I believe that every leader needs a “model” for leading change. I have put one together from the life of Nehemiah that has been a great help to me.
Here are eight steps to leading effective change in your church. You will also find them helpful for leading change amongst any other group or organisation.
- See the Need for Change. All positive change begins with seeing the need for it first. Change for change’s sake is crazy, but change aimed at helping people and improving things is essential. Allow God to place a burden on your heart about the way things are.
- Receive a Clear Vision from God. All vision begins with seeing the big picture of what God wants to do. As you spend time in prayer, God will show you what He can do through you and give you a vision of a preferred future. Every leader needs to invest time into receiving a clear vision from God for their life and ministry. Effective leaders tie all change to vision and purpose. They know where they’re headed and why.
- Create a Strategic Plan. You need to know exactly what God wants you to do (vision) and then think through all of the details of how you will do it (strategy). Wise leaders take their God-given vision and form it into a plan that describes how and when the vision will become a reality. This takes time and involves a process. It needs wise and godly counsel from other leaders. The more significant the change, the more necessary it is to have the input from all perspectives.
- Speak to the Influencers. Unless the people who were in positions of influence buy into the vision, the change will not occur. When speaking to the influencers, don’t present the solution first. Speak about the problem so that they agree on the need for change. Unless people see and embrace the need for change, they will not be willing to pay the price or be committed to the work required to bring the change about. People need to understand the purpose of the change and see the benefits it will bring. When people see the need for change and catch a realistic vision of how things could be better, they become motivated to become part of the solution.
- Organise the Work to be Done. Vision has to be broken down into a strategic plan that enables people to take simple steps towards realistic goals. A church leader must seek to acquire ownership from the entire congregation for positive change to take place. It needs to become their vision so that they are committed enough to work towards it.
- Deal with the Opposing Forces. I wish I could tell you that there will be no problems when you lead change but the reality is that movement causes friction. Resistance to change is normal and so we need to prepare for it and handle it wisely. In every change, there will be opposing forces. Someone or something will face loss, despite the many gains. You may encounter anger, frustration, fear, uncertainty and disappointment during the transition. Wise leaders think through the possible reactions or problems and avoid unnecessary conflict by preparing for and addressing these forces in advance.
- Communicate Continually. When leading change, we must stay close to the change process and actively lead the transition from the old to the new. People need to be constantly inspired and motivated about the importance of the vision and the progress that is being made. We all tend to drift and vision can easily become blurred. Wise leaders constantly bring the vision back into focus and never allow people to be satisfied with the way things are.
- Don’t Give Up. Announcing a change or coming up with a vision statement is the easy part of leading change. It’s harder to then translate that vision into a workable plan. But it’s even more difficult to implement that plan step by step and monitor it until it is completed. This takes diligence, patience and focused attention. However, oh, the joy and fulfilment that comes when you are able to bring about positive change. Don’t give up. Persevere. If the vision is from God, it’s worth fighting for. Don’t chop and change direction. Yes, make adjustments along the way, but finish what you start. Commit to it and be willing to pay the price.
I think the most challenging task of leadership is to manage change and transition. The key issue is to know in your own spirit that God is leading you and that you are moving out in His will for your ministry and your church. The giants will be there and the need for courage will be great, but God will not fail you or let you fail. As you seek Him, He will guide you, give you wisdom and favour with the people. Change is not easy. In fact, it can be very uncomfortable. However, the church must change if it is to be what God intends it to be in the world.
P.S. This article is summarised from the last chapter of the book, Transfoming Your Church. Also, consider purchasing my most recent book, Pass the Baton – Successful Leadership Transition, in which I outline the key principles that have learned over the years about leadership succession.