Leading Change for Elders, Part 2

change.jpgContinuing our listing of ways to avoid splitting your church when you lead them to make a major change —

* Lack of political capital. Most elderships don’t think in political terms. Some would get upset at my using the vocabulary of politics. Maybe I should say, “Lack of trust” or “Lack of confidence.”

Some elderships have the confidence of the church. Most of the church would follow them into hell and back. Other elderships have hardly any of the church’s confidence. What makes the difference?

Some of it is just the personalities of the men. Sometimes it’s how long the elders have served. New elders often generate less confidence than older elders.

But I think it’s mainly about how well the church knows these men. If they aren’t well known, they can be saints (in the Catholic sense, you know) and instill no confidence. How can you be confident in men you don’t know?

Therefore, elders need to intentionally make a point of being known by as many members as possible. The sheep must know their shepherds.

Here are some strategies that come to mind:

– Teach adult Bible classes, rotating throughout all the classes. This also assures the membership that you’re “apt to teach.” Do this repeatedly. Never, ever let one elder teach the same class all the time. He’ll have a fan club, but not a congregation.

– Meet with all new members for a personal chat.

– Be a shepherd. Visit members in the hospital. Go to funerals and weddings. No elder can make them all in a large church, but you can be sure an elder or two makes all of them.

– Visit the small groups — not just your own. Divide them up among the elders and visit different ones each week. And go for the fellowship and the prayer and to help — not to check up on them.

– Be a greeter. Shake hands and hug before and after the services.

– Show up for work days. Nothing shows leadership like doing the dirty work with everyone else.

Finally, remember that political capital is a finite commodity. It can be replenished, but people can only stand so many trips into hell and back. Test your members’ patience as little as you have to. Don’t use it up needlessly.

But, then, use it. What good is it to have the confidence of your members if you won’t lead them where they need to go?

* Teach. Doctrinal change comes best from the Sunday school classes, not the pulpit. The pulpit follows the classes.

The pulpit is perceived as the official position of the church. Once the preacher ends his sermon, the members feel like the decision has already been made — and they weren’t able to participate in it. They couldn’t even ask questions!

But in a classroom, even a preacher or an elder can present an idea for discussion, and it’s just a lesson. The class has permission to disagree and discuss. No change is happening right away. There’s time to talk some more next week.

Therefore, members can be very defensive, even resentful of new doctrine from the pulpit but very willing participants in a class.

We once has a young, idealistic song leader who encouraged the membership to clap to the music. He led the clapping. And some members got really upset, even though we’d been clapping for a couple of years.

Fortunately, he had the wisdom to start a class on worship, and these same members showed up to voice their concerns. He explained that (a) clapping is very important to his own worship as he is a physical sort of person. He just doesn’t feel into the worship if he can’t put his hands together. And (b) that the church is utterly without rhythm! If he doesn’t lead the clapping, the clapping is just awful! He also explained that he didn’t think less of anyone for not clapping. “I’m just a clapping sort, but I know most people aren’t like me. Please, oh, please, don’t feel compelled just because of my leading!”

Well, everyone expressed their views, understood one another better, and left on friendly terms. The elders weren’t required to intervene. Everyone just talked. Talking is a powerful thing.

For the church to make any change that some members consider doctrinal (and for us, what changes aren’t?), it really needs to be worked through in the classes.

Now some would worry that this would give the opposition time to get organized and fight back. But that’s just really bad thinking! We want everyone persuaded — and no one steamrolled.

On the other hand, if you have a minister pushing elders to do things they really don’t want to do, then the elders may well get some pushback and change their minds. But better now than through a church split!

The members will always express their unhappiness. It’s just a question of how — in class? in an elders’ meeting? or by a withdrawal letter? I like class the best.

* Take a survey before you make up your mind. Not all decisions are appropriate for a survey. And a survey should never the final authority. But take surveys to find our where people’s hearts are.

Don’t do it too much. No one likes filling out forms, but everyone wants to know that his opinions are being heard. Many members don’t have the confidence to address the elders personally. Surveys are a great way to let the church speak as a whole — and to let the church know you truly care about their feelings.

But if you take the survey as a political move after the decision has already been made, you’ll just make the church mad — and move some people to campaign for negative responses. Ask first.

Take a survey every few years — about every 5 years — just to let members express their opinions. It’s important. The Center for Church Growth has a great survey template to measure the spiritual health of your congregation. Use the same survey year after year so you can see the church changing.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink.
My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.

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