Listening to Lead

By Mark A. Taylor

Maybe you’ve seen this happen at your company. The business has been sold. The new bosses arrive, and they’re very confident they know how to run the show. If they didn’t think they could do it better than the last guys they wouldn’t have forked over all that money to buy the operation.

April28_MT_JNSo they wade in with firm goals and bold plans to take the business forward. In the process, these new managers announce “new ideas” with the explanation, “This has never been tried here before.” But even though the long-timers watching from the shadows know otherwise, they just nod in silence. No one asked their opinion.

The new managers are full of vision for the future, without much time to notice the contributions of the past. Could it be that the past is the problem with this place? Could it be that those whose work kept the place afloat for years (or decades) just can’t understand what a business really needs to be profitable today?

And you’ve already guessed what I’m going to say next: The very same syndrome plays out in local churches too. Not always—maybe not even often—but sometimes, new ministers or other church staff members listen too little, move too quickly, and make changes too abruptly. Faithful servants are replaced by hired help who may or may not do the job better. Old approaches are changed because someone somewhere did well with something different. Seeing that success, the new leaders don’t pause to analyze whether this new approach fits their own situation.

Not that change is the enemy. Local churches in this country better make some changes, or they’ll never penetrate the increasingly secular communities around them. We cannot do church like our fathers, and maybe not even like our older brothers, if we want to engage our children’s generation.

We must change. But changing for the sake of change isn’t good enough. Changing just to imitate someone else’s change isn’t smart. Changing because I think it’s better isn’t wise when, if I’d just asked and listened, 10 others could have showed me why it won’t work.

Last week I filled this space with quotes from Aaron Brockett, senior pastor with Traders Point Christian Church outside Indianapolis. But I didn’t include a couple that fit well here.

Quote one: Aaron told his audience at the Intentional Church Conference in Decatur, Illinois, that, while we may think of Indianapolis where he serves as a mostly churched place, 80 percent of the city’s population does not attend a Bible-believing church. Obviously, bold moves and new initiatives are needed to reach Indianapolis for Christ. And if Indianapolis, certainly the same is true in San Francisco or Chicago or New York—and even in country crossroads of America, too. (Maybe you heard the report from rural Scott County, Indiana, struggling to cope with a dramatic spike in HIV due to illegal injection drug usage there.)

Quote two (and this one’s the gem): “Leadership is introducing change in a way that people can tolerate.”

We’re quick to point out to self-absorbed church members that we must innovate to grow, we must try different approaches to reach a changing culture.

While we trumpet that theme, let’s also remember that some heartache, grief, and resistance to change is avoidable when change is managed by a leader who listens.

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