Leadership Transitions: The Perspectives of the Leader

Transition is essential for growth.  God set up His Creation that way. All living organisms grow through cycles of change. So, to lead well through transition, a leader must understand the organic nature of change.

Scripture describes the church as a living organism–the Body of Christ. The nature and function of the church is different than a business and every other enterprise. The Church is God’s agent to reconcile and redeem a fallen world where things are constantly falling apart, changing and dying. Your call to lead a church is a call to God’s creative, redeeming work of reconciliation..

Here are five principles for recognizing transition and leading dynamic growth in your church:

  1. All living organisms start small. You may have a big vision for your church. But in the Kingdom of Jesus, faithfulness starts small, like a mustard seed. In fact, Jesus has a lot to say about seeds. Seeds represent the source of life, the word of God, and the Alpha of God’s eternal plan. There are seeds that produce grain, and seeds that produce weeds, with sowers of each kind.  There are seeds that grow and bear fruit, and seeds that are trampled and die, depending upon the ground where the seed falls. Seeds only yield fruit “after their kind,” so care must be given to the kind of seed sown.

In God’s Kingdom, growth often begins when one person changes, repents, begins a new way of thinking, speaking, and embodying new life.  When Rosa Parks sat down in a “whites only” section of a Montgomery, Alabama bus, her goal was not to start a civil rights movement.  Her feet were tired and she was tired of injustice.  But when she refused to give up her seat, a movement was born. Jesus inaugurates a Kingdom that starts small and grows big,

moving through cycles of change from birth, decay, death, and rebirth. Jesus says, “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

What has to die in your ministry for new growth to take root?

  1. All living organisms resist control. You cannot coerce change, so don’t try. The opposite of faith is not unbelief, it is control. Now, faithfulness and good planning are not directly opposed.

Stewardship requires planning. But faithfulness belongs to a higher order, a different realm.  Planning is about human control. Faithfulness is about abiding in Christ. The problem is that we equate leadership with control. “The more control,” we think, “the greater likelihood of success.” So, we employ leadership strategies that treat the church like a machine. Control makes sense if you are making widgets. When a machine breaks down, you fix it.  You find the broken part, throw it away, and replace the part.

But the church is about serving people who are living and dying in a dynamically interconnected social, spiritual system. Touch one part and you touch all. Living organisms cannot be fixed, controlled, or managed. Instead, the church and all living organisms must be nurtured, healed, and redeemed. Congregations are animated by Spirit, not invention. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians, “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” Jesus says that human flourishing and fruitfulness is entirely dependent upon our connection to the vine. “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.”

  1. All living organisms change in relationship to limiting and reinforcing processes. A limiting process is a barrier, obstacle, or difficult force that restricts and hinders growth. Picture a wall that blocks a plant from the sun. The plant will struggle to survive. Reinforcing processes are the forces that encourage or heighten growth. Now, imagine removing the wall. The plant will flourish under the sun.

What are the reinforcing and limiting forces at work in your church? What is moving with, or blocking, the flow of God’s Spirit? All growth requires change. In nature, to stop growing is to start dying so that, in death, new life might be formed.

  1. Power for growth lies in the underlying structure. Making a river flow in the opposite direction is impossible without changing the underlying riverbed, and not without a lot of excavation. It’s the same in the church. The older and more established the structure, the longer and more difficult will be the change. In fact, any change in the church that does not address the fundamental assumptions and practices of your history will be rejected. Beware of making any change without first addressing what lies underneath. Here is the rule:  any change that is not supported by an underlying structure will not last.
  2. Strength grows through crisis. (Or, obstacles are our best teachers) Living organisms have an amazing ability to adapt and change. Hardship produces character. Pain can be a pathway for healing. Failure can bring wisdom and reorder hope in God. Learn to embrace crisis as an opportunity for growth.

Is your church in transition, perhaps stuck, or stagnant, or maybe dying?  If so, maybe God has you in the perfect place to plant new seeds of life and growth.


By Jim Van Yperen