Leading People Through Change Without Losing Them

Change is not always easy, even for the pastor’s wife. How you communicate and make changes can determine if people will accept these changes and follow you as you lead into new territory.

by Deanna Shrodes

I waited until he left the room. Then I cried alone.

Did someone die? No. Our church just added an additional weekend service.

It was the late ‘90s. Every Sunday morning I was waking at the crack of dawn, getting our two elementary-age boys ready for church, nursing our newborn girl, and then getting her and myself ready to leave for church. Once at the church I sprang into action, fulfilling the duties of full-time copastor. This included leading worship and choir rehearsals, teaching a Christian education class, leading the service alongside my husband, and more.

Church ministry took place while I intermittently nursed our baby. Sometimes I would feed her until the moment I had to teach, so she would be content through the end of the altar service. Our weekend schedule included Christian education hour as well as Sunday morning and evening services. By the time Sunday night worship concluded, I was exhausted.

My husband had broached the subject with me for months, gradually preparing me concerning the impending change of yet an additional service on Sunday mornings. The church was growing and would begin to level off if we did not make the change. I knew this was the right change for the church, but personally, I dreaded it.

At the time I was the only worship leader at the skill level our church had become accustomed. Although we were increasing in number, we did not have the financial resources to hire additional staff. My husband sympathetically said, “Honey, I understand. I know this is going to be very difficult on you during this season, and I am sorry. At the same time, I do not feel I have any other choice but to add an additional service.

I knew he was right.

I waited until my husband left the room to have my meltdown. I was not doing it for manipulation or guilt. I just needed to process my emotions privately before I could move forward with the change. After I dried my tears, I prepared to double the juggling act otherwise known as Sunday mornings.

What is my point in recollecting something that is almost 20 years removed?

The one thing people want to know

I have learned that, when change comes, most people only think about how it will affect them. I was considering the church and how we needed the change, but it did not take away from the fact my own sacrifice at the time seemed a bit unreasonable and maybe even impossible.

Going through this challenge helped me develop compassion for others who face change.

Different season, same feelings

Change is perpetual. It remains a challenge in any season. I navigated the change to two services successfully and have weathered many more seasons of change since.

I guarantee that each of you reading this faces a situation where something that is good for others might be very hard for you. And you are wondering, What does this mean for me?

Wise leaders realize

Most people want to know how change will affect them.

If we could just help them through that process and show them how something might be better for them personally, what might be possible?

Unwise leaders make changes with no regard concerning how these changes will affect other people. Think about this: We process something in our hearts, sometimes for months or years. Then, after the private work that takes place in our hearts and lives through prayer and meditation, we just fling it out there with great abandon. Many times we expect people to jump for joy; and, if they do not share our excitement immediately about the change, we brand them as difficult people. With our own inner processing completed, we insensitively charge forward with little care as to how it might rock someone else’s world.

With such little understanding, is it any wonder there is so much conflict in relationships and organizations?

Following are three things I have learned about helping people in processing changes that may be personally difficult:

1. Point out the blessings

Is there a blessing in the change for someone else? If not, you might ask yourself why you are considering a change that is not a win-win.

If it is a win for both, point this out. Before you are going to make a change, think about the blessings and benefits for others and capitalize on those in your conversations. Let them know you have already thought of them and want to share how you think the change will help them or be a blessing to their life. In my experience, many people will be touched knowing you have already considered their feelings.

2. Speak with care

I have often quipped, “I love change! As long as I’m the one making it!”

I have found that it is important to tell people that change is hard for me too, when I am not the one making it.

Two of the most powerful words you can say are, “I understand.”

People desperately want us to hear them. We can salvage many relationships even when both parties do not completely agree, if the other party feels thoroughly listened to before we make a change.

Tell people you understand their feelings and fears. Only in an atmosphere of mutual understanding can we make changes in a Christ-honoring way.

3. See them in proper perspective

Too many leaders look at people who are grieving over change and think, What’s wrong with them?

We label such people “problem people.”

People who “aren’t with the program.”

People who “don’t support the vision.”

People who “aren’t in the flow of what God is doing.”

People the church “is better off without.”

People God “needs to prune.”

People who “need to move on.”

No, they are just like us when change happens. They have nothing to do with the change, but they are still uninformed as to how it will be beneficial to them.

Why do we as leaders often extend little grace to others with issues of change when we crave understanding ourselves? Let us examine our hearts. Have we ever been selfish? Ever cared only about ourselves? Ever been focused on something other than what God wants?

A huge part of leadership is lovingly leading people through change with the understanding that some changes may be justifiably challenging for others.

How do you help people process change?

Deanna Shrodes, copastor with her husband, Larry, at Celebration Church, Tampa, Florida