ST. LOUIS (BP) — Leading change in a church can be difficult and must be navigated with prayer, love and patience, pastors acknowledged in a panel discussion held during the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in St. Louis.
LifeWay Christian Resources hosted more than 800 church leaders for a free breakfast and discussion on “Leading Change in the Church.” LifeWay President and CEO Thom S. Rainer unpacked three things most leaders forget to do when leading change: begin with prayer, pray with a guiding coalition, and see crises as opportunities.
“Change begins with prayer, is infused with prayer, and continues with prayer,” Rainer told leaders gathered June 15. “Many times change fails because the source and strength of power is human-centered instead of God-anointed.”
Rainer exhorted leaders to begin to lead change with prayer and fasting and to lead others to pray with them before they begin any changes.
He reminded them “every time you have a crisis, you have an opportunity to lead change. Instead of trying to solve the crisis, think about what you can do to make a positive change in the midst of the crisis.”
Eric Geiger, vice president of LifeWay’s Resources Division, moderated a panel discussion of critical issues in effectively navigating change. The panel included pastors Ron Edmondson, Immanuel Baptist Church, Lexington, Ky.; Sam Rainer, West Bradenton Baptist Church, Bradenton, Fla.; Jimmy Scroggins, Family Church, West Palm Beach, Fla.; and Kevin Smith, newly elected executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware and teaching pastor at Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky.
Each of the pastors shared personal experiences in leading change and the lessons they’ve learned along the way.
Scroggins said the biggest change his church made was canceling the singing Christmas tree. “It was very well done and I was proud of it, but it had taken over the life or our church so that we were paralyzed to try any new evangelistic initiatives,” he explained. “Making that change allowed us to free up resources, volunteers and emphasis.”
Sam Rainer said the first thing a pastor should ask himself before leading change is do I love my church where it is right now and not where I wish it could be in two, three or five years. “If you don’t love your church where she is right now, there is absolutely no way you could lead your church to where your church may need to go.”
He also said pastors have to be willing to take the heat of change with grace and to show grace to others.
Smith said it’s important for leaders to do research and relationship work to find out the basis for people’s response and the source of any resistance.
“All resistance is not based out of carnal sin,” he said. “Sometimes there are other dynamics of discipleship, biblical knowledge and spiritual growth that need nurturing and pastoring to move toward that change.”
The panel agreed that resistance is a natural part of change. Scroggins said leaders should respond to resistance with kindness and clarity.
“As a pastor, you have to be kind,” Scroggins said. “While you are being kind, you can continue to be clear about the direction you’re going and remind people that change is part of a bigger vision for the church.”
Seeing people grow closer to Christ and develop as disciples has to be the initial motivation for change, Edmondson said. “Growth doesn’t come without change,” he said. “If people do the same thing over time, they aren’t going to grow.”
“We don’t want to lead change for change’s sake,” Geiger said. “We want to see disciples fully formed into the image of Christ.”
He introduced a new resource from LifeWay that bridges leading change and discipleship — Disciples Path: The Journey, a one-year intentional plan for discipleship.
Geiger invited leaders to join the launch team for The Journey, which will launch in January and is available to order in August.
“We don’t want churches to focus only on changing programming and service times,” he said. “Although those are important, we really are about the hearts of people being transformed by Jesus Christ.”