Avoid the Top Five Reasons for Pastoral Terminations, Part 4: The Church Is Resistant to Change

This is the fourth in a series of five articles dealing with the top five causes of forced terminations as identified in the 2006 Forced Termination survey.

Cause 2: The church is resistant to change

Most churches are resistant to change. Unfortunately the pastor often becomes the target of the opposition to a change because he is the leader.

At other times, however, the pastor himself causes undue difficulty because of his type of leadership during the change process. Understanding the following things will not necessarily insure against forced termination in a change resistant church but will cut down on the possibilities of it happening.

Four reasons a church resists change

1: Congregational issues

  • High value on tradition, fellowship, and maintenance.
  • Ongoing church conflict.
  • No official mission/vision statement.
  • Congregational distrust of both volunteer and/or staff leadership.
  • Power and control conflicts within the leadership team.

2: Personal issues

  • Focusing on personal preferences, opinions, and comfort.
  • Lacking understanding regarding the specific change.
  • Seeking or keeping power/control as a primary motivation.

3: Cultural issues

  • The impact of all changes in society.
  • The view that the change is a compromise with worldly culture.
  • The idealization of the past as the preferred future.

4: Fear/faith issues

Controlled a change resistant church to change appropriately.

Five ways to deal with a church resistant to change

1. Properly assess the church's attitude toward change

  • Find out as much as you can about the church's history regarding change. You can talk to a wide variety of congregation members. This will help you get a balanced view of the stance of the congregation toward change. The local Director of Missions or others who have worked with the church in the past can also provide helpful insight.
  • Learn the identities of the gatekeepers to change in the congregation and assess how much they are willing to change.
  • Look at the church's history of change issues.

2. Honestly evaluate your own motivation in suggesting change

  • Ask yourself some tough questions like, "Am I trying to build my resume or am I leading the church to fulfill its greatest possibilities for God's glory?

3. Practice good change agent principles

  • Relate all change to the church's mission/vision.
  • Earn the right to lead in big changes by leading in smaller, successful changes. 
  • Remember that too much change in too short a period of time can stress persons and groups of persons. As much as possible manage the rate of change. This requires patience because change usually takes longer than you expect.
  • Involve those who will implement the change in the planning process.
  • Communicate continuously the details of the change.
  • Understand the part transitions play in all change processes.

4. Educate yourself in the skills of a good change agent by attending conferences and reading appropriate resources

Some helpful books include the following:

Managing Transitions by William Bridges
Pouring New Wine into Old Wineskins by Aubrey Malphurs
Paul on Leadership: Servant Leadership in a Ministry of Transition by Gene Wilkes.

5. Remember that your role in the change God wants to bring in the church you pastor may be that of starting a change process that someone else completes.

Bob Sheffield served as a pastoral ministries specialist in the pastoral ministries area of LifeWay until 2007. In this role, he frequently consulted with churches on a number of staffing issues. Prior to coming to LifeWay in 1985, Sheffield served as a pastor of churches in Mississippi and Texas for 25 years. He has also served as an interim pastor at numerous Nashville-area churches

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