The need for change and greater missional effectiveness is huge both for congregations and ministry organizations. Too many ministries are living in the dusty pages of the past with the illusion that all is well when they are actually one generation from extinction or irrelevance. The greatest gift in these situations is a leader who will take the risk to seriously rock the boat and bring about fundamental change to both the thinking and practices of the ministry. Let's talk about the steps that are necessary for that to happen.

Create a crisis.
Unless people see a compelling need for change they generally will not go there. A change agent's job is first to shake the confidence of the organization by creating a crisis and making the case that unless something changes, there is no compelling future for the ministry. This is often done by being honest about the lack of results, the health of the ministry and the trend lines. Bringing truth to the surface has a way of creating great discomfort if that truth reveals significant fault lines. Because a hallmark of unhealthy ministries is that they live with the illusion that all is well, that illusion must first be publicly punctured with truth.

Bring a new clarity
As the crisis is being created, change agents also start to articulate a new clarity that creates an alternative to the status quo. What is must be balanced by what can and should be so that the truth of today's reality is offset by a hopeful alternative for tomorrow. There is no better way to do this than face to face, in conversation and group dialogue. One is not seeking to change the minds of the change resistant but to win the support of early adopters and reasonable people. You will not convince everyone, nor does one need to. You do have to convince enough people, however, to gain a coalition of the willing to move in a new direction.

Replace leaders
Inevitably deep change will require a new set of leaders. The leaders you have got you to where you are and it is unlikely that most of them will get you to where you need to go. In fact, most ministries that need change do not even value a true leadership culture where leaders lead. Often they value a management culture where nice people manage the status quo. So the challenge is really twofold, replace current leaders with true leaders who are fully aligned with you and create a leadership culture where leadership is valued and encouraged. But remember. Those who got you to here will almost never get you to there if you are bringing significant change.

Build healthy teams
All healthy ministry organizations are made up of healthy teams. So the next step is to intentionally build teams of people who will work synthetically with one another under good leadership with accountability for results. The lack of such teams is one of the contributing factors to an unhealthy organization. This is not an easy transition because in unhealthy ministries, people are not used to actually working with each other and what passes as a team is usually not a team at all. A great deal of attention is needed to coach and mentor team leaders who have not had such coaching or training in the past.

Focus everyone on the missional agenda
A lack of missional focus is one of the reasons that ministries flounder. Lack of clarity about what they are about, lack of good leadership to keep people focused, lack of teams to harness different gifts are all part of the equation. Change agents constantly keep staff focused on what really matters with an honest evaluation of results. Again, this is not an easy transition for people who have valued faithfulness above actual ministry fruit. 

Stay the course
Organizational change only comes when there is a dogged conviction that things must change and a leader who will do whatever it takes to see that change happens. Look for some wins along the way and celebrate but know that real change takes years, not months and the larger the organization, the longer it will take. It is not unusual for the change process to take five to ten years and it is not complete until a new DNA is so secure that the leader can leave and the change remains.

It can be a lonely job to be a change agent and it takes great wisdom to rock the boat without sinking the ship. Those who do so, however, are great gifts to the organization they serve. 
  • Apr 13, 2011
  • Category: News
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