Leaders like change. It’s why they exist. If the status quo is acceptable, you don’t need a leader, a manager will do. And I’ve never been comfortable with the status quo. I like change!
In college, I dabbled with seven majors. Curiosity got the best of me. My junior year ended with my advisor putting the fear of not graduating in my life. It worked. I graduated, poetry my finish line.
After graduating, I moved south, chasing a girl and a seminary degree. I started in one program but finished in another. In four years, I had 3 jobs, my favorite lasting 11 months as an apartment manager. What can I say, I like change.
My first full-time ministry position was as a campus minister, focusing on fraternities and sororities. In two years, I started and ended six Bible studies. Each week I shuffled students in and out of my schedule, seeking some sort of rhythm, but it was never the same two weeks in a row. That was all right. I like change.
A friend called and asked if I wanted to help plant a church. I never thought of myself as a pastor, but what did I know? I prayed about it, and a few months later, I was officially a pastor. It happened fast, whiplashing friends, yet what can I say, I like change.
In the church planting world, change comes fast. Who will lead small groups? Spin a pen and see where the lot lands. Money comes in and out, almost as if you’re playing Monopoly. You learn to adapt, flex, improvise, try things, gather people, and invent activities that you pray will create a critical mass.
Case in point, host a free concert and advertise your new church. Some things work, others fail (doing the aforementioned concert in a college town on Saturday night during football season). That’s all right. Try something else. I like change.
I thought love-of-constant-change was working for me until I read a note on a feedback form, which I’d handed out to the church as a requirement for my doctor of ministry studies.
A handful of church members wrote, “We feel like victims of change, not participants in change.”
But I like change!
As the church began to grow and nothing turned into something, decisions began to slow down. Committees began to form, a natural system of checks and balances arose. But I was a ready-fire-aim kind of guy. It fueled my ministry aspirations.
Patience is a virtue, but not one I had learned—at least, not yet. Power and control and progress—making something happen!—were too alluring. How could I give up constant change?
I like change! Or so I thought.
When people pushed back, at first I wanted to push them aside, with a you-don’t-know-what-it’s-like-to-be-a-pastor attitude. Or show them my personality inventory, my Myers-Briggs, and suggest that if they had a problem, they should take it up with God who made me this way. Fortunately I kept these thoughts to myself. Thank God for the cross and internal processing.
Their words cut deep, but they were words I needed to hear. Words filled with love, marinated in hope, and the desire to see a young pastor grow in leadership. I like change, and a different change was beginning to bud in my heart.
As my emotions settled down, I took the words of my church to heart. They were right—my need for constant change created an environment for them to be hurt. What seemed like small changes, at least to me, left my people feeling jerked around as if they were on a Tilt-a-Whirl. I’d forgotten that church and carnival are not synonyms.
A few months after I received their feedback forms, I got a call about a job opportunity. This was the sort of job young men in ministry dream about—overseeing church planting in a major American city. I couldn’t turn this down. I was working my way up the ladder, seizing the day. All opportunities that fall into a pastor’s lap must be from God, right? Oh, and did I mention my love of change?
Three years into planting a church and I had one foot out the door.
But God was working another change in my life through his Spirit speaking grace into a sinful pastor by way of his flock.
I’d like to say it was hard turning down that job, but it really wasn’t. I love the church God is allowing me to pastor and my desire for change is being sanctified by my desire to see people maturing in Christ, foremost their pastor.
Today, before I ask the church to undergo another change, massive or subtle, I ask myself a few questions to make sure they are participants, not victims of change.
- Will this change simply make my life easier, or will it make the ministry better?
- Is this change mission/theologically critical?
- Will this change propel us into the future, or is it just chasing another fad?
- Will the potential good this change brings outweigh the pain this change will cause?
- Am I bringing people along throughout the process, explaining biblically, theologically, and rationally the reason for change?
Reflecting on the feedback, I’ve learned that the primary change that needed to happen was in me, not in the church I’m blessed to serve. A great strength became a great weakness, which forced my attention back toward Christ, reminding me of his humility and love in his sacrificial death.
I no longer say it as quickly as before, but it’s true in a deeper way. I like change.
Stephen Brucker is associate pastor of The Branch in Corvallis, Oregon.
Copyright © 2015 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal.
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