Might: Spiritual, organizational, personal and positional sources and resources are appropriately used to make decisions and develop people

Change Agent Leadership and Process Driven Leadership Are Not Mutually Exclusive

Recently I read a Facebook post from a well-known church leader explaining to his followers the multiple moves he had made in recent years. One of those moves involved serving a church for a year before resigning. His explanation? “I’m a change-agent leader. That didn’t sit well with a very established and process driven church. I was frustrated as much as they were.”

I know well the church he is referencing. I served there for over 10 years. And what he says is true. It is a very established church. A 50+ years old church plant that has had only two pastors. And it is one of the most process driven churches you will find anywhere. There is a process in place for almost every aspect of church life. So, I have no doubt that he was as frustrated by these processes as they were by his lack of understanding and/or embracing of their way of doing things.

I may be reading too much into his statement, but it appears he is also implying that these established processes kept the church from being change oriented and inhibited his ability to lead change. The facts say otherwise. This church has not only been among one of the fastest growing churches in America over the last 20 years, but it is also well known for its innovation and consistently being on the leading edge of many church and ministry movements. Churches regularly visit the various campuses to learn from their staff. In over forty years of church leadership and consulting, it is easily one of the top change-oriented cultures I have ever seen. In fact, I imagine that this reputation figured into the reasoning of the above-mentioned leader when considering the position. Further, I would suggest that the church’s process orientation actually encouraged healthy change and helped create a high rate of success.

Why Are Change Agent Leaders Resistant To Process?

Why are change agent leaders often resistant to putting their proposed change through a process? Six possibilities come to mind.

  1. Theology and Philosophy. Statements like those above typically come from leaders steeped in the hierarchal authoritarian male theology and philosophy of church leadership. Authoritarian leaders not only hate process, they believe that as the leader of the church they shouldn’t be subjected to it.
  2. Fear. Authoritarian leaders who try to lead change are fearful that a process will reject or modify their ideas.
  3. Time: Processes take time and authoritarian leaders are short on patience. They know that Rome wasn’t built in a day. But they think it would have been if they had been in charge.
  4. Hardwiring. Many if not most authoritarian leaders are Type A, High D personalities. They simply aren’t hardwired for process.
  5. Arrogance. Rejecting process can be code for I know better than you do what is needed and to involve you or to engage in some process is a waste of my valuable time (In other words, not only am I smarter than you, my time is more valuable than yours). It reflects the arrogance of knowing” that is so synonymous with today’s authoritarian model of church leadership.
  6. Accountability. Putting a leader’s proposal through a process means that the leader becomes accountable. Authoritarian leaders hate accountability and may even believe they are above having to answer to anyone but God.

The guys I have observed in forty years of ministry who are self-professed change agents have mixed results. There is no doubt that there are several notable examples of highly visible change-agent pastors and staff who have been successful without subjecting their initiatives to any process. There are no committees, leadership teams or congregational votes required to enact their wishes. And if there is it is a rubber stamp process that can be accomplished in a matter of days if not hours. Sadly, the ones who can pull this off are few and far between and many who have sought to emulate their examples have lost their jobs, resigned, or blown up or divided their churches.

What Are The Benefits Of Putting A Proposed Change Through A Process?

The benefits of surrounding a proposed change with a well-conceived and well lead process are numerous.

Following A Process Provides More:

  • Input. Even the most brilliant leader has blind spots and cannot possibly see every potential impact of their proposal. More input means more eyes and more experience vetting a proposal which in most cases helps create a better result.
  • Buy-in. When a proposal is put through a process the ultimate recommendation will create buy-in from the congregation. More buy-in means more cooperation, more leaders, and more financial resources.
  • Empowerment. Processes empowers people to use their gifts, passions, and experiences.
  • Loyalty. Leaders who subject their ideas to a process build trust and trust creates loyal followers.
  • Time. A process allows time for an idea to marinate, for additional pertinent information and resources to surface.
  • Stewardship. A process will generally create a more effective and efficient use of the church’s resources.
  • Accountability. Leaders are less likely to recommend an idea that isn’t well conceived or been thoroughly vetted if they know there is a process involved.

Following A Process Is A Best Practice:

An organizational leadership best practice: Pick up any book on leading change and it will describe some process to follow. For example, John Kotter advocates an 8 step process. William Bridges advises leaders of change to move slowly through 3 distinct stages. Further, I don’t know of a leadership coach or church consultant that doesn’t advocate some type of process when leading change.

A biblical leadership best practice. Click HERE to read about the process the early church leaders followed during the Jerusalem Council meetings.

A sales and marketing best practice. Sales and Marketing Teams are taught that selling a product requires changing a person’s attitude through a 5 step process: Awareness, Understanding, Concern, Dissatisfaction, and Action.

Downsides of Being Process Driven

An effective process requires the right steps involving the right people with the right information on the right time line. A process orientation is a management skill, a skill that not everyone has. All the more reason to have skilled and empowered process and systems thinkers on every church leadership team.

Even with skilled process thinkers involved no process is perfect. Following a process doesn’t guarantee a better result or wiser decision. And yes, a process can at times involve the wrong people handling the wrong information, getting bogged down in minutia and differences of opinion, and taking longer than necessary. But when it comes to leading change, the upsides of a well-designed process far outweigh the potential negatives and the inevitable frustration that comes with most any process.

Posted on June 28, 2022

Jim Baker

Jim is a Church Organizational Leadership and Management Coach, Consultant and Trainer. Throughout his career Jim has demonstrated a passion for showing Pastors and Ministers how to use organizational tools for church and personal growth and health.

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“For I may be absent in body, but I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see how well ordered you are and the strength of your faith in Christ.” Colossians 2:5