Change: to alter modify transform, convert or make over.
Being a minister for 20 years I’ve seen many pastors and church leaders attempt to change organizations or churches. Most have been successful in making changes to their congregation on the surface, but unsuccessful on a spiritual level. They have tried to implement their vision and paint their masterpieces only to find that legacy is a thing that is earned by winning hearts and not just minds.
Good and useful changes have failed to be effected in churches because the leaders are at a loss how to smoothly create a change that will last. Often change has been either forced or lopsided because of poor leadership. Jesus would be very sad to see how change management is run in churches today. He taught the church better.
In business, when new management comes into the picture, the biggest question in the minds of the movers and shakers in the corporation is how to achieve change. Consulting groups have made big and often well earned money showing corporations how to smoothly effect new changes. Employees remain who have helped build the company and cries of, “that’s not the way we did it before,” resound around the water cooler and in the corners of the company cafeteria.
A few months ago, I attended a business seminar and the speaker told of a company he was called in to help with change management. The company saw that it needed major overhaul to survive and wanted to implement new policies. But how to do it—was the question. So they brought in the speaker along with a new management team that did not always take his advice. One manager that was in charge of payroll, decided that he would change time and attendance. This was done to make the workers more accountable. His philosophy was: “I’m in charge, so they will just have to like it or lump it.”
So, he calls all the workers together and tells them how things are going to run from here on in. Not very smart. You see, change that is only based on a person’s authority is nearly impossible to have it run smoothly. The man had not done his research on the people at all. He had a union to contend with for one thing and banked on his authority, ignoring the influence of the long standing, respected managers and workers and their opinions and buy in on the matter.
I remember this story because this is what I have seen in churches. Authority--with no plan how to implement that authority. Power and leverage from certain groups in an organization is not enough to result in lasting and peaceful change. He had the backing of the corporate heads in his plan, of course, but not the people. The consultant sat back and watched him saying, “He’ll be gone before the year is out.” “It was one of the dumbest things I had ever seen.” That’s exactly what happened!
As often happens when authority is forced, people go underground. At the very first meeting, the workers were making plans how to get rid of him and within a year’s time and they succeeded. The people that had been there longer and had more influence, went to the union, put all kinds of roadblocks in his way and he couldn’t get anything effective off the ground.
One worker filed a lawsuit and then another and another and soon he was so overrun with problems and legal troubles that were plaguing his division that the corporation fired him. Actually, the people fired him. As is often said in the business world, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
He was going to take the “domineering” or “mandated” approach. He was going to tell them the new rules. “We are doing it like this now.” This rarely works and is usually not recommended. He told them new rules they did not like, did not allow any feedback, period, or commentaries and started putting things in place to implement the change.
The people did what he said on the surface but underneath, they were working against him. It was his fault. He did not get the ‘buy in’ from the people that he would need to carry this change long after he had gone. His approach was so heavy handed, he got rebellion. Not open rebellion but by default, an underground one.
No matter how sincere they are, people are apprehensive about change. They first have to accept the person before they accept the ideas, plans, and changes.
When I was a new convert, our church was so strict that we did not go to Six Flags Great America Amusement Park because the older people in the congregation considered it a worldly entertainment. When one of the younger Elders who was well respected and established, talked to the older ministers and showed them how there was nothing wrong with this place, that it was family oriented and harmless spiritually, the older ministers prayed about it and accepted it.
What brought the change was not the place, but the person who was suggesting the change, and their respect for this person. Leadership has to be character based. No leader is successful simply because they have a title. People have to respect character and integrity. Then, they will accept where they are being led. Any Leadership 101 class will teach you, people follow the person more than the ideas.
Often this happens in churches, who try to change over from old ways to new. Often people of the old guard have trained themselves a certain way and feel sacrilegious doing anything different. Years ago, my husband and a friend were at an elderly pastor’s house playing checkers. The pastor came by and looked at them and said ‘I’ll have to pray about this” and walked away. So they came back and were playing checkers another time and the pastor said “Saints, I’m looking at how freely you are playing that and I’m not condemning you, but I would ask that you not play that in my house.” Wow! Checkers?!
Well, many years ago before you and I were born, people that professed holiness, did not play what was then, a gambling game. That would have been the right call for that day and time, because Checkers was associated with gambling and it was understandable to want to stay away from something that would mar their Christian testimony. He still felt a certain condemnation because he had trained himself to stay away from certain “amusements.” He never condemned them as being wrong but said “It’s my personal conviction, I can’t do that.” He later explained to my husband that he saw how freely the younger saints played this and had enough respect for their Christian experience and the Holy Ghost to say “Maybe I had better go pray”.
Often, people get stuck. We have to do the same things we’ve always done or we are backslidden. The main feature in change management is prayer. We could ask this question: “Is this a change that God would have us make”? That is the relevant question for any Christian group, denomination, sect, or individual congregation of any age or era. Even with changes that we’re sure are okay with God, as leaders, we still have to know how to implement that change.
Jesus understood clearly about managing change. In Luke 5:33-39, this conversation takes place as a party held by Levi to celebrate his new Master and the change in his life. He seemingly invites all his publican friends and maybe the whole neighborhood because the Pharisees and scribes of the temple remark that Jesus has not separated himself like most prophets, but was eating with “publicans and sinners.” Jesus explained that he came not to call the righteous, such as themselves, but his focus was that sinners be led to repentance.
They further continue make a comparison with his disciples/followers and those of John the Baptist and the Pharisees, who apparently made a big show out of their fasting and suffering and separateness. Now, here Jesus is, at a party of feasting, looking very ‘unholy’ to them, and they are not really understanding what holiness is.
They question him about how this looks and his lack of outward piety. Jesus picks the perfect analogy. He calls to their attention wedding festivities—he’s at a party after all--and explains that there will come a time for fasting, but the bridegroom is here (meaning himself) and this is a time to rejoice.
Now, we get the meat of change management. Let’s take this in parts:
The new garment on the old garment:
No one tears a piece of cloth from a new garment and puts it on an old garment; otherwise he will both tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. Luke 5:36
Jesus was starting his ministry and was about to make a great change in how religion and religious practice was conducted. The Pharisaical system was going to be challenged and people who followed him would not be bound by the rules and regulations of the system. He had two factions there to address, the new people who had found Jesus and would be his disciples and the old guard who had followed the Law of Moses and added to more to it-- creating a dead religious system.
Notice that Jesus did not criticize the Pharisees or their disciples nor did he pass judgment on the practices of John the Baptist’s disciples. He recognized that he had not yet begun to teach the new, and so throughout his ministry he sought where possible to respect the old, while teaching his disciples by example the new teaching he was bringing. There would be liberty in Christ and salvation would not hinge on a box of rules, regulations, and outward shows of piety, but in Christ himself. Jesus told the Pharisees, that he did not come to destroy the law (the old) but to fulfill it.
As people are inclined to do, they began at this party of Matthew to chastise him for not being like his predecessors. Jesus handled them well, not with disdain and not making them enemies. Jesus understood their questions and where they came from and respected their questions. Throughout the New Testament, we see disapproval of his level of respect for the Sabbath day, eating with unwashed hands, and other items of censure. Jesus realized the old was the foundation.
Often, inexperienced pastors and preachers will try to destroy a foundation in order to get the results they want; but notice the example Jesus gives makes. No one tries to “tear” a piece of cloth from a new garment and put on an old one. In other words, no one is silly enough to try to force a blend of old and new, it would not even look right, it wouldn’t match.
The Greek word used here is eÍpiba/llw ( transliterated as Epiballo) is a very strong action verb (the KJV uses the English “putteth” and “tear” is a more accurate, current English conveyance of the thought). We should never just grab something new, whatever it is, and then try to fit it into the church. Ministers who do this often do not have a good respect for the old. They don’t understand it, why it was there, or the people who are connected with the old. Often ministers run and grab the next new thing because they want to attract new people or they are influenced by pressure from their younger members. Jesus had a plan to bring in the new, but he had enough sense not to do this before his first miracle. He had just started his ministry.
Many young Pastors and preachers need to learn from this. Don’t make drastic changes when you first come through the door of a congregation. Find out about the influences there. Find out why prior things were done. Pray. There’s always that person that says, “Thank God you’re here. Now we can….” However, that may not be the direction God would have you go, and although you may be flattered, you may have to disappoint that person, so that the old and the new can both grow together and co-exist peacefully.
The old and the new Wine
And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. "But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. "And no one, after drinking old wine wishes for new; for he says, ‘The old is good enough’. Luke 5:37
This last line, the KJV says “the old is better.” One truth Jesus is teaching here is that people always say “the old is better” or “good enough.” It brought us this far, let’s not change anything. No one, after drinking old wine, wishes for new. It just simply tastes better. People don’t like change. They are suspicious of change, fearful of change, uncertain of change and a good leader realizes all of this and will not push people too far, too fast.
Jesus recognized that he was bringing a revolutionary, radical new teaching. He wanted to put the new wine in the new vessels so that they could grow in the new teaching. He did not try to put new wine in old vessels. It would not hold it. As the gas from the new wine expanded it would burst the old bottles. All listening to him were very familiar with the fermentation process. Jesus had many influences that needed to be removed from Jewish society; systems that had long been in place many of which were displeasing to God.
A few years ago I read an article by a minister that tried to use a popular religious writer’s method of changing churches. He said that he had difficulty using this and practicing the love of God in this method, because many of the older members were distressed at the changes and felt they would be failing God to move on with new things. He did not want to damage their faith. So what he did, instead of making the older people and their ways his enemy, he told an influential member of the congregation that they could either work together or tear things apart.
The man thought that the pastor was going to toss him out because of his strong objections to his policies, but the pastor had greater vision and said “Let’s work together.” The man worked well with him and they supported each other until the pastor moved on to another church, the old and new worked together to effect necessary changes—changes needed for the survival and future development of the local congregation. When people’s welfare comes first, the discerning minister will always come out on top.
Often preachers can be their own worst enemy. Respect for traditions, respect for the Christ in each saint, and a healthy dose of prayer are a good recipe for success. I’ll leave of with the words of the commentary writer, Adam Clarke:
There is as much to be observed in the manner of speaking the truth, as in the truth itself, in order to make it effectual to the salvation of them who hear it. A harsh, unfeeling method of preaching the promises of the Gospel, and a smiling manner of producing the terrors of the Lord, are equally reprehensible. Some preachers are always severe and magisterial: others are always mild and insinuating: neither of these can do God's work.
© 2012 Renee Milton