A Simple Acronym for C.H.A.N.G.E.

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As much as churches seem to stay the same it may be surprising that many pastors struggle to lead their congregations through change. Minor changes (or things you might think are minor changes) become the focus of major disagreements. “We’ve always done it that way” echoes down the hallways that still show the outdated paint color that the last building and grounds chairman’s wife picked out.

Yet ministry requires pastors to carefully shepherd their flock through changes from staff changes, demographic changes in the community, technological changes, and membership changes. Satan has sewn seeds of division in times of uncertainty. But it does not have to be that way. Here is a simple acronym to help you navigate the next change you lead or respond to at your church.

C – Call out to God in Prayer 

Pastor, you can find stabilizing help in prayer when you are unsettled by change. Whether you are responding to the fear of a change you anticipate in the future or reacting to a change that has been thrust upon you suddenly, God meets you in prayer.

God is never surprised by change. So, call out to him in prayer.

As you lead through change, remember that God never changes. The psalmist finds great comfort in the unchanging nature of God, “Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end” (Ps. 102:25-27).

Thom Rainer warns, “I have never seen successful and sustaining change take place in a church without prayer. Never. Not once.”

H – Help! Get Some

You are not meant to lead through change by yourself. Yes, there are some leadership burdens in the process of change which you will uniquely bear as the leader. But that does not mean you should go through change alone. In his classic book, Leading Change, John Kotter suggests that leaders create a Guiding Coalition which will share the weight of leading change. Mark Dever reflects on the impact that sharing the burden of leadership with a plurality of elders has made, “I can honestly say that moving to a plurality of elders in our church has been the single most helpful event to me in my pastoral ministry here in Washington, D.C..”

In Exodus 18, Moses’s father-in-law, Jethro, points out that Moses is foolish for trying to bear a leadership burden alone. Specifically, he tells Moses, “What you are doing is not good. You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone” (Exodus 18:17-18). Now, you know it is bad when your father-in-law steps in! Brother pastor, you do not have to bear the burden of leading change alone.

A – Assess

In moments or seasons of change, wise leaders will take a step back to assess the situation. They will examine the facts. They will examine the players. They will examine themselves and their motivations. They will also examine the organization’s ability to handle the change. The complexity of change requires leaders to take a step back and evaluate.

In The Effective Executive Peter Drucker offers insights into the decision-making habits of healthy leaders. He recommends a process of assessing the nature of the decision, the expected accomplishments of the decision, the moral components of the decision, and finally a plan for getting feedback after the decision. Drucker’s insights can help the pastor assessing the need for a change.

Assess the situation. Assess the church. Assess yourself. And, if the change is from God, move forward.

N – New Vision

Churches tend to overestimate how comfortable the past was and underestimate how comfortable the future will be when they think about changing. They look back on the good ole’ days and fear that change will only take them further away. But God may have great blessings and joy on the other side of change for a church.

Pastor, cast forward-thinking vision as you lead through change. Paint a picture of how this change will free the church up for greater obedience. Help the aging congregation imagine children laughing in the hallways. Thom Rainer explains, “become a voice of hope and provide a clear vision for the church to move forward in a strategic fashion.”

G – Get to work

You must implement the change. Some leaders have lost credibility because they initiated change too quickly. But other leaders have lost credibility because they never actually put change into motion. They talked about change. They painted the picture of a better future. They helped the congregation understand why change was needed. But without implementation, change simply falls apart.

In James 4:13-17, James warns that inaction can be evidence of a heart issue. He explains that assuming we have tomorrow should not lead believers to delay obedience. He reminds readers of the brevity of life and their dependence on the will of the Lord. James concludes, “so whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (James 4:17). Pastor beware of failing to implement change.

E – Evaluate

Once a change has been initiated, wise leaders will examine how things are going. How is the congregation responding? Are promises which were made about the change being fulfilled? Are unexpected challenges being addressed appropriately?

Change can be hard for some people. When the sanctuary in which a man married his wife is being renovated by a new church and that man has found solace in that sanctuary after his wife’s passing; change can be hard. Pastors must shepherd their way through change. This may include leading people through the grief process. Someone may lash out in anger as they emotionally process a change. Pastors have an opportunity to lead through a process like what Ken Sande recommends in Peacemaker as they lead through change.

Brother pastor, one day you will stand before God who never changes. One day you will give an account for the souls of those entrusted to you. And one day you will lead your church through a final change. May we be found faithful in all the aspects of ministry including leading well through change as well as the resolve to never change those things which God has called us to maintain.

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MDiv Preaching and Pastoral Ministry

The Preaching and Pastoral Ministry track prepares students for pastoral ministry in the local church with a special emphasis on expository preaching.

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Jeff Mingee

Regional Strategist, SBC of Virginia

Jeff Mingee (DMin, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the Southeast Regional Strategist with the SBC of Virginia. He is the author of several books, including Digital Dominion: Five Questions Christians Should Ask to Take Control of Their Digital Devices. He and his wife, Lauren, live in Newport News with their sons Aiden and Carter.

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