Change Management: Shepherding the Transformation

Note: I’m developing this blog mini-series from material in chapter five of my book Equipping Counselors for Your Church.  

An Exercise in Change

When I teach and consult on change management, I start with a change exercise. I ask participants to stand and face each other in pairs of two, observing each other’s appearance. Then I instruct them to turn back to back and make five changes to their appearance. Typically, they roll up a sleeve, take off their glasses, loosen a tie, remove an earring, or make other basic changes. 

Next I tell them to face each other and identify the five changes their partner made. They’ll laugh, point out changes, and instinctively start to change back. 

Before they do, I ask them to turn around again and make five additional changes to their appearance. From some people I hear murmuring; from others I observe enthusiastic creativity. Hair braids come off, pant legs are pulled up, jackets are put on backwards, pens are placed over an ear, shirttails come out. Once again they face each other and identify these changes. 

Then I start to say, “Okay, turn around again…” Vocal resistance begins. I respond, “Just kidding. Let’s sit down and talk about our CQ—our Change Quotient.” We then discuss: 

  • Were you comfortable or uncomfortable with the assignment?
  • Were the changes easy or hard for you to make? To identify?
  • Were you in a cooperative mode or a mutiny mood?
  • At what point, if any, did you experience change overload?
  • How quickly did you revert back to your former look? 

We then discuss the implications that we can derive for change management. People mention applications such as: 

  • Change takes an initiator.
  • The initiator of change must be trusted.
  • Change requires clear instructions.
  • People can handle only so much change—don’t overload.
  • Change takes energy and creativity.
  • Change can be minor yet feel dramatic.
  • Change can cause people to feel uncomfortable and even fearful about losing the old and facing the new.
  • People focus on what they have to sacrifice.
  • People feel isolated when they lose the familiar.
  • People have different levels of readiness for change.
  • Change is not one action but a journey. People often revert back to their old style. 

Shifting Teutonic Plates

If a little game like this prompts such turmoil, imagine the angst when we ask a congregation to make a major ministry mindset shift. For many congregations, it’s a monumental shift to move from the pastor as the doer of ministry to the pastor as the equipper of equippers. For many church members, it’s a massive shift to move from receiving counseling from the pastor to providing counseling to one another. 

This is why it’s unwise to move directly from a new vision to enlisting people to live out that vision. Yet we do it all the time. We get all excited after attending a seminar on Gospel-centered preaching, or the disciple-making pastor, or the equipping-focused church. Then we return home, gather other likeminded people, create a vision statement, tell others about it, and announce a grand new approach to church life. 

Instead of creating a following, we generate a family feud. 

Been There, Done That

I know, because I just described my experience. Armed with the best of intentions, but not with the greatest wisdom, I tried to shift our congregation from a pastor-centered model to an equipping-centered approach. I made enough mistakes and learned enough from those mistakes to write a book. 

My heart was right—I wanted to transform the way our congregation lived the Gospel. My initial process was wrong—I expected people to make dramatic changes without preparing my heart and their hearts for change. 

That’s why I entitled this initial blog post: Shepherding the Transformation. Before you seek to change church structure, seek to shepherd changed hearts. Before you enlist individuals to be equipped, invite a congregation to become stewards of a transformational vision. 

Cultivating ongoing ownership is always relevant. It was necessary in Nehemiah’s day, it was needed in Paul’s day, and it is indispensible in our day. In our changing times, we need timeless truth about change. 

Transformed Lives: Changing Ministers Before Changing Ministries

The Bible has a theology of change which we can summarize with one word: transformation. Transformation starts with hearts: changed leaders change people who change churches who change communities. 

Before you prepare a change management plan, prepare people. Before you prepare people, prepare your own heart. 

Nehemiah and Paul each led God’s people through transformative change. We think of Nehemiah as a wall builder and we sometimes use the book of Nehemiah to distill organizational leadership principles. 

However, Nehemiah never prayed to be remembered as a wall builder, but rather as a people builder. In Nehemiah 5:19; 13:14, 22, and 31 he prays that God would remember him for empowering God’s people to serve, for leading God’s people to worship, and for motivating God’s people to live transformed lives. The book of Nehemiah is not about organizational leadership; it is about shepherding people whose transformed lives lead to a transformed community. 

Likewise, Paul’s ministry in 2 Corinthians focuses not simply on conflict resolution, but on personal reconciliation—first with God and then with one another (2 Corinthians 5:17-21; 6:11-13). Paul’s letter is not about transitioning ministries but about transforming ministers. 

In the midst of conflict, Paul fixes his eyes on the prize. “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). Paul laser focuses his goal. “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18). 

The Rest of the Story

Taking up the leadership mantle of Nehemiah and Paul, we must focus on transforming people before we start transitioning ministries. In our upcoming blog posts in this mini-series we’ll learn that transformational spiritual leaders emphasize: 

  • Transforming My Heart
  • Transforming My Attitude Toward God’s People
  • Transforming Our Worship of God 

Join the Conversation

Share about a time in your church life where change took place and it was handled well. Or, where conflict began, and it was successfully resolved.

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