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The Single Best Way to Lead Change in a Very Traditional, Old or Resistant Setting

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I speak about change regularly. And you deal with change almost every week, if not every day.

The #1 question/conversation that comes up after one of my talks goes something like this:

Well, that’s great that you could lead change where you are. But you need to understand my context. My church is so (fill in the blanks here) old … traditional … resistant that I don’t know where to start. Sometimes I think it’s impossible. Is it?

I love that question.

One of the great consistencies in almost two decades of church leadership, for me, is change.

We’ve changed everything, moving from three very traditional, dying mainline churches to a vibrant church that’s reaching unchurched people. And in between, everything has changed: our locations, our structure, our worship, our governance, our team and even our denominational affiliation.

So … is a church or organization ever too old, resistant or traditional to change?

My answer is that change is possible anywhere. That, actually, it’s necessary. And at a bare minimum, change is worth the best shot you’ve got.

So is there a secret ingredient that can help you lead change in a traditional context far more effectively?

I think there is.

Before I share it, a few nuances for all of us.

First, Let’s Check Our Excuses

The grass is almost always greener on the other side of the leadership fence.

When it comes to change, most of us think it would be easier if we lead at another church or in another organization.

The reality is that ALL of us will struggle to lead change wherever we are.

As enthusiastic as we say we are about change, all of us resist it. That’s why you haven’t lost that final 10 pounds, haven’t cleaned out the hall closet nearly as often as you should, and haven’t started that blog you were going to launch/book you were going to write. All of that involves change, and we’re resistant.

Too many of us make too many excuses.

I wrote pretty directly about getting past your excuses in this post and again recently as one of the lessons from the collapse of Mars Hill Church.

So don’t think you’re ‘special,’ that the ‘rules don’t apply’ to your church or that other people who successfully led change ‘had it easier.’ They probably didn’t.

If you go in with an excuse mindset, you’ve set yourself up to fail.

So park your excuses if you want to lead change.

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Speaker and podcaster Carey Nieuwhof is a former lawyer and founding pastor of Connexus Church, one of the largest and most influential churches in Canada. With over 6 million downloads, The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast features today's top leaders and cultural influencers. His most recent book is “Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences.” Carey and his wife, Toni, reside near Barrie, Ontario and have two children.