Walking into the church for the first time, the pastoral candidate noticed something unusual on the bulletin board in the lobby. Where he might have expected to see announcements about upcoming events, new babies, or community needs, he instead found several invoices under the heading, “If you can pay one of these, please take it.” Clearly, something at the church needed to change if it was to survive, much less thrive as an outpost of the Kingdom of God.
As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are in the business of change. We look to Christ to transform our lives and we call others to be transformed by Him. But with a 2000-year history that’s as marred by sin as the lives of the people who comprise it, the Church—and individual churches—needs also to be transformed. The question is how, and how much?
The candidate walking into that lobby helped the church by identifying three levels of change:
- Minor adjustments. On the whole, we believe we are on the right path and doing well. We just need to tweak a few things to get over the next hump.
- Substantive changes. We are doing okay, but need to make some significant, substantive changes if we are going to move forward effectively. These may be in the areas of staffing, structure, systems, or priorities.
- Wholesale transformation. We are in trouble if we don’t make some major changes; we may die a slow death, we may implode, or we may simply continue our decline into ineffective mediocrity.
The church admitted that they needed wholesale transformation—and they called that pastor to help lead them in the process. A dozen years later when I came on the scene to serve alongside that pastor, I found one of the healthiest churches I have known, transforming lives, communities, and churches both locally and globally.
When a church is between pastors, one of the most important questions it needs to answer is, What level of change do we need? It’s not a question the search committee alone can answer, but the answer will shape their search; they need to identify candidates with the vision, passion, empathy, and energy to lead into and through the change.
Want to practice? Read the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3. Identify the level of change each might need, and some ways a pastor might need to lead each church through that change.