January 24, 2017

Leading Healthy Change Part 5

Written By Cary Schmidt

We’re talking about leading healthy change.

In Part One we discussed discerning “good change” and “bad change”—we essentially discovered that spiritual growth is change, and if you resist change, you’re resisting the work of what the power of the gospel actually does!

In Part Two we discussed the starting point of appreciating “what is” and managing the tension between “what is” and “what could be”—the tension between reality and the vision. Mismanaging that tension will dramatically affect your attitude as a leader—which dramatically impacts everything else. This section was really about learning to operate with a contented heart and a biblical vision simultaneously.

In Part Three we began discussing the first two of six steps in the process—building healthy relationships and communicating effectively.

In Part Four we revisited and developed the ideas of building strong relationships—especially as it relates to authenticity, trust, and the application of authority in leadership.

In this post, I want to revisit the idea of effective communication.

We’ve already established that communication is critical in leadership, but I want to explore why.

The Apostle Paul was a great communicator, and it’s worthy to note how God used Paul to communicate, especially regarding “change.” In Philippians chapter one, Paul is writing from prison to the Christians at Philippi. This was a church he loved, and throughout the letter, He is deeply concerned for their well-being as circumstances in their world are bringing about substantial changes.

His concern is magnified two potential changes—first the fact that he is not certain how his future will go, and he realizes he may be gone soon. Therefore, he is concerned that their faith and unity in gospel ministry remain strong in his absence. Second, there is growing hostility in the Roman empire toward Christianity, and he realizes these Christians will likely face persecution and hardship. Therefore, he is preparing them for change, and strengthening them to remain faithful and joyful.

Throughout the letter his theme is joy, confidence, and gospel unity. For the purpose of this post, I want to draw your attention to just one verse:

Philippians 1:12 “But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel;”

Helping Others Process Their Own Emotions

I love this verse for many reasons, but for now I call your attention to what Paul is trying to do in this verse. He is suffering. He is personally sorrowful. Circumstances are not good with Paul, but his joy remains, his confidence is steadfast, and His heart of abounding in grace alongside of his sorrow.

From within his own suffering, he decides to write to those he leads. Why? To help them process their own emotions, and help them know how to feel about what is happening to him! He is concerned about their state, their sorrow, their joy remaining in spite of his suffering. He is focused on communicating in a way that helps them know how to feel, how to think, how to contextualize all the negative circumstances that are unfolding around the movement of the gospel.

He essentially says, “I want you to understand—the things that are happening that seem bad are actually good. These things are being allowed of God to further the gospel! There’s a revival in Caesar’s household! Therefore, appropriate your feelings and your responses to this new understanding. Rejoice in the Lord!”

Do you see it? Paul, as a leader, is communicating in order to help people know how to feel, what to think, and how to respond. That’s a leader’s job. A leader doesn’t simply impose his will on unsuspecting followers—he leads them, he communicates with them, he feels what they feel and helps them biblically to know how to place their emotions. He helps them discover what God is doing and leads them to engage in it.

Paul was a spiritual leader who helped people frame their lives, the emotions, and their responses to the truth of God’s reality. This only happens when a leader communicates strategically and effectively.

Information and Inspiration

How can we do that? It takes two things—information and inspiration

Information is simply what we’re doing, and inspiration is why we’re doing it. Information provides details, inspiration provides motive. Information says “here’s where we are going” and inspiration says, “here’s what’s going to happen if we go there together!” Information provides the map; inspiration inspires the will to engage. Both are vital.

When people are informed, their questions are filled in and trust is enhanced. When people are inspired, their vision is enlarged and their hearts are motivated to engage.

If the people I am called to lead aren’t “getting it,” or if fear and anxiety is taking over, that’s a giant red arrow probably pointing to a lack of communication on my part. They either need to be informed (what) or inspired (why) or both.

People don’t know what you’re thinking unless you tell them.

As a leader, it’s easy to forget what I’ve told people and what I haven’t. It’s easy to have conversations in my head that I’ve never had with real people. It’s easy to get far out in front of the pack, chart the course, start leading the way, and then realize that I haven’t really told anybody what’s going on or why it’s going on! That’s a bad spot, because those gaps create confusion, worry, tension, and doubt—predictably and reasonably so.

When you don’t include people, you’ve left them in the dark, so don’t be surprised when they begin to wonder or when they begin to complain or have concerns.

Leaders communicate—they share what’s happening, why, and where God is leading. They speak biblically and practically about what, why, and how God is leading. People resist change naturally—everyone does, even you. So, lead through it compassionately with effective communication.

Like a Good Doctor

Unless healthy change is communicated effectively, it can be emotionally disruptive. It doesn’t have to be “bad change” to be hard change. Good changes are often uncomfortable and require gentleness and careful communication. Good communication helps the heart rest and accept necessary change for the sake of a greater good.

If you’ve ever had a good doctor during a difficult time, then you know what I’m talking about. My cancer doctor was exceptional at helping me to “know how to feel” about what I was going through. He wasn’t dismissive of my emotions, but he also wasn’t over-reactionary to them. In other words, He didn’t ignore my feelings and he didn’t angrily yell at me for feeling them either.

He acknowledged the difficulty, listened to my concerns, and then coached me in hope and courage. It was a great study in effective leadership and communication. My world was completely destabilized, but he had a way of helping me “place” my emotions and contextualize them appropriately. This what good communication does for God’s people—and this is what a godly shepherd desires for God’s sheep.

How often I have heard of insecure pastors or leaders shutting down questions or concerns and then pushing people away. Don’t let your insecurity rule your heart in that way. Receive questions and be a dispenser of grace—patiently help people understand how they should feel about where God is leading.

Be willing to lose a battle in order to win a heart.

Are You a Positive or Negative Communicator?

Good communicators respect their hearers and choose to motivate with grace.They presume the best of their listeners.

Think of it this way. In every public forum in which you communicate, your words are built on a foundational assumption. You presume good or bad about your audience, and you speak from that presumption.

If I presume good, I’m going to speak with optimism and encouragement. If I presume bad, I’m going to speak in anger and indignation. In other words, if I am speaking to a glad-hearted hearer who desires to obey God, then my approach will be inspiring, instructional, and positive—anticipating that they will want to obey God. If I assume that I’m speaking to heart-hearted Pharisees, my approach is going to be confrontational and maybe even combative—assuming they are rebelling in their hearts.

Have you ever heard a preacher preach like he’s speaking to an entire crowd of angry, rebellious listeners who are carrying out imaginary heart arguments with him? It’s a very different experience than when the preacher presumes that you have a tender and receptive heart to God’s word.

(By the way, the vast majority of your listeners are coming to hear you with tender hearts. Keep that in mind when the accuser tells you otherwise. And when you are aware that there are is a rebel or two in the room, stay focused in your delivery on those who are receptive—otherwise the whole tone of your message will shift. Your tender-hearted sheep will get beat up and wonder why, and the rebels won’t listen to you any way. Feed God’s sheep—they are hungry and need your nurture!)

Here’s an example. 

If I hope to biblically and graciously motivate my church to give generously, then I’m not going to begin with the assumption that they don’t want to give. That would be counter to the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

If I begin with that negative assumption, then I’m going to argue with them, debate them, and chastise them for “not wanting to give” and I’m going to press them to obey God’s word and give—all unnecessarily. There’s a problem with this—namely that most Christians actually want to give, because the Holy Spirit places that desire in them. So, Christians sitting in this service are wondering “why am I being beaten up for something I actually already want to do?”

On the other hand, if I begin with the assumption that they want to give and even that they are already giving, then I’m probably going to begin by thanking them for their generosity and applauding their sincere love and faithfulness. Then my tone, approach, and attitude is going to be encouraging, faith-building, inspiring, and biblically rich with truth. This will lead them to love Jesus and cheerfully grow in giving. These Christians sit in this service being reminded how glad they are that they give, and desiring for God to enable them to do more.

The context is all determined by the foundational assumption of the communicator, and whether he will inspire and motivate with grace or guilt.

It never fails that in churches where the people are beaten or pressed into giving, they always give less and begrudgingly. And in churches where people are thanked for their generosity, they always desire to give more and cheerfully.

Sometimes we forget: God’s word is most essentially GOOD NEWS, but sometimes we make it sound like most essentially BAD NEWS. That’s just bad communication. Somewhere along the way we need to recapture the wonder of the gospel and the good news of God’s unconditional love and grace.

Effective Communication Can Be Learned

Good communication is a life-long study and an acquired skill. So, study and practice growing as a communicator. Study great communicators. Read books about communicating. Grow in the art of helping people follow God’s vision.

Many times, healthy change fails simply because a well-intentioned leader was not clearly and effectively communicating.

As an addendum to this post, I’m including a list of practical ideas on communication.

Thanks for reading!

Stay tuned for part 6!


Ways to Communicate:

—In church services —Through multimedia (video, PPT slides) —Weekly all-church email —Personal appointments (mostly listen!) —Group fellowships —Direct mail —Social media posts —One on one —In preaching and teaching

What to Communicate:

—Stories (share the personal stories of life change…) —Philosophy (what isn’t changing, what needs to change, why?)

How to Communicate

—Optimistically (faith-filled!) —Transparently —Accountably —Continually