The Greatest Challenge to the Church Today

Outreach columnist Brad Powell shares a surprising insight about the largest obstacle to effectively leading the church.

Q: What is one of the largest challenges to effectively leading change in the church?

A: This is a no-brainer. There’s not even a close second. Changing myself is by far the largest challenge I face! It’s the largest challenge most leaders face.

The person God calls to lead has the greatest ability to effectively move people through change or keep people from changing. As the old saying goes, everything rises and falls on leadership. Of course, we leaders and pastors love to take credit when what we’re leading is “rising.” But we tend to blame other people or the circumstances when what we’re leading is “falling.” However, as leaders and pastors, we need to honestly and humbly own our part in both.

Here’s an important discovery I’ve made through the years: We can be called and gifted by God to be leading where we are, while at the same time, failing to be the leader God desires us to be.

Personal Change Required

I think this can result from two specific failures. The first is a failure of character. Sadly, many who have been called and gifted by God to lead have failed in their leadership because of a compromise of character. King Saul in the Old Testament is a great example. Sadly, we’ve seen this kind of failure too often in the lives of pastors and leaders in our world.

The second is a failure to change. Stagnating environments often stem from stagnating leaders. As our world, culture, communities, circumstances, organizations and people change, we have a tendency to keep leading in the same way we’ve always led. This never works in a changing environment. What used to be positive, effective leadership becomes negative and ineffective.

One of the realities we must understand is that leading change demands personally changing. When God wanted to change something in the world, what was the first thing He did? He changed the person He was calling to lead. This was true of Moses (Ex. 3), Isaiah (Isa. 6) and Paul (Acts 9).

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Personal transformation enabled Paul, who had waged war against Christ and His church, to become an apostle for Christ and urge people to follow his example as he followed Christ (1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1; Phil. 3:17). This was my first biblical introduction to an important leadership principle: speed of the leader, speed of the team. I have since found it to be the reality in my experience as a pastor and leader, especially when it comes to leading people through change.

No matter how much people respect or believe me, they won’t take the journey of change simply because I’m pointing the way. But they will take the journey of change if I’m personally leading the way. This has been true in every area of my leadership: knowing Christ, relevantly reaching out to the lost, serving the poor and giving up or changing things I love to fulfill the purpose God has called me to accomplish.

In truth, the greatest catalyst to my effectiveness in leading change has been my willingness to take the journey of change myself. I’ve had to change the way I live, love, learn, think, work, relate and lead. And I’m finding myself needing to change more now than at any time in the history of my leadership because the realities and circumstances facing the people I lead are changing faster than ever before.

Key Principles to Follow

To help you lead yourself through change, let me share some keys that have helped me experience a measure of success through the years.

1. Experiencing God

As a spiritual leader, this is the single most important ingredient for change in my life. If I don’t remain intentional at staying thirsty and hungry for God, I begin conforming to the patterns of this world rather than continuing to experience change by the renewing of my mind (Rom. 12:2).

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2. Exposure

I read years ago that the most important and valuable changes in our lives will stem from the people we meet and the books we read. The truth is that the changes we need to experience require exposure to new people, thoughts, experiences, environments, information and needs. If we’re not intentionally expanding our exposure, we will by nature begin to stagnate.

3. Examination

Without becoming morbidly introspective, we must be willing to hold ourselves up to some rigorous self-evaluation. This should include inviting others into our lives to lovingly but objectively help us see the areas that could use some improvement. As Proverbs 27:17 tells us, “iron sharpens iron.”

4. Education

I have found that the only way I can change the quality and effectiveness of my leadership is through a willingness to learn new things. While my experience can be a great teacher, allowing myself to also learn from the experiences and knowledge of others helps me to change exponentially.

5. Enthusiasm

Finally, my personal willingness to change and my ultimate effectiveness in leading others through change are directly connected to my passion quotient. If my passion and enthusiasm for God, His people and the purpose He’s called me to are waning, my growth throttles back. If they remain high, nothing can hold me back.

So, here’s my question for you: Where do you need to lead change and how are you changing in that area yourself?