The Top 3 Mistakes Leaders Make When Implementing Change

Thursday, October 31, 2013

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I have personally observed several churches as they navigate the waters of change over the last 30 years. I have been a part of the leadership team with some of them, with others I have simply observed the process. Change is a necessary and important part of the life of a church and a church that refuses to change is a church that will eventually die. Change is a fact of life, especially in the Kingdom of God, and change will happen one way or another. It will bring life and growth, or it will bring death and stagnation. The key is in how and why it is implemented. For change to be positive and bring growth and new life, it has to be implemented properly. A mentor of mine told me you have to pastor change. Let me share what I have come to observe as the top 3 mistakes leaders make when implementing change.

#1 - Failing to communicate the vision for change.
I have watched great leaders with great ideas fail simply because they did a lousy job of communicating the vision or purpose for the change. You can have the most brilliant plan, even one that is anointed by God, but if you do not communicate the vision for the change, you are destined to fail. I believe the number one reason why people are resistant to change is because they don't understand the purpose for it. People fear what they don't understand and if they don't see a clearly defined purpose and benefit for the change you are making, they will oppose it regardless of how well they like you as a leader. I believe the opposite it also true. I have watched congregations fully embrace change even when they didn't like it simply because they understood that God was calling them to it. If God is clearly behind it, they will get behind it. If they aren't convinced he is, you will find yourself on your own. The bottom line in clearly communicating the vision for change is that you as the leader must first have a clear understanding from the Lord of what you believe he wants you to do. If you don't have that, you will never be able to convince your people of it. They can tell whether this is your idea or something God has birthed in your heart because it will be evident in the way you communicate it.

#2 - Making too many changes too fast.
I once read a quote somewhere that went something like "Leaders who make too many changes will find their church making a change in leadership." I couldn't find the source of that quote, but I have observed it to be true. One part of the equation of developing a vision for change is establishing a reasonable timeline. Just because God has shown you ten things about your church that must change doesn't mean he wants you to change all ten things overnight. Too often leaders don't listen closely enough and long enough to get the complete vision. They get the "What" but fail to get the the "How and When" they are to implement that vision. The problems that exist didn't develop overnight and they certainly cannot be solved overnight. Some of the changes God is calling you to implement may take several years and will require extreme patience on your part as the leader. Anyone can define the problem, but it takes skill to develop a strategy to solve the problem.

I have observed leaders who make too many changes do so simply because they are addicted to change. They get bored easily and thrive on the challenge that change brings. In the long run, these leaders only end up creating chaos, burnout and resentment among the congregation. Change for the sake of change is never wise. If God is not in it, don't do it. Don't ever forget that we are called to build people, not programs. Change must always serve the congregation, not the other way around.

#3 - Failing to include people in the process from beginning to end.
If you want people to take ownership of the process and fully buy into the vision, you must make them part of that process. If you don't, they will always view it as your vision, not theirs. The good news is that when you include people in the process and it fails, the people will say we failed. The bad news is that when you refuse to include people in the process and it fails, the people will say you failed and you alone will be left with the consequences.

Another reason why it is crucial to involve people in the process is because leaders need feedback. There have been many times that I thought I heard from God, but when I shared it with others who had Godly wisdom and insight, it became apparent that I had missed something and they saved me from doing something that I would have regretted. Proverbs 15:22 says, "Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed." Don't surround yourself with people who will tell you what you want to hear. Surround yourself with people who will tell you what you need to hear. Leaders need people to hold them accountable and to provide a spiritual covering. It is a wonderful feeling when the vision God has spoken to you is affirmed by others so that you know you are going the right direction. The bottom line is if your leadership team is not 100% behind you, don't move forward.

I am sure you can add many other things to this list, but I have found that these three mistakes are church killers. Avoiding these three will go a long way in helping you avert disaster when implementing change. As long as you remember these three things--Communication, Timing and Listening, you will be successful in carrying out the vision God speaks to you as a leader.

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