The Frequently Overlooked Part of Leading Change in the Church

This is a guest post by John Mark Harrison, Lead Pastor at Apex Baptist Church in Apex, North Carolina. You can follow John Mark on Twitter here.

One of the great challenges of pastoring a church is shepherding people through seasons of change. Most people don’t enjoy change, but change does not have to be that unconquerable mountain that it seems to be in so many churches.  Change is a necessary part of life, but change must be led well to see the fruit that is desired.

When leading change, leaders know that they must get approval from a church board, Elder team, or deacon body. Far too often, after receiving the freedom to move forward with the desired changes, they walk right into communication mode and leave out a very important group of people who leaders need on board with the new direction.

You can identify this group by many different names, but lets just call them the legitimizers. These are individuals that may not hold formal leadership positions in the church, but are influential in the church. Legitimizers are people that others look to when a change is announced. Getting the legitimizers on board early in the process of leading change will multiply your efforts.

When speaking to legitimizers, you’re not necessarily asking for permission to lead the change, but giving them an opportunity to speak into the new direction and process the change before the rest of the church. Be sure to ask for their support as changes are announced and see if they have any other individuals that they think need to be brought in the loop before the anticipated changes.

When you engage the legitimizers in the process of planning to lead change, I’ve observed:

1. Affirming legitimizers minimize the wave of change.

Change always makes a splash and starts a wave. Some people in the church will take a season of change to push for changes they would like to see in the church. Others take seasons of change as an excuse to church hop. A very small minority will be against the change no matter if its the greatest idea in the world.  The affirming presence of legitimizers can minimize the reactionary impact of an announced change.

2. Affirming legitimizers make the task of clear communication easier.

Church members will go to the leader of their circle of friends, the legitimizer, and ask questions about the change. If the legitimizer knows, understands and believes in the changes, then they can answer questions, correct misunderstandings and share the vision with those who take a little longer to buy into the changes. Change takes a ton of communication and far too often leaders try to micromanage the communication and set up for themselves unrealistic expectations and therefore struggle to effectively communicate change.

3. Affirming legitimizers maximize momentum.

We don’t talk a lot about momentum in church. It might not feel spiritual enough for us, but we need momentum to lead change. Trying to get momentum is a lot of hard work. Seasons of change can provide great momentum. Leveraging the influence of legitimizers is the best way to maximize momentum and fuel the desired changes in the church.

Many pastors try to dictate change from a position of authority. For a season, people will follow you as you dictate change, but after the short season, they will go back to how they’ve always done it. As pastors learn to lead change, they will see God multiply their partners in ministry and provide an Acts 9:31 type of ministry.

Acts 9:31 – “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.”