Leading Through Change Without Losing Your Soul

Leading change in the church can be terrifying. No amount of advice, pep talks or planning can prepare you for the feeling that you’ve just jumped off a cliff. That’s because you know you’re trading safety and security for the dream of something bigger. You’re trading something tangible for something possible. And the scary part is … none of it belongs to you. The weight of stewardship in these situations is staggering.

I had the unique privilege of being part of the transition team in the church where I eventually became the lead pastor. I got to watch my seasoned predecessor navigate change masterfully. At one point, after years of preparation, we successfully changed the name of our church, adopted new bylaws, remodeled our building, transitioned from Sunday school to small groups and added a second Sunday morning service—all in 6 weeks! It was mind-blowing to be a part of. People really got on board.

But I’ve also had the more common experience as a lead pastor of trying to implement much smaller changes and hitting a brick wall, like the time I tried to convince our staff that our church no longer needed a phone number. Or the time I tried introducing video teaching at our largest campus with no time for our church to process the adjustment. For some reason, I just didn’t see the problem with these ideas when we were in the middle of it all. After watching my predecessor introduce new initiatives so well, I was tempted to believe I just didn’t have the magic touch.

Three words best describe how I’ve often felt in the midst of leading change: Alone, frustrated and defeated. The pressure a lead pastor feels in these times can be isolating. After all, you’re navigating hopes and dreams coming at you from all directions. It’s hard to know who you can talk to in the middle of the mess. And when things slow down or take a turn you may tend to blame yourself, get introspective and internalize the frustration. That’s bad for your health, your family, your team and your church. After a while, if things don’t pick up, you may give in to the feelings of defeat—like progress just isn’t worth the price.

If you’re feeling this way I want to offer two practical steps I hope will lead to an ongoing conversation, and ultimately, the breakthrough that you desire.

Two Steps for Moving Forward:

1. Remember you are called by God. Think back to all those moments God used to shape you. Remember how real they were. Reflect on all the sacrifices you have made to say yes to God’s leading in your life over and over again. Keep in mind that ultimately you won’t answer to your fans or your critics. You will answer to God for how you led his church. So seek his will and his approval above all.

2. Reconnect with your dreams. Ministry has a way of hijacking your original dreams and turning them into a diluted version of what once made your heart beat fast. I’ve found it’s healthy to periodically go back to your first experiences with a vision from God. One reason you might feel stuck where you are is because it’s not really your vision anymore. It might be time to refine a few things, to return to the purity of what God initially spoke into your life. In my own life there is no replacement for this process. It’s what puts the fire back in my soul and gives me the courage to chart the course again.

Gabe Kolstad is the lead pastor of Westside Community Church in Beaverton, Oregon, a certified trainer with Church Leader Insights and an advanced coaching expert with Nelson Searcy. This article was originally published on GabeKolstad.com.