Change Management: Sail On

Note: I’m developing this blog mini-series from material in chapter five of my book Equipping Counselors for Your Church. Read Part 1: Shepherding the Transformation. Read Part 2: Christ-Centered Heart Change. Read Part 3:  

Address Concerns: Communicate Humble Confidence

It would be naïve to think that communication alleviates every possible concern. Your people will raise issues—some of which you will have thought of and some of which will be brand new. If you have thought through the issue previously, share your plan and seek additional feedback. If the issue is new, ask the person for their thoughts on how to address it and commit to doing additional research. 

In the Redwood National Park there is a hollowed out tree that you can drive through. Since you don’t do that every day, there’s a sign before the entrance to the tree that says, “Others Have. So Can You.” 

That’s the attitude you want to convey to your congregation. “We’re not the first people to ever launch and lead a church-based biblical counseling ministry. We don’t have all the answers, but others at least know the questions. We’re doing our homework and we’re willing to do more. We’re confident that God who calls us also equips us.” 

Section four on empowering/employing godly ministers addresses the typical concerns people raise about a biblical counseling ministry. Many of those relate to ethical and legal issues. As I note in more detail in that section, you should develop a written plan that clearly and honestly represents the qualifications of your counselors, the type of counseling offered, the type of issues addressed, and the ethical standards you will follow. Secure an attorney on retainer to counsel you regarding the structure and focus of your ministry and to assist you should any issues arise. I also recommend that churches purchase malpractice insurance for each person counseling in their ministry. 

Every organization can and should function in a well-organized, ethical, and legal fashion. However, in our litigious society, no organization can guarantee that they will not be sued. Churches should not let the possibility of a lawsuit discourage them from serving God in their communities. 

Prioritize the Implementation of Change: Start Small and Grow Slow

You can teach an old dog new tricks, but you must be very patient with the dog. Much more importantly, we are not dogs. God created us in His image, knows us, commands us to change, and empowers us to change. Relational change management asks, “How much change can our people appropriately digest? How much change can our people realistically implement?” 

If you have just launched several other ministries, it may be wise to delay the formal launch of your biblical counseling ministry. If you have a small team, it may be wise to start small and to grow slow. 

I recommend equipping no more than a dozen people in the first round of training. One of my graduates started by training over 225 women. Because the training emphasized working on your own struggles, she soon had scores of people requesting counseling. Once the training was done, she had over two hundred people to supervise. She now speaks in my class and tells students, “Listen to Dr. Kellemen when he says to start with no more than a dozen trainees!” 

Mourn Change: Grieve the Loss of the Old

No matter how well you prepare your people, all change involves some loss. Something new replaces or alters the old, the familiar. People will have to reckon with the fact that their pastor may not be the person who counsels them or visits them in the hospital. Someone who has been serving alongside them in ministry may leave to join the biblical counseling ministry. The church may grow and change as people are won to Christ through biblical counseling. 

We would be uncaring biblical counselors if we dismissed such loss as inconsequential. We need to give people permission to grieve and we need to shepherd the entire congregation through the grief and growth process. 

Call for a Vote: A Conclusive Statement of Congregational Ownership 

Depending on your church government and upon how your church historically has launched new ministries, you may call for a formal vote. If so, after you have taken the steps outlined in chapters one-to-five, your biblical counseling team and church leadership can craft the wording for a congregational vote. 

It will include the name of your ministry, the mission of the ministry, a summary of financial commitments, and a summary of policy and procedure matters. You can find a sample call for a vote in Appendix 5.1 of the book. 

Taking a vote can be valuable even if it is not constitutionally required. It communicates the central role that your biblical counseling ministry has in your vision for the entire church. It also provides a specific, tangible way for the entire congregation to express ownership of and support for the ministry. 

Commencement: Sail On

I have mentioned that change is like a ship that we simultaneously sail and refit. Sometimes, in the midst of change and conflict, we just wish someone would stop the boat and let us get off! 

Nehemiah and Paul surely felt the same way at times. Ultimately, their eternal goal of glorifying God kept them afloat. Their life purpose of empowering and equipping God’s people kept them sailing the seas of ministry. Prayerfully, you are at the same place on your voyage. 

Join the Conversation

Of today’s four principles of relational change management, which one do you think is most important in your setting?

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