Leading Change in Hostile Territory
Q: Leading a church through change seems to result in a lot of negativity—anger, fighting and people leaving. How do you maintain the right course in such a difficult and discouraging environment?
If you’re going to lead a church through transition, you have to accept the reality that the process will generate some hostility, conflict and losses. Of course, none of this should be new to a church that’s working right and reflecting Christ. He faced these same realities during His ministry on earth.
To keep leading properly in the face of these potentially discouraging experiences, you have to know and keep in mind some important principles.
Churches fail to live up to their promise because they shut Jesus out.
In Revelation 3:20, Jesus makes His concluding remarks to the seven churches, most of which were failing in serious ways. He said, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” Simply put, they had shut Him out. When a church does this, it can’t experience Jesus’ promise to build a prevailing church (Matt. 16:18).
So, at their core, revitalizing churches should be about opening the door to Jesus to do what only He can do: shine the light in darkness and change lives.
People’s reaction to the real Jesus reveals a lot about them.
Though the phrase “opening the door of the church to Jesus” has a wonderful ring to it, reaction to you actually doing it may not be so wonderful. Of course, people who have genuinely experienced His profound forgiveness will respond in worship, no matter how it changes their world. However, those who believe that they have somehow earned their righteousness will respond in anger, hatred and even violence. We see this throughout the Gospels in the difference between those who followed Jesus and the religious leaders. Those who choose to let Jesus into their churches should expect the same response because nothing messes up the lives of religious people more than God showing up.
Love, and what was best for people, motivated Jesus.
Jesus loved people, and everything He did during His time here was motivated by His desire to see them experience the full life God intended. Of course, most people didn’t respond positively. The multitudes ultimately called for His crucifixion. Yet, Jesus never wavered. Simply put, He loved people and sought their best without needing their love in return.
Any leaders who seek to genuinely open the doors of the church to Jesus will experience negative and even hurtful attacks against them. Jesus promises that in John 15:18-21.
This has certainly been my experience. I’ve been called all kinds of names. One lady actually screamed across the lobby of the church, “You have the face of an angel but the heart of a thief.” The last part was pretty hurtful, but I considered the first part a pretty great compliment.
To continue leading positively in the face of such negativity, I have found that, like Jesus, I must learn to love people without needing them.