How can pastors lead healthy, productive, and long-lasting change in their congregations?
Mike Clarensau answers that question in Subject to Change. An ordained Assemblies of God minister, church consultant, and author, his advice comes from decades of ministry in local-church and denominational settings. New pastors in established churches will find it especially helpful.
Why? Because of all pastors, they are most tempted to make changes to a congregation without church members’ input. New pastors see clearly what needs to be done, but they don’t see how the congregation contributes to the process. In their view, members are passive recipients of change at best, obstacles to change at worst.
Clarensau argues that viewing church members this way is ineffective. Pastors who take such an adversarial stance toward their congregations rarely last long. What changes they do make last only as long as they do. And since congregations don’t like being treated as adversaries, those pastors rarely last long.
The better way for pastors to lead change is to partner with their congregations. After all, people in the pews want the same outcome that pastors do — a spiritually healthy, missionally effective church. Their perspectives are simply different. New pastors see what a church can be, for example, while congregants also factor in what the church has been.
Pastors who partner for change with their congregations are relational and work at a slower pace than those who attempt to impose change. Rather than focusing on a church’s weaknesses, they build on its strengths. They view church members as resources, not obstacles. And they articulate a clear, compelling, and doable vision for ministry based on congregational input and agreed upon expectations.
Subject to Change is short and well-written. Its eight chapters outline principles that are applicable to a wide variety of church contexts: urban, suburban, or rural; large, midsize, or small. The most helpful way to read it is with your church’s pastoral staff, board members, and key volunteers.
“Healthy churches find healthy paths when they’re pursuing change — and that’s the real goal, isn’t it?” writes Clarensau. “I mean, if you get to the future and have no one to share it with, or if you’ve strewn the road with broken relationships along the way, will it be the future you want?”
Those are good questions for pastors and church members alike. Only together can we make the changes that are necessary to become healthy, effective churches in a world with a never-changing need for relationship with God.
Mike Clarensau, Subject to Change: What People Want Their Pastor to Know Before Asking Them to Change (Arrows & Stones, 2022).
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