As a new pastor, how should I lead my church through some necessary changes?

Whenever a pastor relocates to another church, it is easy to find several items that do not make sense. Whether it’s the order of worship, the personality of church staff, or an old piano in an abandoned Sunday school room, a church can be quite confusing for any new minister to navigate.

While congregations expect some change to take place with new leadership, it is not often in the same areas that the new leader has in mind! If done carelessly, the pastor’s decisions can lead to anxiety, criticism, cynicism or even termination. In order to avoid any of these congregational reactions, a good minister can employ changes in several steps.

A minister should bring change carefully. The first few months within a new church situation should be for observation. During this time, the pastor can ask members of the staff and the church about the procedures, events and objects within the church. The minister can then reflect upon each item and evaluate each possible change.

A minister should bring change methodically. The pastor should have a reasonable explanation for any change within the church. Peter Steinke provides a simple but valuable method for creating change. First, he says, the leader should guide with a sense of calm. Second, the minister should provide focus, often by using the church’s mission statement. Third, the pastor can challenge the congregation to employ the change. When the minister creates calm, focus and challenge, the congregation is more willing to accept the change.

A minister should bring change corporately. When a church perceives that a pastor makes decisions alone, anxiety often follows. If the entire congregation has an opportunity to participate in the changes the pastor has shared, most likely it will welcome them.

A minister should bring change gradually. When changes occur, good or bad, something is always lost. However, the more gradual the change, the less of a negative reaction there will be. Slow changes will also reduce the possibility of “change fatigue,” in which church members become apathetic or withdraw from the congregation. A wise leader will allow the changes to permeate as quietly and effortlessly as possible.

A minister should bring change reverently. A wise pastor will acknowledge that procedures, events and objects are often kept in place out of tradition or respect, and they have sentimental value. When changes are necessary, it is good and proper to bring closure to them in the best way possible.

Change in a church is never easy, for the pastor or for the congregation. However, it can be less of an anxious time if the minister will learn about the congregation, assess the situation, and act in kindness, respect, and love. Doing so will allow the minister and the congregation to have a long and fruitful ministry.

Ken Gore is professor of biblical studies at Dallas Baptist University. Email your questions to tim@arkansasbaptist.org.

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