixth step involves implementing the strategy. Implementation closes the gap between ideas and their execution. It translates thought into action—strategic thinking into strategic doing. You may develop the finest disciple-making and maturing strategy. However, if you can’t implement it, nothing happens.

The team can’t implement the entire strategy at once. Consequently, it will need to determine its priorities. Ask, “What must we do first, second, third, and so on?” Next, articulate the specific actions that will realize these priorities. Then decide when the action items must be accomplished and set deadlines. Assign responsible people to accomplish the priorities. Finally, establish monthly implementation review meetings to monitor the people’s progress and problems in accomplishing the priorities.7

7. Ministry Evaluation

The final step is the constant evaluation of the ministry. It helps to assess how the church is doing. Evaluation is key to the transformation of the ministry. If everyone in the ministry regularly asks, “How can we do it better next time?” God will continue to transform the church and keep it relevant to our times.8

Aubrey Malphurs, Ph.D., former pastor and church planter, currently teaches at Dallas Theological Seminary and has a training and consulting ministry with churches and denominations. He has written several books on church ministry and leadership.

Notes
1. I hope to make these available in a future book on revitalization and possibly on my ministry Web site (www.visionministry.com).
2. See the values audit in my book, Values-Driven Leadership, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 185–87.
3. See those I’ve collected in my book Values-Driven Leadership, 163–84.
4. For a more in-depth treatment of values, see Values-Driven Leadership.
5. For more information on vision, see my book, Developing a Vision for Ministry in the 21st Century (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992).
6. See my book Vision 2000 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1996) and chapter 8 in my book Advanced Strategic Planning (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1999).
7. See chapter 9 in Advanced Strategic Planning.
8. See chapter 10 in Advanced Strategic Planning.



 

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