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Leading Healthy Change Part 3

We’re talking about leading healthy change.

In Part One we discussed discerning “good change” and “bad change.” In Part Two we discussed the starting point of appreciating “what is” and managing the tension between “what is” and “what could be.” Mismanaging that tension will dramatically affect your attitude as a leader—which dramatically impacts everything else.

You can’t sit too long in the land of “what is” lest you grow complacent. You can’t stare too long into the land of “what could be” lest you become disconnected and resentful of “what is.” You must be firmly anchored in both “what is” and “what could be”—realizing the former is the path into the latter.

Assuming you have already gotten over your own personal fear of change, and assuming that God has called you, like Joshua, to courageously lead change—how should it happen? How can a leader, or group of leaders, follow God together and lead others to follow Him as well?

How can a local church see renewal?

Over the past four years, we’ve had a front row seat in seeing God revive and renew His church. It’s been a wonderful journey of growing in God’s grace and letting the gospel run freely. Every day it feels overwhelming, but every day is also providential. Every step of the way, God has given His clear direction and provision.

Ultimately, leading spiritual change is not something a mere man can fabricate. It’s something only God can orchestrate, and a work in which we participate. As a pastor, the burden is not on me to produce change, that is God’s work. My responsibility is to hear from God’s word, and then to lead our church family in the direction that He is going, firmly anchored to His word and serving for His glory.

That said, how does a leader follow God and effectively lead toward healthy change?

Here are the first two of six more thoughts…

1. Build Authentic Relationships

Healthy change flows from healthy relationships, which can’t be rushed or faked. Relationships are the whole point of change to begin with. Relationships are not a “means to an end”—rather they are the end (horizontally speaking) to which all ministry development should lead.

If you leave the people you serve in the dust, you may as well not implement change—because the change is ultimately purposed to benefit them, right? Therefore, leading healthy change always involves taking people from where they are to where they should be, by God’s grace.

Love people. Feel their fears. Participate in their thought-process. Understand their hesitations and concerns. Empathize with their life-stage. Feel what they feel, and help them to know that you do—truthfully.

You can’t be a shepherd if you don’t love sheep.

It’s safe to say, if the change you’re leading leaves people behind, then it isn’t healthy change. Or it wasn’t led in an effective or healthy way.

Good change is facilitated by trust, and relational trust is built over time in authentic community. If people know, with certainty, that you love them and that you are absolutely committed to their best interest, then following your leadership will be somewhat natural and instinctive. It will flow rather than being forced.

If you are having to “force” leadership, implement a lot of man-made pressure, or push people forward against their will—then something is broken. Aim at the heart. We are called to love and win people, not to conquer them. Servant leadership is never oppressive, but liberating—in other words, God’s people should thrive under leadership that brings them to green pastures and still waters.

Give people your heart, and God will most likely soften theirs.

Change that doesn’t flow from strong loving relationships, and change that doesn’t make relationships even stronger is simply not healthy change.

Maybe the desired change is wrong. Maybe it’s the wrong time.  Maybe it’s being done the wrong way. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re leading if no one is following, or if you’re trampling those you are called to love and lead. Don’t convince yourself that God is pleased if you are “getting your way” but you are steamrolling over His sheep in the process. He placed in you ministry leadership to cultivate and nurture the hearts of His flock—not merely to realize “your vision.” (Not that vision is a bad thing, but self-centered vision certainly is.)

Biblical, loving, Christ-centered relationships cannot be rushed—they take time. Soul cultivation and knit hearts require patience, love, and lots of personal investment—as well as the risk of being hurt. Yet, the fruit and the joy of such relationships is exceedingly delightful and always worth the potential risk or hurt involved.

If leading change happens at the expense of close relationships—it isn’t healthy. In fact, that kind of change is merely exploitative—it’s using people rather than building them. The change you seek should be in the best interest of those you love and lead—and the leading of people toward that change should be motivated by love for them and a passion for their greatest spiritual thriving.

When God’s people know you are motivated by love for them, laboring to see them flourish in God’s grace, they are far more likely to embrace, appreciate, and even enjoy healthy change that blesses their lives.

Fight for relationships first, not change. Let healthy relationships be the foundation of all healthy change.

2. Communicate Obsessively and Incessantly

Leaders communicate. (Think Ronald Reagan—the great communicator!) Leaders are tasked to give people both information and inspiration—what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. If people aren’t “getting it,” or if fear and anxiety is reigning, that’s a giant red arrow probably pointing to a lack of communication.

We all love to be on winning teams. We all love to participate in a biblical vision bigger than ourselves. We love to see progress and to know that we are making a difference. So, if people are struggling to own the vision or understand the direction, maybe it’s not their hearts (it could be), maybe they just aren’t hearing from their leader “what’s” going on, “why” it’s going on, “where” it’s all headed, “why” it’s healthy, and “how” we should all be excited about it.

Or maybe the leader is unapproachable—threatened by questions or concerns—and shutting down any discussion that requires an answer, accountability, or sensitive response. Unapproachability in a leader is rooted in one of two things—malice or insecurity. Sometimes there is malice—deliberate exploitation—and a leader doesn’t want to give account or answer a question, therefore he shuts it down with anger, authoritarianism, etc. More often, our unapproachability is rooted in insecurity and fear. We are tentative as leaders, insecure in our identity in Christ, and afraid of being exposed as “vulnerable” or “weak” or “normal.” We try to put on a contrived image of control, which comes off aloof and arrogant. This is a really bad place to be as it engenders distrust and suspicion—and rightly so.

God’s people can’t share in a vision that isn’t well communicated. As leaders we can’t expect them to know what we haven’t clearly said, and we can’t expect them to properly process it without adequate information.

We also can’t expect them to fully embrace a direction about which they cannot think! Thinking leads to questions, and questions need to be verbalized. Concerns need to be brought to a leader, and the under-shepherd should hear those questions/concerns and provide comforting answers and encouragement. If the church family can’t approach a leader with concerns and expect to be received lovingly and graciously—then who can they approach? This unapproachability and failure to communicate gives breeding ground to all sorts of errant conversations, which we often label as “gossip.” Sometimes it’s not gossip at all—it may be simply a concerned sheep with no place else to go!

Insecure leadership says “Follow me and don’t think!” Secure, biblically grounded, and spiritual mature leaders say, “Let’s all follow Jesus, and everyone think deeply about it—and let me know if you have questions!” Which leader would you prefer to follow?

Biblical leaders help people intellectually and emotionally contextualize change and ministry development. All the great Bible leaders did this. Paul, in Philippians chapter one, helps growing Christians contextualize hardship, confidence, and joy. He helps them know “how to feel,” “what to expect,” and “how to respond” to sorrow unfolding in his life and theirs. He helps them contextualize critics and disruptive people and to know how to respond properly. He “sets their hearts” as he set his own. And he did this from a distance, in a letter—but his words changed their hearts—and still change ours today.

This is leadership. Leaders communicate. They speak, they write, they phone call, they meet—they listen and then they speak into the intellect, emotions, and will of others. Biblical leadership is always focused on understanding where someone’s heart is in relation to God’s truth, and then focuses on helping that heart reorientate to truth and to God’s direction.

Silence is a leaders worst enemy. Why? Because if you aren’t communicating, someone else will communicate for you. If you don’t write the truthful narrative, someone else will write it for you, and quite often they will use their imaginations to fill in the gaps—which is a deadly proposition. You never want imaginations writing a narrative that you should be clearly sharing.

Simply, as a leader, find your communication gaps—find the areas where imaginations might get the best of people’s hearts—and close those gaps. Give people the information and inspiration they need to process and participate in healthy change.

Work to build healthy relationships in which you are approachable; then give people permission to ask questions or come to you with concerns. If you are threatened by that idea, then ask yourself why? Is there malice at work? Is there insecurity and fear at work? Don’t lead by fear or intimidation. Don’t coerce people to follow. Share your heart, and inspire people to God’s best. Give them a reason to want to follow.

The opposite of leading through healthy relationships and effective communication could only be termed as coercion—in other words, “Follow me because I said so…” That’s just not the highest biblical motivation,  and it isn’t enough. There are far better, biblical, gospel, grace-driven reasons to follow God’s Spirit toward a healthy future in ministry.

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for part 4!

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