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Leading After Failed Change

It was Saturday and I was at home. So I was a little puzzled when I answered the doorbell to find the church's office manager dropping by. It was near Easter, and she had used the excuse of bringing some homemade treats over for my family as her reason to make the half-hour drive to my house. But there was more.

She also came by to let me know that she had found a job at another church and would be leaving her position in two weeks. We were good friends, and she wanted to be able to tell me in person, not over the phone or email. I thanked her for that, wished her well, closed the door, and sat down on the steps in shock. This was the sixth resignation from our small church's staff in five months. We were down to just two - myself and our youth director.

Two-and-a half years earlier, our leadership team had sought long and hard for ways to become more accessible to our community to be able to share the Gospel beyond the walls of the church. We implemented several significant program changes - all with the best of intentions, but with distressingly horrific results. The church fractured. Many people left. Eventually our pastor resigned. The overarching hard lesson learned by me during this time was that leadership, myself included, tried to change too much too fast, and we lost the trust, heart, and integrity of our church.

It seems there are volumes of literature written on how to lead change, through change and with change. But I am aware of very little available instructing how to lead after change - especially change that failed. How do you shepherd a flock after nearly blowing up the church?

An interesting thing about leading after failed change is that you still have the same two major people groups present - albeit less of them - that you had when you started: those who were gung ho about the changes and are drawn to visionary ideas, and those who were leery and prefer the status quo. Only now, both groups are discouraged, disheartened, and grieving. And both are waiting to see what will happen next. The first group, the visionaries, are waiting to see if leadership will regress, go back to "how it's always been" and lose the missional focus. The second group, the cautionaries, are waiting to see if leadership is going to try it again, be "all about church growth" and forsake the heart of the community.

It's a delicate situation. How do you rebuild trust with both groups without indulging either? How do you lead strongly a wounded flock? Or do you? Maybe the best plan would be to call in a ministry hospice advisor and simply close the doors for good. What would honor Christ best in this situation?

November13, 2007 at 11:11 AM

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