There are challenges to launching something from scratch. Primary among them is generating the resources required to support the new initiative. I launched a new business. I know those challenges very well. Church planters are also keenly aware of the need for people (and their money) in order to establish a new ministry.
Transitioning churches, though, presents a whole new set of challenges. In this instance, resources don’t typically drive the success or failure, but a lack of resources will oftentimes generate the pain that is required as a precursor to change. I would argue that the primary challenge in transitioning churches revolves around leadership.
I recently offered a strategy for initiating change. It included these four steps:
- Create urgency.
- Communicate for buy-in.
- Make the change.
- Celebrate early wins.
As you can see from the picture above, the buy-in and momentum generated by implementing a positive change isn’t always up and to the right. There will be dips. People will disagree. Others will become defensive and angry. Still others will leave. There’s a rich history of people digging in their heels and whining in the wilderness on the way to God’s preferred future.
We already know how people will respond to change when that change is good and necessary. The big question is how will we respond as leaders in the moments when change gets tough?
It’s important to consider the character that’s required of the leader every step along the way. Let me explain.
Honesty to create urgency.
We need to help people understand that the pain of staying where we are is much more harmful than the pain we’ll experience by going through the change. The key leadership trait in this season is honesty. People need to hear the truth. They may not embrace the truth, but the leader needs to provide it.
The challenge, of course, is that leaders oftentimes see the truth before anyone else does. It’s part of the unique wiring God puts in you as a leader. It’s one of the key reasons why you are the leader and others are not. Leaders see it first.
If change is required, are you willing to be honest when it may actually be easier to withhold the truth?
Conviction to communicate for buy-in.
We need to paint the picture of where we are going in the future. We need to cast vision, and it must be clear and compelling. Any strong vision begins with the conviction deep in a leader’s heart. You must believe in the change before anyone else will believe in the change.
Many times change fails, though, because leaders neglect this step. They jump immediately to implementation without expressing the why driving the decision. We need to rally people around the vision first.
If change is required, will you have the conviction to speak from your heart by painting a clear, compelling picture of the future?
Courage to make the change.
This is when leaders become leaders. Until this point, change has only been a conversation. Now it’s time for implementation. In these moments, fear can become very loud. Who will disagree? Who will get angry? Who will leave? This is when courage is required.
There are days when I hate the fact that God created me with a strategic mind. When I’m the one in control of those gifts, I can easily fall into a trap where I jump to the worst possible scenarios. When God is the one in control, though, I’m able to see the potential. Ironically, when I have the courage to take the leap, my worst fears are never realized.
This is another example of how pride is the enemy of courage. When fear or worry creeps into my thoughts, I’m admitting that I believe I am in control. Courage begins when I humbly acknowledge that, “He must become greater. I must become less.”
If change is required, will you have the courage to overcome fear and do the next right thing?
Resolve to celebrate early wins.
When I was a kid, I remember climbing into the “way back” of the family station wagon for long car trips. On those trips I generally knew the destination Dad had in mind, but I also lacked the patience to quietly enjoy the journey. With that, it wouldn’t be very long into the trip before I’d ask for the first of many, many times, “Are we there yet?”
Now that I have four kids of my own, I know that question is rooted deeply in the human psyche. When we set out on a journey to a new destination, there’s something in each one of us that wants to know whether or not we’re making progress. That’s why it’s so important to celebrate the early wins.
The challenge for leaders, though, is that they’re rarely satisfied until the final destination is reached. That’s why leaders need resolve. Without resolve the leader will tend to jump from challenge to challenge, from new idea to new idea without seeing a change fully through to completion.
Additionally, resolve is needed for all the dips along the way. Though healthy change ultimately leads to a healthier destination, it’s not uncommon to lose people along the way. In fact, it’s in this final stage of the change cycle that you are most likely to lose the people who have been with you the longest. They believed in you for a time, but the change hasn’t generated the results yet and their patience has worn out.
If change is required, will you have the resolve to see it through all the way to completion?
I’ve often shared with others that the biggest challenge of being a leader is that, at some point, you actually have to lead. When that day comes for you, I pray you have the honesty, conviction, courage and resolve to do what God has called you to do.