There are innumerable examples of why positive change is an absolute necessity of life. Throughout the Bible, God continually calls upon people to effect positive change both individually and corporately. The word repent is a call for change. When God called Abram to relocate and become a follower of the one true God, Abraham had to make effect positive change in his life. On a continual basis, prophets call upon God’s people to change. Jesus called upon the Jews to radically change in their understanding of the law and the prophets. The Apostle Peter had to change his way of thinking about Gentiles and the gospel. Each of Paul’s epistles is a call for change. In fact, it is fair to say that pastors continually call upon their people to change; and the pastor who does not learn how to effect positive change in the church he is called to lead will greatly struggle at accomplishing God’s will. Therefore, it is critical that all leaders, including and especially pastors, understand the dynamics associated with creating an environment for change in their own life and the life of an organization.
In Developing the Leader within You, John C. Maxwell, presents twelve characteristics of a leader in trouble. Characteristics like, “fights change, stays inflexible, will not take a risk, lacks imagination, and is insecure and defensive” and others will significantly hinder a pastor’s effectiveness as the leader of the church (Maxwell 1993, 56-57). Change individually or corporately is not natural. Maxwell presents several pointed case studies which illustrate the negative consequences of a business man’s lack of ability to change. For example, Ford’s unwillingness to change the model T put case market shares at stake, which is significant in the corporate world (Ibid.). The Lord Jesus pointedly reminded his followers that gaining the world is nothing if a man loses his soul (Mk. 8:36). When souls are at stake, it is critical that spiritual leaders understand the importance of being willing to change themselves or the organization when the Spirit of God calls for change. Once Paul personally changed His view on the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth, he was then able to become God’s agent of change in a very significant way to most of the known world of the first century.
Maxwell presents a quote from the chairman of Deere Company as a means of being willing to change. Hewitt states, “To be a leader, you must preserve all through your life the attitude of being receptive to new ideas” (Maxwell 1993, 52). With the exception of receptiveness to heretic doctrine, every pastor would do well to embrace a positive receptivity to new ideas. Far too many churches are empty, not making budget, struggling for existence, void of male leadership and overall failing to engage the next generation with the gospel because the congregation is not willing to change and the pastor is not willing to be an agent of change. Because the pastor is often the single significant leader in the church, it is critical that he at a minimum understand “the attitude and motivational demands for bringing about” change (Maxwell 1993, 52). In Pastor Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically, John MacArthur advises pastors to “relentlessly force your ministry to conform to the Word” (MacArthur 2005, 299). Essentially, MacArthur is suggesting that the pastor must be an agent of change anytime the ministry he leads has a facet that is not aligned with the will of God as revealed in His Word.
People resist change because man is fallen and is inherently a selfish being that has a significant propensity to rebel against all forms of authority. Maxwell suggests that change is hard because “the leader has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions and only lukewarm defenders in those who do well with change” (Maxwell 1993, 53). Although not mentioned by Maxwell, his premise is best illustrated by the resistance Christ received by the Jewish leaders who were doing well under the old system when He hinted at the need for change. When anyone suggests the need to change something, they are putting themselves in a position of authority. This may not sit well with most people. Independent Baptists still use a Bible translation that is 250 years old because the vast majority of God’s people are just as generally resistant to change as unbelievers.
Maxwell presents fourteen reasons why people resist change. Each of these reasons is reflective of just how fallen man is. Maxwell appeals to the natural man and writes to the leader who cannot appeal to the spiritual side of man. For example, in Maxwell’s fourteen reasons the discussion concerning God’s will in change is not even mentioned. Again, this may be fine for effecting change at McDonalds, but the local church is substantially different from a fast-food enterprise whose bottom line drives the need for change. Therefore, when Maxwell discusses the difference between changes that are self-initiated or not—this is a partially reasonable consideration in building an environment for change. If the pastor does not teach his people the necessity of change when God is leading or conformity to the Word of God is required, all change in his church will be an uphill battle for the duration. When Maxwell states that “change creates fear of the unknown,” he is right; therefore, there is a necessity to trust God. God’s people need to be taught to trust in His Sovereignty.
Spiritual leaders desiring to be agents of change must examine each of Maxwell’s points carefully to ensure that they are appealing to a biblical worldview and not appealing to the flesh. When Maxwell presents the necessity to motivate people to change using rewards, the pastor needs to appeal to eternal rewards for Kingdom work. Concerning being satisfied with status quo, Maxwell presents an interesting story about the Swiss watch company and their failure to adapt to change. Every pastor should give serious consideration to examining if the church they lead is identical in its perspective to the Swiss watch company which refused to go digital in its watch production. Christ has promised that His Church will not die, but the local church that refuses to change may very well die (Maxwell 1993, 58-59). “Change may mean personal loss” (Ibid.) Correction- change does mean personal loss. Jesus told His followers to deny themselves. Change requires additional commitment; again, yes it does. This is the message of the gospel. The gospel requires change. Spiritual leaders should not allow their people to create compartments for change where they refuse to allow spiritual influence to affect their behavior. Although it is critical that spiritual leaders lead in such a manner that they are respected, it should not be necessary to effect change because the spiritual leader needs to appeal to Jesus as the Head of the Body of Christ. Now, in those cases where the change is not clearly established as Biblical, the leader must be open to the reality that his change may not be necessary.
Finally, Maxwell’s creating a climate of change contains many practical solutions, but all of it must be shrouded in a commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and His Revelation to the church. Within the section on creating a climate for change, Maxwell presents ten tasks/ questions the leader must ask about making change. For example he writes: “1. List the major influencers of the major groups within your organization. 2. How many will be affected directly by this change? 6. Which group is the majority?” (Maxwell 1993, 69). Maxwell’s questions are good questions, but certainly the goal of any pastor is not to create an environment where God lead and God necessary change requires working through “which group is the majority, which group is most influential?” etc. Although there is a significant degree of practicality in Maxwell’s advice to leaders, clearly the goal is to change the environment within the church to the point that the influencers are not asking who is stronger but what is God’s will. All this is not to say that the spiritual leader should not follow the advice Maxwell gives. For example, the eight ways in offering “ownership of change to others” but this must be tempered, at all times, with a continual call to ask: “What would God have us to do? Is this something that I can live with or without? Can I trust in God’s Sovereignty through the leadership of the church?” and other similar questions.
Change is necessary because change is expected by the Sovereign God of the Universe. The pastor who does not learn to be a change agent will not be an effective pastor. When the church is taught that it must be continually conforming itself to the leadership of the Christ through the God-ordained officers of the church, change will not be difficult. When Jesus is Lord of the church, instead of tradition, a matriarch or the chairman of the deacon board, the environment will begin to be set to accept change well. This does not mean that wisdom will not be necessary when implementing positive change, but Spirit-lead change will more readily be accepted by Spirit-filled followers of Christ. Paul instructed others to follow him as he followed Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). If the church is filled with followers of Christ, they will willingly embrace change by God’s Grace, once they are fully convinced that the agent of change is following Christ. Then the agent of change can seek to know how he should implement the practical guidance Maxwell provides within the framework of a biblical worldview.
MacArthur, John. 2005. Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
Maxwell, John C. 1993. Developing the Leader within You. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.