Exploring the Intersections of Faith and Life

TUESDAY, JULY 7, 2009

Learnings from Transformation Pastors

Transformation is hard work. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it!

Yesterday a group of pastors gathered at the office who are involved in intentional transformation work with their churches. Some are working with Natural Church Development, some have worked with an independent consultant, some are using a process they developed themselves. This was a chance to touch base and talk with each other about how the process is going.

One of the questions I asked them was what they had learned so far. I’d like to share their learnings with you, in the hopes that it will help you in your ministry.

Learnings in the Transformation Process:

1. Spend time listening to the stories. Stories often reveal deep truths and concerns that will directly affect the transformation process. Sometimes we end up stumbling over old pains and hurts as we work, which often has the power to derail any attempts at growth if we are not aware of them. Listening to the stories people tell can give us clues as to what those old hurts and pains are, so that we can be sensitive to them and address them in helpful ways, as opposed to having them rear up and take us by surprise.

2. Let those who have passion and energy run with them. If you have a group of people passionate about remodeling the bathroom, or starting a new outreach, let them! Remember that you don’t have to have everyone on board for any given idea or plan, in fact, you never will have everyone on board. But if you’ve got people with passion and drive who are willing to put in the work to see their plan come alive, let them! Help your sessions become permission giving bodies and not just regulatory bodies, so that we don’t hinder creative efforts to grow our churches and reach out to others.

3. Focus on tasks people have passion for. This is related to #2. If there isn’t passion for something, maybe that “something” isn’t what the church should be focusing its energy on at the present time. Go where the energy is.

4. Remember that the issue that surfaces may not be the real issue. Whenever we try to change something, conflict will rise up. That is natural, and there is no way to avoid it. When it does, listen carefully to the conflict, explore what is behind it, and you will most likely discover that the “presenting” issue isn’t really the issue at all. Get to the bottom of the complaint before you try to “fix” it.

5. If someone is feeling left out, go talk to them. Engage them, watch for attendance patterns, and don’t let too much time pass before connecting with those who feel left out. Transformation processes work best when everyone feels like they have a chance to contribute. It doesn’t mean they have to agree with everything, but we do need to be sure that everyone has a chance to have their voice heard and to be considered fairly. People often withdraw when they feel they don’t have a voice.

6. We often underestimate our congregations. They often look to the pastors, and sometimes sessions, for the “answers,” but there is great wisdom in the congregation too, as well as great determination and desire. Don’t underestimate the gifts and drive present in the congregation. Which is great for us leaders – it means we don’t have to have all the answers!

7. Remember what love is first, from 1 Corinthians 13. Before all else, love is patient. Without patience, the other virtues of love fall away. As one of our pastors said, you have to learn to walk as slowly as the congregation walks, or you will leave them behind. That doesn’t mean we don’t prompt them to move a bit faster sometimes, but be careful not to leave them behind. We sometimes forget (maybe I’ll just speak for myself – I sometimes forget!) that we may be a bit ahead of the congregation on the transformation journey, and as leaders, it is our responsibility to help them move forward, but to do that in a positive way takes patience and guidance. So be patient with your congregations, and while you’re at it, pray that they will be patient with you too.

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