Every leader knows this truth – change is inevitable. If our organizations don’t change, then they will become irrelevant and eventually die. I’ve watched too many churches in my city close their doors recently. I’ve talked to several pastors who know that because their board or church was unwilling to change that they now face insurmountable challenges resulting in people leaving and giving in decline. Healthy change is a necessity, not just for survival, but to actually thrive. 

The changes could be the need to move to a more community-based discipleship process or even just creating a discipleship process. It might mean changing the music style. It might mean changing the preaching style. It could be changing the types of meetings offered or the times they meet. The hardest kinds of change require changing leaders who refuse to move forward for the good of the church. 

Here’s what I’ve come to view as a classic formula regarding change. Change is inevitable. Change is necessary. Change is painful. A wise and thoughtful leader knows they can’t eliminate any part of that formula. So the question is – are you going to face the inevitable and necessary pain of change?

Part of the problem is that we allow our churches, our leaders, our congregation, our staff, and our stakeholders to focus on the change! I know the irony of that statement. But the focus shouldn’t actually be on the change(s), but on the reasons WHY we need to change. 

Change is not the point. It’s a huge mistake to verbally focus on the need to change and the change itself. We tend to start, focus on, harp on, and end with what is changing. So we focus on changing the music style, the meeting times, starting or stopping a beloved program. But that actually gets us off track. The why of the change almost always gets too little attention and time when we need to look at change. What’s the point of the change? Why is it inevitable and necessary? If you don’t remember anything else, remember this – If you need to make a change, focus on the why.

During the time I became the Lead Pastor at our church, our growth had stagnated, meaning that for every new person who came someone else left. There was lots of talk about “closing the back door.” The focus was that if we just the bucket from leaking, then the bucket would get full. It makes total logical sense. But I was convinced the issue was that our front door wasn’t wide enough or attractive enough. People will always leave (move, get distracted, fall away or get mad and leave). What we needed to do was to be more intentional about reaching more of the emerging generations who were not connected to God or a church community. That meant we had to change a lot of things including the worship style, preaching style, have a robust guest service system, add a distinct discipleship pathway and much more. Those are the “whats” that people see, experience, have personal preferences about and get invested in. People get upset and frustrated over changing the whats! So I focused early on the why of change.

I started preaching on the why – we have to do whatever we can do to reach people not connected to God or a faith community. I spoke to our leaders and had them read books about the why like Andy Stanely’s Deep and Wide. I met groups that I thought would struggle most with the changes and talked about the why and how it directly would address what they actually valued the most. For example, I met with our seniors’ group a couple of times a year and remind them that the changes we were making were not ones they would like personally, but were changes that would bring and keep their children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren. Over time, that was in fact the case and our wonderful seniors have been my greatest cheerleaders. 

So we can’t just focus on the what. We have to focus on the why…first, continually, always. But we can’t stop there either. We also have to focus on the process. 

The very nature of change is messy. We need to plan and prepare the best we can for change. But too many leaders get bogged down in trying to get it right and make it perfect so that they don’t actually make the necessary changes. You’ve heard of the paralysis of analysis. Change gets lost in board and committee approvals. Here’s the honest truth about change: We must approach change as responsibly as we can with good planning and communication, but in the end, I love the “philosophy” of Indiana Jones. As he was facing an unexpected crisis he declared:  “I don’t know. I’m making this up as I go.” Bold, brave leaders often, in the midst of change, figure it out as he or she goes.

We live in a world that is accelerating change in every way. So it is foolish to think we can plan out the change in every detail. The fact is that most of us who innovate change do just like Indiana Jones, we make it up as we go! If we waited to figure out everything we need to know, plan every detail and get every single person on board, then we’ll be stuck and the lack of change will keep doing its damage. 

This actually drives us back to the One we need to go to. We start by praying because we don’t know. We seek wisdom and advice from others as we are trying to figure things out. But once we are clear and convicted on the changes that need to happen, we make sure we overcommunicate the why. You can’t overcommunicate the why. You’ll get tired of telling the why long before you have actually over-communicated it. Then you take the first reasonable steps and keep figuring it out as you go.

Next, remember that change is a work in progress. Celebrate the progress, not the change!

Finally, create a culture of change for the future. One of the greatest compliments I got was from a local pastor that I’m good friends with. When I started actually making the changes I mentioned earlier, a number of really good folks left our church to go to his church. He told me that one of the reasons they gave him for changing churches was that our church changes all the time. That was a compliment in my mind. That’s exactly what we want. You see, I want to create a culture that gets used to change and even learns to welcome change. That makes staying current, relevant and ahead of the change curve so much easier for everyone. 
By the way, I host a group called Pastors’ Edge. It’s a monthly group for lead pastors, senior pastors, solo pastors, church planters, co-pastors, and campus pastors (pastors who have responsibility for leading the whole church). We meet the first Thursday of the month from 11am-1pm with a free lunch at Journey Church in Tucson, AZ. On October 3rd our topic is Leading the Charge for Change with Bud Brown. Bud will be speaking about how the message of the Gospel never changes, yet every church must continually change and adapt, or it will stagnate and become irrelevant or ineffective. There are key understandings and skills that must be used to lead healthy necessary change. Change will always be hard and painful and there are ways to ensure that the change is worth the pain. If you are in the Tucson area, join us.

Don’t End in a Dark Cloud

This has been another bad season for church leaders. Some 300 priests in Pennsylvania were identified as having sexually abused over a 1000 children. Do an internet search for Bill Hybels or Willow Creek Church and you’ll read about the allegations of sexual misconduct and sin tied to the abuse of power and more. It is a very sad story of how a man who did so much for the church and the kingdom over the years, ended his ministry in a dark cloud. When the first news of the allegations appeared, Hybels denied them and only admitted to misjudgment. Frankly, when I first heard what he did, I called it “stupid”. From his own admission and from the allegations, he apparently invited women alone into his hotel rooms; had dinners one on one with women; traveled with women without their husbands; and more. Of course more is alleged to have happened that goes beyond just stupidity to outright sin, but just what he admitted to was more than dumb.

The World HAS Changed

We live in a #MeToo world. I’m actually grateful for this movement. For too long, too many men (including priests and pastors) have used and abused women and children. The core message of #MeToo is that we need to insure honor, respect and protection for all. The heart of #MeToo is that all people, especially women and children, must be listened to when they are violated or feel that they have been. But honor, respect and protection must have policies and processes that create a culture and systems that actually makes those values real and lived out. The failure at the Willow Creek Church was that the leaders at every level didn’t listen to and truly investigate the allegations.

Don’t Be Stupid

So I titled this blog – Don’t Be Stupid. I’m not just being blunt, that idea comes from Ecclesiastes 10:1-3 (NIV). It says:

As dead flies give perfume a bad smell,

   so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.

The heart of the wise inclines to the right,

   but the heart of the fool to the left.

Even as fools walk along the road,

   they lack sense

   and show everyone how stupid they are.

It only takes a “little folly” to ruin years of ministry and service, and damage our organizations. When we lack wisdom and common sense, we’ll only show others how “stupid” we are. Don’t be stupid! What does that mean? We’ve created policies and procedures at Pantano Christian Church to protect both ourselves and others. We keep reviewing them to make sure they protect all parties. Let me just introduce you to what we do and why.

Protect Yourself!

First, as a leader (in church or in the business or the non-profit world), you must protect yourself. There are two levels to this. The most basic level is to protect yourself from sexual temptation. This requires more in depth attention, so I’ll address this in another blog. Then, you have to protect yourself from unnecessary allegations. You can’t stop anyone from making an allegation at any time for any reason. But there are some things you can do to limit the reasons for someone to assume the worst and if an allegation is made, to protect yourself.

Here’s what I (we) do. I will not meet (meals, meetings, counseling) with or travel with a person of the opposite sex alone. I will meet with a woman as long as other people are present or I’ll meet in a setting where I can have a private conversation, but only in my office or space where there are open windows and other people in the immediate office area. I won’t allow myself to be in church bathroom if it is only me and another boy. If I find myself in that situation, I walk out. In counseling with the opposite sex I won’t share any of my own experiences or past struggles with sexual matters. I’m a hugger, but I’m very careful in how I hug a woman and only in a public place. I won’t put myself in a situation where someone can make an allegation and I (or the church) have no way to defend myself. That’s the world we live in! Don’t be stupid and protect yourself!

Yes, some of these “rules” make travel, meetings and greetings more difficult. I’ve even been criticized for following these principles. But these policies allow for me and others to have private conversations with the opposite sex – just not in a compromising context. And should an allegation come, I’ve at least attempted to protect myself. Too few churches, organizations and businesses have these policies. You can see our policies in the Resource section of the Leading Edge website.

Protect Your Staff and Volunteers

Second, you have to create an environment that protects your staff from any form of abuse or harassment. Abuse or harassment of any kind will not be tolerated at our church. It must be a safe place for all. We will do all we can not allow physical, sexual, emotional or spiritual abuse to exist and persist.

We have a clear policy on this. We have every staff member read and sign that they have read and agree to the policy. Every year in an all staff meeting I review this policy and remind everyone that we find any kind of abuse or harassment unacceptable. Further, I tell the staff that if they ever experience this they must first confront the person doing the harassment or abuse unless they truly fear physical harm. They have the right to express that they are uncomfortable in any situation. If the employee feels they have not been heard or the issue isn’t responded to well enough, or there is retaliation, they have the right to go to the next level of leadership all the way to the church board if needed. In fact, I beg them to take it to the appropriate next level. I want my staff to be responsive. Finally, we are just beginning to set up a group who will be able to receive and process any allegation against a staff person or key volunteer leader.

I shared these ideas and more at a lunch during the last Global Leadership Summit that we hosted at Pantano in August. You can watch the video here. Don’t be stupid! Protect yourself, your staff and your volunteer leaders as well as your whole congregation.