Part 7: How can I help my senior pastor understand that something needs to change?
Note: This is Part 7 of a multi-part series. Check out the entire Making Changes Stick Toolkit for more ideas you can use today to help lead change in your ministry.
For lasting change to take place, youth leaders need to manage up. We tend to make two mistakes in doing so. The first mistake is describing the changes we’d like to see as if they’re brand new and our church has never experienced them. The reality is that the threads of the changes we want to bring about likely are woven already throughout our church’s history.
The second mistake is to describe the changes we want to see in terms that are meaningful to us. However, we need to convince others – like church boards and senior leaders – that these changes are important. In order to do so, we need to think through what is going be meaningful to them. Does the change need to be grounded in scripture? Or is it important that it will bring more people to the church? When you share about the changes you want to see happen, make sure to use terms that communicate well to your senior leaders.
Part 7, Question 2: Why is my pastor first open to ideas, but later resists change?
It’s a common story that a youth leader approaches his or her senior pastor with a new idea and asks if the pastor is on board. Initially, the pastor agrees. However, down the road, when the youth leader needs something in support of this change, the senior pastor no longer seems supportive.
What we need to understand is that each of us, including pastors, experience competing commitments. At the same time that you go to your pastor to request changes and he or she says yes, the worship pastor might approach the pastor with another set of changes, such as improving the quality of the worship service. If one of your changes is to bring more teenagers into the worship service, the pastor may be faced with two competing commitments. What should you do in this situation?
If you wanted to help your pastor say "yes" to your request, you would need to anticipate that this will be a competing commitment. Then, be proactive in presenting a solution to the competing commitments that does not require the pastor to do it him or herself. For example, suggest a way to bring more teenagers into the worship service that wouldn’t compromise the quality.
You will be more effective as a leader in bringing about change if you’re able to anticipate competing commitments and present solutions up front. This exercise (using the chart below) will help you and your leadership team to do just that. The first column of the chart includes an example of two competing commitments – intergenerational worship and improving the quality of the worship service by targeting a specific demographic. In the empty boxes below, write down other changes you’d like to introduce. Then anticipate the competing commitments your pastor or board might face. In many cases, there may be two, three, or even more competing commitments.
The second column is for you to think through and write out what your proposed change would cost this pastor or board. What would they have to give up in another area to accommodate your change? This is an opportunity for you to think through what is meaningful to them, and the language you might use to communicate in their terms.
The third column is for you to think through solutions you might offer. Be sure to consider the culture and history of your church, as the changes you’re proposing may not be brand new.
Reflection questions for you and your team:
- What is important to our senior pastor or church board? How can we communicate our proposed changes in ways that will be meaningful to them?
- For each of the changes we’re proposing, are they brand new? Are there elements of this change that are already present in our church’s culture or history?
- For the changes where there is not an easy solution, does one side need to win while the other loses, or is there a way to make it a win-win?
- Have we searched our hearts regarding these changes? Is our focus really on what is best for the church, or on what is best for us personally?
Resources to Go Deeper:
- Managing Your Boss – A classic Harvard Business Review article by John J. Gabarro and John P. Kotter on how to manage up.
- How to Manage Your Boss – An article by Patrick Lencioni about how to work with your boss.
Explore part 8 of this toolkit: How can I make changes stick in the midst of everyday ministry?