Great leaders stay connected to a constantly changing world. Organizations most often fail when they do not keep pace with the changing world around them.
Great leaders know how to assess the world and the organization, and bring the needed strategic changes to maintain and grow impact. So what we often look for in great leaders are those who can be catalysts for change. We loathe the leader who simply attempts to maintain the status quo. We want visionary leaders who can set the stage for change.
That is all good, but ... great leaders not only understand what needs to happen to stimulate progress, they also understand what doesn’t change. As a church consultant, I come into congregations and partner with leaders for the purpose of identifying what change is needed and how to implement and navigate the change processes.
I look at the demographic and ethnographic trends in the community surrounding the church—what is changing in the culture outside of the church? I assess the strengths and other key issues of the church, and then seek to make the connections of what needs to change. However, before we do any of the work of strategic change, we spend just as much time on the foundational things that must not change.
I am invited into a church when they have the insight and the courage to seek change to improve their missional impact. But when I arrive, there are invariably leaders and members who are anxious about the process. They are nervous because change means loss. What will change? Will it affect me? Will they change what I like about the church?
One reason to begin with identifying and articulating what doesn’t change is to assure everyone that indeed there are many things that will not change. By beginning any change process with what doesn’t change, we relieve the tension and anxieties at the front end, or at least as much of it as we can.
By beginning with what doesn’t change, we also lay the necessary foundation for aligning the change to the foundational identity and purpose of the church. Without preserving why a particular congregation exists, strategic change will not be aligned to anything, and what ends up changing is based on the loudest voices in the church.
So great leaders have two very important roles:
1. Preserve and protect
- Values: What makes us unique?
- Beliefs: What are the non-negotiables of our theology?
- Mission: What do we do, and what do we not do?
2. Stimulate progress
- Strategy: Where do we focus?
- Vision: Where are we going, and how will we know when we’ve arrived?
- Initiatives: What action will we take?
By beginning a change process with what doesn’t change, a leader will lower anxiety and align the change to the cornerstone of identity and purpose.