I hear a lot of stories about how leaders have spent their community capital engaging in change without being sensitive to whether their community was ready for it. On the other extreme there are stories where many recognized change as necessary, but the leader, being comfortable, did not see the need for it and held back a ready, willing, and able congregation. In leadership, it is one thing to be able to know that change is needed as well as have the courage to go for it and another to have the wisdom to know how and when to pursue it.
We can all sense when change is needed, but change must also be managed well. Good leaders understand their community’s sociology well enough to know how to nurture change so that it bears fruit not thorns. Like a garden, change needs to be tended and carefully nurtured: the soil needs preparation; plants need frequent watering and constant assessment of growth. Most often when change brings community disaster, it is because the leader has not prepared the “soil” well enough. Its arrival becomes a shock, and the pushback can be quite strong. Change requires that people do or see things differently, which means they often will be challenged. If there is no clear explanation or rationale for the change and no community “buy in,” there is a risk that the adjustment people are asked to make will not be received well. So leaders should have a vision for the way things could be and have patience concerning the route to get there.
Change never just gets implemented. Sometimes change is best engaged in increments versus all at once. Change is also best managed when many people keep an eye on it. Leaders need to make sure they are not charging so far ahead that no one is behind them.
Not Preventing Change
On the other side of the ledger are the leaders who get so comfortable that the “garden” that is our organization starts operating on automatic pilot. We just plant and water as we always have, but times can change and so can the road to being effective. Christianity is a faith that encourages growth and change. Coming to Christ makes us new creatures and calls for renewing our minds and ways of doing things from what we were (2 Cor 5:17; Rom 12:1-2). People or institutions that don’t think change is needed are unconsciously saying that they are already perfect. Growth is a healthy thing, and growth means being open and willing to change. That requires a careful and honest assessment of the community and self. Those who do not allow themselves to be assessed set themselves up to fail (Heb 2:1). There is wisdom in sensitive counselors who have your best interests at heart and care enough about you to challenge and urge you to think about something from another angle.
A leader’s vision should be clear enough to recognize if the community needs to change or the leader needs to change. Oftentimes it will be a little of both, especially when the dynamics are not what they should be or when the circumstances surrounding the organization have shifted calling for new kinds of responses. So good leaders are always considering what can or should be done next or better. They avoid giving lip service to change and then not changing because this brings resentment.
Leading is like farming. The field needs hands to tend to it daily with loving labor, eyes to watch what is going on, and feet ready to spring into action where needed to make good adjustments. Often “cruise control” or simply assuming the field will grow its crop as it has in the past means you are not progressing. It fails to see how the dynamics in life call for making adjustments. And running ahead too far becomes a lonely exercise. Properly balanced change is a movement that generates not only growth but true team building. For when change comes with mutual appreciation, the well-tended crop has a real chance to flourish and everyone can celebrate the results.
About the Contributors
Dr. Bock has earned recognition as a Humboldt Scholar (Tübingen University in Germany), is the author of over 40 books, including well-regarded commentaries on Luke and Acts and studies of the historical Jesus, and work in cultural engagement as host of the seminary’s Table Podcasts. He was president of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) for 2000–2001, writes for the Christianity Today’s Places and Space series, and serves on the boards of Wheaton College, Chosen People Ministries, the Institute for Global Engagement, and Christians in Public Service (CIPS). His articles appear in leading publications. He is often an expert for the media on NT issues. Dr. Bock has been a New York Times best-selling author in nonfiction and is elder emeritus at Trinity Fellowship Church in Dallas. When traveling overseas, he will tune into the current game involving his favorite teams from Houston—live—even in the wee hours of the morning. Married for over 40 years to Sally, he is a proud father of two daughters and a son and is also a grandfather.