In this time of deep change and cultural shifts, there is much conversation about how one leads change. For local church leaders, there is often the desire to lead by consensus. I am convinced that there must have been a seminary class on leading by building consensus as this seems to be a common understanding of many clergy as to the most commonly accepted and effective method to lead change.
To lead by consensus means that a leader brings the group to a general agreement. It is a generally shared opinion. While consensus is moving the group towards concurrence, the antonym is discord, disagreement, or conflict. Often consensus is reached through compromise where concessions are made by those who have opposing opinions to reach an agreement somewhere in the middle. In compromise, everyone loses something. No one gets everything they desire.
Often, it seems that we confuse keeping our congregation happy through consensus-building decision-making rather than decision-making based on being missionally focused and aligned. In other words, we make decisions in the life of the church to keep the people we have already gathered content and happy rather than making decisions based on the mission and purpose of the church – to build disciple-making disciples. The mission is not negotiable or up for compromise. Christ proclaimed the purpose of the church in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20).
To effectively lead change, the first step is to ensure we are setting expectations for discipleship and equipping those gathered in our faith community to be disciples. As disciples mature, the desire for personal preferences fades as their heart and focus grow more towards sharing their faith with others. Missional alignment is much easier with mature disciples.
The second step is to paint the picture of where the change is leading us and why the change is needed. This “why” and destination “picture” should be directly related to the mission. It is hard to move forward from a comfortable and known current existence to an unknown future. And change for the sake of change is almost always unwelcome.
Third, in leading an organization through change, we must be aware that people move through change at different speeds. At any one time you will have people at the starting line of change, those who are beginning to come along but not quite there, and those that are early adopters and ready to move full steam ahead. We have to communicate to all transition phases at all times. We must also realize that some may never get off the starting line and be okay with it.
Fourth, we have to remember that change means loss. And loss brings grief. Name and own that reality upfront. Don’t try to skim over this important fact and act as though it does not exist.
Change is difficult, but imminent – especially this time that we find ourselves in today. But let’s not sacrifice the mission to keep people happy. There is no time nor opportunity like the present to make decisions and create strategies that are missionally focused and aligned!