Change leaders not only define healthy change, they see change as a leadership responsibility. If they are successful, they will have enthusiastic followers. This doesn’t occur automatically, which emphasizes the third essential of leading change: followers trust trustworthy leaders.
Successful leaders not only carry out the tasks inherent with change, they involve, motivate, inspire and attract followers. At the heart of this followership is a trust relationship with the leadership team.
Trust relationships are an important theme embedded in the biblical qualifications for leaders. They appear in such passages as 1 Peter 5:1-4, I Timothy 3:1-13, and Titus 1:5-9. These guidelines for selecting leaders focus primarily on aspects of leadership character. Followers place confidence in and trust leaders who—through their behavior—demonstrate godly motives.
Making trust essential
In the realm of change leadership, there is a crucial component of change that makes a trust relationship essential. That component is the emotional makeup of those experiencing the change.
Ann Salerno and Lillie Brock address this topic in their helpful tool called the “Change Cycle.”™ They assert that when changes are introduced in any organization, people naturally experience fear, resentment and anxiety long before they can move on to acceptance. For that reason, followers commonly respond with paralysis and resistance before they begin to cooperate.
Effective, trustworthy change leaders respect this progression of emotions and behaviors. They take the lead by proposing change. With an understanding of the dynamics of change and—out of respect for people’s emotions—they also involve others as appropriate.
The extent of such involvement will depend on church size and other contextual considerations. Still, the principle remains: leaders propose, request feedback and input, and listen. Finally, they may or may not tweak the proposal before implementing it.
Ineffective change leaders expect (and may even demand) immediate acceptance of change. They also pay a price for attempting to force through what may or may not be in the best interests of the church at that time.
Jim Dethmer, a former teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church (WCCC), gave a personal example of this once at a conference.
Prior to assuming his role at WCCC, Jim pastored a large, rather traditional church on the East Coast. He and his leadership team had attended a WCCC conference. In their van on the way home, they decided to replicate this seeker-sensitive church’s practices. So they shifted to a contemporary worship style and made other significant programming changes. By introducing change too quickly, they shattered trust. As a result, hundreds of families left the church.
A patient path
By way of contrast, I experienced an example of a more patient path toward change in my ministry from 2002-2006. I was a senior associate pastor at Constance Free Church in Andover, Minn. After the church reached a certain size, paid staff felt that our decision-making process was too slow and cumbersome.
Over the course of several years, we researched alternatives while involving the board and church members in the discussions. Eventually, we moved to a form of policy governance that delegated more day-to-day decision-making to the church staff. With this change, our leadership team honored everyone involved by moving with—and not too far ahead of—the congregation.
Change is an emotion-laden path. Leaders who recognize that demonstrate character, build trust, and bring along followers.
Next time: Stuck churches require radical change