About three months ago, God gave me a vision for our little church. It’s my nature to dream a little and so I carried this vision out to, in my mind, its fulfillment. In six months time I saw some growth and, more importantly, activity from the church in the community. I was, and still am, excited about what God will do as we are obedient to the vision, but I’m also seeing that it is far more important to lead change than to just make change.
When I was first called as the pastor of our church we had about 20 people, including the children. That’s about four or five families, and all of those, by that time, were a little burned out. Though they were good, faithful families, I wound up wearing most of the hats, and getting most things done. When decisions needed to be made I either made them, or appealed to the leadership team who just went along with my ideas. I was in a position that when change was needed, I just made change. In that season it was a necessity, but it isn’t healthy.
As more people began attending and getting involved I had to realize that I couldn’t just make changes. The problem is, my view and vision is so limited. Small church pastors, we need others to change our ideas! We need others to put themselves in the mix and bring their passions and convictions. Leadership experts talk about “buy-in,” but this is more than that. This is the church coming alive and realizing together why God put you here and what He is doing among them. Leaders cannot complain about the consumer mentality of the church if we keep expecting people to accept our changes without being a part of the change themselves. What I’m learning now is that it is best to lead change rather than expecting to make change.
Leading change takes time. It’s a much slower process, especially of you don’t have staff with whom you can spend time casting and refining the vision. Your fellowship needs to have a part in shaping their mission. If you don’t have staff, then the fellowship of the saints is your sounding board and brain trust. I’ve shared before that our new direction is to encourage, equip, and empower our members to fulfill God’s vision for their lives rather than expecting them to buy in to my vision to build a bigger church. This requires me to shepherd our people to discover and embrace God’s calling on their lives. That takes time. Yes, I’d love to see some immediate change, but look how God has worked in people over the years…
Abraham waited twenty-five years before he was ready to receive his promised child.
Israel wandered forty years in the wilderness before they were ready to enter the Promised Land.
The captivity in Babylon was 70 years until the Jews were ready to come back home.
It was 30 years before Jesus began his public ministry.
God is not in a hurry. He is in complete control. The formation of our heart and character is much more important than the numeric growth of our churches. Why have big churches that aren’t mature? To lead your people, you have to know your people. For your people to follow, they need to trust and know that you are following God. That assurance will come from Him as you are faithful to the vision, and to follow as he leads. Some may become impatient with the slowness of the process. That may be a sign that they are ready to take a next step, and remember the words of Peter: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). This was written to the church, to people who have already received eternal salvation. This “repentance” is referring to the process of refinement and maturity…a salvation of preservation and perseverance. God is refining his church, making her holy. Your vision and leadership are a part of that and it will not come apart from some growing pains.
Keep leading change. You’re not off track; you’re not laboring in vain. As long as you stay true to the Lord’s command, vision, and leadership then you are doing the most powerful and impactful work that you can possibly do.