A call to pastoral ministry is a call to lead change. And leading change can be… Well, it can be an adventure. I have never seen a church that did not need to experience at least some change. In all honesty, many churches appear trapped in a time warp. They are well-equipped for ministry in 1975. Not so much for ministry as we approach the start of the third decade of the third millennium!
This is especially true for churches needing to experience revitalization. It may seem like everything needs to change. In a previous article I pointed out that tactical patience is one characteristic of The Revitalization Pastor. Simply put, tactical patience is the ability of the pastor to lead change strategically. It is the ability of the pastor to prioritize and implement some changes while continuing to live with other things that need to be changed. It is also the ability to recognize the difference between big changes and small changes.
Leading Big Changes
I have led some pretty big changes over the past three decades. In my last church we combined all of our mission offerings into one global missions offering. That may not sound like a big change. But every Southern Baptist understands the sanctity of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions as well as the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions. You don’t mess with Lottie or Annie. But I did!
Let me explain. No, we did not do away with Lottie or Annie even though we had a few people asking if we were ever going to pay them off! These two mission offerings are vital to the work of Southern Baptist missionaries all over the world. Without the funds from these offerings, our missionaries could not stay on the field. We did not eliminate funding for Lottie or Annie. We actually increased our offerings. But we also combined them with other missions into one budget and one global missions offering. We promoted it throughout the year. Not just Christmas and Easter. And our mission giving increased tremendously.
That was a big change. And before we implemented the change, I did my homework. I spent hours meeting with individuals. Meeting with appropriate committees. Meeting with our deacons. Before taking the proposal to the church I asked our deacons to pray about it for a month. Only after prayer and further discussion did we take it to the church. I then asked the church to pray about it for a month. And after prayer and further discussion we voted unanimously to move forward.
I know many pastors who understand the call to lead change. And when leading big change they proceed cautiously. They do their homework. They know that they have to show tactical patience. But what about small changes?
Leading Small Changes
I recently asked a group of church leaders to share some of the changes they have attempted that did not get the expected response. Virtually every change seemed small. The pastor did not expect the change to fail. He did not expect the church to care one way or the other. As Lee Corso would say on ESPN’s College Gameday, “Not so fast, my friend!” Here are some of the small changes that did not go as planned:
- What did you do with the Lord’s Supper? – Most churches serve the Lord’s Supper from the front of the worship center. One pastor moved it to the back of the room. His reasoning was solid. He wanted members to engage with the church’s prayer teams that were stationed in the back of the room. Let’s just say it is easier to move the prayer teams than it is to move the bread and the wine/juice.
- No happy birthday for you! – I can totally relate to this one. At least one of the churches I served sang happy birthday to church members on a regular basis. I’m talking about singing happy birthday during the worship service. But this church took it a step further. The birthday boy (or girl) stood at the front of the worship center while the church sang. Then they dropped a “birthday offering” into the plate before returning to their seats. The new pastor changed it in his first three months! Yes, the church objected. As he said, “People were not happy, but I didn’t care. It was so unbearable and embarrassing that it had to be done.”
- What a difference five minutes makes! – The aspiring pastor wanted to move the start time from 11:00 AM to 10:55 AM. No big deal. Right? Wrong! “You would have thought I was asking them to sacrifice their firstborn!” There are variations to this one. “What time do we end?” “When do we take the offering?” You get the idea. We like our ruts… Ummm, routines!
- Do I still get an envelope? – Every pastor understands the pressure to keep up the offerings. When offerings decline, it is the one thing that gets the attention of virtually every church leader. So, what if you could increase your giving by as much as 25% by simply adding online giving options. Text to give. An online giving portal. That sort of thing. It seems to be an easy solution with a lot of upside. I use my church’s text to give system on a regular basis. But some church members don’t like it. Now, keep in mind, if they don’t like it they can still give by check. But they don’t want anyone to give online. I recently watched a full argument on the subject. Not what the pastor expected.
- Who stole my pulpit? – Even before Thom Rainer literally wrote the book on this, I had already been down this road. I preached without a pulpit. I blame it on my staff. They convinced me to do it. That excuse didn’t work for Adam in the Garden, and it didn’t work for me either!
Here is what I have learned. Expect the unexpected. What seems like a minor change to you and me, may very well be a significant change to a church member. Don’t assume it’s no big deal. Do your homework. Show tactical patience. But by all means lead change.
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