Monday, June 30, 2008

Leadership (part 4)

This is the fourth in my series of articles on leadership. A leader helps people move from where they are to where they want or need to be. Helping churches make this transition can be incredibly challenging. I believe one of the greatest needs today is for “leaders” who have the skill and insight to help congregations successfully change. As I indicated in my third article “change is difficult.” It seems particularly difficult for churches.

Have you ever tried to implement what seemed to be a “small change” only to discover the change had far reaching impact? I once presented plans to a small congregation where I was serving as pastor to conduct a committee training event. It seemed like a harmless and practical way to begin the new church year. I thought it might help our committees function more effectively. However, as a young pastor, I was unaware of the potential impact of the decision to conduct a committee training event on the informal and formal power structures of the congregation. I was not aware of how the recommendation would impact some of my key leaders. The response was rapid and painful.

Joel Barker says leaders need to have an appreciation for complex systems and how they work. We have to be aware that small decisions in one area of our ministry may impact many other areas. One of the examples he shares is the Y2K bug. As you know in reality it was no bug. It was a simple decision made by early computer programmers to abbreviate the year to the last two digits rather than four digits. The result was a massive problem when the year 2000 arrived. The problem was that computers recognized “00” as 1900, not 2000. Barker reminds us that the result of one seemingly simple decision made years before the new millennium cost billions of dollars to correct.

Many pastors and church leaders have been “blind-sided” by the impact of what seemed to be simple, small decisions in their congregations. Whether we are dealing with the world of nature, a business venture, or a local congregation the decisions we make sometimes have major impact. If we fail to recognize the nature of complex systems then our leadership may be compromised before we even get started. Many congregations have split and pastors have resigned because leaders failed to recognize the impact of small decisions.

Helping churches successfully change takes time and patience. It also takes insight to see the complexities of the church’s systems and power structure. Pastors and church leaders can develop the skills to help the congregation gradually transition through changes as they move toward greater health and effectiveness. It is not impossible for churches to change, but it can be challenging. Remember Barker said, More than anything else, leaders build bridges that help us move from where we are to where we want to be. Leaders need to understand the nature of change and how it impacts those they lead.

Before we rush in with all our new ideas, we need to reflect on the impact of the changes we are recommending. How will these decisions impact our church’s ministry in the short-term and long-term? Who will be affected by the changes? How can we help these changes take place with less stress and resistance? What is the best time frame for making these changes? The list of questions goes on. Leaders take the time to ask and answer the right questions as they lead their congregations into the future God has planned. That is a part of building bridges to the future. No matter how great your ideas, if no one is following you, then you are not leading.


Danny said...

There's a saying among evangelicals that a lot of the leadership material out there is coming from I, II, and III John: Piper, Maxwell, and McArthur.

I wondered if you'd read any of their books.

Jim Hill said...

Hello Danny,

Yes, I read quite a few of Maxwell's books, although most of them were a number of years ago. While some of material was helpful, I guess I became tired of the lists. I have also read some of Piper, but not as much. I have been a C. S. Lewis fan for many years, so I appreciate some of his heritage. I have not read much of McArthur. I also read some more secular leadership authors like Patrick Lencioni. I am still finding my way within God's Grace. Thanks. Jim