Leading Change: Listen

A few weeks ago I began walking through the five important steps for leading change.  Here are the five we are walking through (click the links to see the previous posts):

  1. Identify
  2. Listen
  3. Adjust
  4. Roll-Out
  5. Celebrate

This second step to ‘Listen’ is generally the step that most people skip-over and ignore.  Consequently, so many lead good, valuable, potentially beneficial change, but it’s met with resistance, backlash and sometimes fails to be implemented.  Some of that resistance (not all) can be avoided by not just identifying the vision behind the change and the stakeholders most affected, but by also taking the time to listen to what those stakeholders think or feel about the potential change.

When speaking with or communicating with those stakeholders, clearly communicate the what (the change that could be happening) and the why (the vision behind it) with the key stakeholders/users. When communicating hold the desired change loosely. Remember, these are the people that will be most affected, and consequently become the highest priority.  Here’s a short side note on this:  Depending on the impact of change to a stakeholder/user, the closer they are or more affected by the change, the better it is to talk in person.

Once these items are communicated, then sit back and listen to what they have to say. When listening, it is important to focus on:

Their concerns with the change. 

Possible blind spots you have missed.

How this change affects their values, goals and processes.

Keep good records of all the beneficial feedback you receive during this stage because it could become incredibly beneficial in the next step of ‘Adjusting.’  

One final thing I want to mention.  Change by it’s definition means that you’re looking to implement something different than what is.  That means that your key stakeholders may not be fully on board with what you’re looking to change.  Recognize the difference between listening and agreeing.  Listening to feedback does not mean you will agree with or move forward with every suggestion or ounce of feedback you receive.  Filter all that you hear from stakeholders through the grid of your ultimate vision.

Leading Change: Identify

Last week, I shared the five steps to Lead Change and today want to dive into the first step: Identify. Before you will ever see intentional, productive change take place in your organization or church you have to ‘Identify’ what change you are wanting to implement.  In this step it is important to be clear on the what and the why behind it.  In other words, don’t just settle for “I want to update the worship at my church.”  You need be able to answer the ‘why.’  Why is that important?  Why should that happen now?  Not just what, but also why. Once you’ve clearly identified your ‘what’ & ‘why’, you need to now identify a clear timeline for implementation, your ‘when.’  At what point are you hoping to see this change implemented?  Make sure you take into account all four of the steps (I’ll explain those more in future weeks).  The bigger the change, the slower the process will need to be, and the more listening you will need to do.  This timeline doesn’t have to be a fixed number of days or months.  It can be abstract.  The more complex the change, though, the more specific your timeline will need to be. Finally, you should identify ‘who’ the primary stakeholders/users will be.  In other words, who will be most affected by this change?  This usually (not always) has very little to do with a person’s position or title, but individuals that will regularly be using the tool or experiencing the effects of the proposed change.  You can identify your ‘what’, your ‘why’, your ‘when’, but if you neglect the ‘who’ you are guaranteed to experience an uphill battle the entire way toward change.  Remember that every change affects a person.  That doesn’t mean we hold off on change because of people (we’ll get to this more next week), but you should at least identify who is going to be most affected by the change. As a point of discussion:  Which one of these is often most difficult for you to identify?  The What?  The Why?  The When?  or The Who?

Leading Change – The Five Steps

Over the next few weeks I’m going to be sharing a simple process I put together for our staff at Calvary that has helped us in making some significant changes over the last 7 years.  I will dive deeper into each of these steps in future posts, but here are the Five Steps for Leading Change:

  1. Identify
  2. Listen
  3. Adjust
  4. Roll-Out
  5. Celebrate

As a foundation for these five steps, the most important thing a leader can grasp when hoping to lead change in their church or organization is this simple idea:

HOW your organization arrives at change is more important than WHEN your organization experiences the change.

In other words, the journey is more important than the destination.  In the coming weeks, we’ll look at each of these five steps in more depth and how you can begin to put them into practice as you lead those God has entrusted to you.

Four Questions Regarding Community Engagement

I recently did a Breakout Session at a local Church Leadership Conference on the topic of Community Engagement.  Below are some of my notes that I hope will be a good resource for those that are currently leading in a church context!

1. Is your church providing what your community actually needs?

  • It’s one thing to want to bless your community, but you can have the heart to serve and bless your community and actually do neither if you are providing something your community doesn’t actually need…or perceive they need.
  • Are you as a leader or pastor in tune with what your community needs?  This means you need to be in your community, hearing the needs that are present.
    • Being part of community events
    • Being part of community organizations (Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, etc.)
    • Being present on local community social media groups.
  • Evaluation Questions:
    • What does your community complain about the most?
    • What are the barriers that keep your community from becoming something better?
    • Who/What does your community hate or dislike?
    • If resources weren’t a problem, what would your community get excited about?

2. What would happen to your community if your church ceased to exist?

  • Would your community even realize it, outside of a little less traffic in and out of your parking lot on a Sunday?
  • The church has unfortunately relinquished its role in society because we’ve migrated into these little huddles of protection where we strive to not be ‘tainted’ by society.  But the reality is we will never affect our community if we are not in the center of the mess.

Matthew 11:19,

“The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

  • Evaluation Questions:
    • How is your church pushing your way back into the conversation of your community’s problems?
      • If the end goal of your church is to simply have a service every Sunday, you will never fully impact your community and the words you share every Sunday will be empty and hollow.

3. How are you setting up your church to be able to bless your community?

  • You need to consistently cast vision.
  • Service needs to be modeled from the platform.
  • Be intentional about mobilizing people to serve outside the church.
  • Budget for blessing.
    • Tithe your income toward missions and local projects.
    • Receiving a benevolence offering on Christmas Eve.
  • You will never become what you don’t intentionally plan for.
  • Evaluation Questions:
    • How are you developing a culture of service and generosity within your church?
      • Through your leadership?  Through small groups? Corporately?

4. What do community leaders think about your church?

  • Chances are good that your community leaders are a microcosm of what the rest of your community thinks about your church.
    • The best way to find out the answer to this question is to ask it.
    • Meet up with your community leaders and ask how your church can serve them…what your church could do to better bless the community.
    • Use these opportunities to develop relationships with the leaders in your community.  
  • Change will happen most effectively in the context of relationships.

Leading In Season

In Matthew 9, Jesus is speaking to his disciples about the growing Kingdom of God and makes a reference to something that any resident of Western Pennsylvania is very familiar with…knowing the changing seasons.  In some parts of America, the annual seasons are more static.  In this part of the country, though, we have four very distinct seasons.  And because of that, it’s always important to be aware of the season you’re currently in.  After all, you’d look pretty funny trying to shovel snow in August or going swimming in the middle of January.  Instead, when you clearly understand the seasons, you are able to make the most of each season you find yourself in.  You’re able to ski in the winter, and go bike riding in the summer.  While each season has it’s ups and its downs, every season presents its own opportunities.

And with this understanding of seasons, Jesus makes this amazing statement in Matthew 9:37-38:

“Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”” 

You may have read that verse a million times and most will focus on the importance of going out to reap the harvest, but what if this verse isn’t just about ‘reaping a harvest’…what if it’s really about being aware of your season to lead well? Let me explain.

If you’re at all familiar with farming practices, you would know the harvest only happens during a certain season each year.  In one season you plant, another you water, and then another you finally harvest.  Each season has it’s place and is necessary for the next incoming season.

When you translate this idea to the context of leadership, it’s not just a nice approach to leading, but it becomes pivotal to leading well.  This is because no matter how talented a leader is, no matter how persuasive or charismatic, a leader cannot create a season.  God is the one that establishes the seasons, and he has created leaders to guide others toward maximizing each season.  Just as a farmer doesn’t fight the seasons, but responds to the season, so a leader shouldn’t fight the season they’re in, but respond accordingly.  Thus, in a season of harvest, leaders reap the harvest, in a season of planting, they prepare the fields to plant well.

This is why a leader’s prayer life and ability to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit isn’t just a good idea, but it is crucial to leading well.  A leader leads at their best when they grasp the season God has them in and the season God is leading them toward.  When a leader can identify their season, they can properly lead their team, equip their team, and make the most of each season God leads them into.

You see, seasons are not isolated periods of time, but every season builds upon the previous season.  The winter is crucial to kill off weeds and underbrush to prepare the way for the new growth of spring.  The summer is key to the growth of plant life that leads toward an abundant fall harvest.  Each season a leader leads others through effectively than prepares them for a prosperous following season.  So with all of that said, here’s the big idea:

A leader’s greatest role is to identify the season God has them in, and to lead others effectively through it.


Leave it All On the Field

Growing up playing sports, there’s a statement that coaches will often make to their teams when it’s all on the line…at the end of the game when something big is at stake, they’ll often challenge their team to “Leave it all on the field.”  In saying this, they’re really saying, hold nothing back, give your all, go all in.  It’s a great challenge, because the reality is once the game is over, you can’t go back and change the outcome.  It’s finished.  Once you walk off that field, the score is set and there’s no going back.

Today, I had the privilege of speaking at the funeral of a woman from our church that has actually been part of Calvary from the beginning.  She was the wife of our founding pastor, and over the course of the last 43 years, she has impacted the lives of countless hundreds, if not thousands.  As I was preparing for this special service, it got me thinking.  How often, in life and in ministry, do we hold back in order to keep something ‘left in the tank’?  I know it can sometimes be so easy to simply coast to the finish.  But, I want to be a leader that bucks that trend.  I want to be one that leaves it all on the field.  I want to be that person that at my funeral others can say I held nothing back…I left nothing in the tank, but left it all on the field.  I gave my all to my family, and to the ministry God calls me to.  It may not be a championship game on the line, but it is someone’s life…it is the life of your son or daughter, or the life of that hurting person that walks through the doors just before you’re about to grab lunch with someone.  As leaders, it’s time we leave it all on the field.  It’s time we hold nothing back.  Our world is in desperate need of parents and leaders that hold nothing back.  That give 110%, not for the recognition, but for the impact their able to make in another’s life.

And the really cool thing is, when we leave it all on the field, God picks up what we have given, and not only blesses it, but multiplies it exponentially.  One life becomes two, two becomes four, and so on.  You have the opportunity to impact countless numbers of lifves, but it won’t happen by holding back…you have to leave it all on the field.

The How and Not Just What

As a church, we are passionate about Leading people into an overflowing life with Christ.  Our desire isn’t that we simply tell people about Jesus, but that we take people along on our own spiritual journey toward Christ.  It’s not simply what we say, but it’s also what we do.  This applies beyond just sharing our faith, but also how we lead others.

You see, how you lead, not just what you say, will lead people to Jesus.  As leaders, we can oftentimes have a lot to say.  From vision casting, to email updates, to simply our conversations with those we are leading.  And communication is key to leading others, but what if not just what we said, but how we led pointing people to the Savior of the world?  This is actually what Jesus himself said in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”   In the context of leadership that means, how you lead, not just what you say. 

How you lead will either magnify or mute what you’re saying.  If your words contradict your approach, your words lose all value and volume in someone’s life.  You can tell those you’re leading they are valuable to you, but if you treat them like they’re expendable, your words won’t mean very much.

On the other hand, the leader that truly does care about those they’re leading, not just in words, but also in their actions is making a statement to their team that speaks volumes.  That because leadership isn’t just about what you’re saying, but how you’re leading.  Here are a few questions to ask yourself about how you’re leading a team:

  • Do your words back up your actions, or do they contradict one another?
  • How are your actions, not just your words, leading your team to Jesus?
  • What adjustments do you need to make to align both what you say and how you’re leading?

Stop Managing and Start Leading

There has a lot that’s been written about the difference between leading people and managing people.  While there can be necessary expressions of both in any leadership role, I believe when it comes to leading as a follower of Christ, one should be far more common than the other.  And when it comes to leading within the church, one is crucial, while the other could be terminal for any church.  You see, God hasn’t called us to manage people toward Christ, but to lead them toward Christ.  So what’s the big difference?  Relationships.

When we take the approach to lead people, as opposed to manage them, we communicate that they have value as a person, not just a cog in a wheel.  Leading people puts the priority on the relationship, while managing them puts the priority on the task.  That doesn’t mean the task isn’t important, but the relationship is more important.  God didn’t call us to be pastors/leaders to accomplish more tasks, but to reach more people.

Within the context of church leadership, it is a tragedy when we undermine the greatest vehicle of change God has given us, relationships, just to accomplish a task.  What if we could slow down, step back from our long list of tasks, and get our priorities straight?  What if we started to recognize people not as a means to an end, but the end itself?  The reality is we could accomplish far more if we were willing to invest in the relationships around us, instead the responsibilities we can delegate.  This week, rather than trying to be more efficient or accomplishing more (which can both be important in context), try valuing the people around you more.  Stop managing and start leading.



Now & Later

The older I’ve gotten and the longer I’ve been in leadership roles, the more I’ve started to realize this tension that exists in any decision or direction I’m leading.  The tension is between what I’d like to see now vs. what I’d like to see later.

The younger I was, the more I seemed to give into the pressure to see the results of my actions “Now.”  But as I’ve matured, I’ve learned this invaluable lesson:  If you can be patient in the now, you can get a far better result later.

This isn’t an excuse for laziness by any means, but it’s deferring the ‘reward’ so to speak to see something happen that couldn’t happen in this instant.  Maybe for you, it’s putting in the long hours on a project to see the results later.  Or with your diet, it might be giving up that sweet treat now, so you can be healthier later.

In a very fast paced culture, the pressure can easily push us to want instant results.  But the reality is, an instant result will never bring the quality of results that a consistent, long-range effort brings.  Whatever you’re working on, leading others toward, or hoping to accomplish, be patient in the now, so you can see a far better result later.


How Can Good Friday Be Called Good?

In our journey toward Easter, the celebration, the fun, the joy in celebrating the Resurrection of Christ, so often we can miss the weight of a day like today…the impact of Christ’s death on what we refer to as Good Friday.

In the first century, as this day happened, it was anything but good. Christ would suffer one of the more gruesome deaths, be ridiculed as a criminal, be treated as less than human, be beaten, and left to die a painful death. And as horrible as this was, it was by no means a surprise. The prophet Isaiah had spoken of this very event thousands of years before.  His words are recorded in Isaiah 53:4-5…

“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities…”

Christ willingly endured this pain and took this journey toward death, to take what was bad and make it good. He hung upon that cross, moment by moment, pushing himself up time and time again to grasp another quick breath of air, prolonging the inevitable…his eventual death upon that wretched tree.

And the moment would come as Christ breathed his last…the Messiah, the One that claimed to be the very Son of God would no longer have life in his lungs. His physical body hung their limp, no longer possessing the energy and vibrance that characterized Christ’s life on earth. This moment was one of amazing sorrow for his followers…they had put their hopes, their dreams, their desires into his hands, and now he was gone.

Things had been so different with Christ.  He wasn’t like the other religious leaders…he spoke with such authority, he displayed the power of God with such grace. But now he was gone.

Life had become so full, freedom had become so real because of Christ, but now his followers wondered if their lives would drift helplessly back to the way they once were?  It was a tragic moment of sorrow, of questions, of uncertainty. The moment Christ breathed his last was anything but good.

But the cross wasn’t the end that some had suspected, it was simply the beginning. Only hours after Jesus would die upon that wretched cross, the gospel writer, Matthew gives us a glimpse at what would be done with Christ’s now, lifeless body. We read this account in Matthew 27:57-61…

“As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away.”

Joseph was not only a wealthy man, but he was a man of great influence as a member of the Jewish ruling body, the Sanhedrin. We read elsewhere that Joseph was joined by Nicodemus, who was also a follower of Christ and member of the Religious Leadership. These two men would proceed to wrap their arms around Christ’s lifeless body, lifting him from the cross that had taken his life, and with such love and care, they took him to the tomb owned by Joseph.  They had to move quickly as dusk was approaching, which would mark the beginning of the Sabbath, a day which no one was permitted to work.

They soon gently laid his body into the recently carved tomb, and wrapped his body in linens placing a mixture of burial spices, myrrh and aloes, upon his body. Standing back in this solemn and lonely grave, they would be the only ones to see the true finality of Christ’s death. He was now wrapped in burial cloths and placed within that tomb…this was the final statement of his death. His body no longer carried life, but was now clothed completely in death. Joseph and Nicodemus would slowly walk from the tomb, sealing it with a boulder…a giant, unmovable stone, further solidifying the death, the loss, the disappointment of Christ’s death.

This was a sad day for the thousands of followers that had watched Christ heal the sick, had heard him teach throughout the country sides, had experienced his compassion as he looked upon the hurting children of that region…their hopes of a new Israel, of a reformed faith, would seemingly die with this man known as Jesus.

For us on the other side of this moment, we forget the pain that Christ’s followers endured for the few days he would lay in that grave.  But every tear that was shed, every sorrowful and reminiscent conversation that would be had, would make what Christ was about to do even that much more powerful.

The Apostle Paul would later write in one of his letters to the church in Rome about a core characteristic of God that was at work in this moment, but was definitely not visible when Joseph and Nicodemus would look upon Christ’s body wrapped in that robe of death.

Paul wrote about how God so often takes what is clearly bad, and somehow transforms it into something overwhelmingly good. For Paul, it may have been a farfetched statement, but it wasn’t simply his words, it was a description of what God had already done and would continue to do.

And these words were not simply for the First Century, but  they ring true for our lives today. You see, we have all had moments when we’ve experienced the final blow of life’s circumstances.

  • When we’ve lost our job, and our family’s only source of income is gone.
  • When that significant other we have loved and were convinced would spend the rest of our lives with, walks out on you.
  • When the words of those closest to you become like daggers cutting straight to your heart.

These are the moments when hope can be lost, when the future can be dim, when everything around us is screaming that our dreams are over.  That the very idea of dreaming and hoping is simply the work of child-like naivety.

These are the moments when life can be described as anything but good. And into moments like these, into moments like Christ’s followers experienced on that dark Friday, Paul’s words become a shining beacon of hope piercing the darkness.

Here’s what Paul would say in regards to what is seemingly hopeless and lost in Romans 8:28,

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

How can today ever be called good? How can a day be called good when the Savior of the world was murdered by the malicious envy of the religious elite? How can the moment when death has wrapped its tentacles around Christ’s body be called good? It can be called good because it wasn’t the end.

In all things God is working for the good. In your life, that pink slip is not the end. In your family, that devastating news is not the end. In your relationships, that helpless moment is not the end. In your finances, that empty moment of despair is not the end.

You see, the same cloth that was wrapped around Christ’s body would only days later lay beneath his feet as he walked out of that empty tomb, conquering sin, death, and the very grave that held him.

The linen that Joseph and Nicodemus would wrap around Christ’s body may have represented the finality of Christ’s death, but it would only further magnify the impossibility of Christ’s comeback.

Whatever situation or circumstance you might find yourself in today…you may call it bad… you might call it unlucky… you might call it depressing, but the good news is God gets the last word…what you might see as bad or unfortunate, God is working…God is redeeming…in spite of your circumstances God is still working all things. And on a day that we now know as “Good Friday” take heart in the midst of your pain, your sorrow, your struggles, because Good Friday represents the redemption that God can bring even into the most impossible of situations.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

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