12 Applicable Ways to Change the Culture
All right, we’ve dilly-dallied long enough. Let’s get to it. How would a pastor go about recreating the culture in a church where he has gone to minister?
1. Carefully. To quote a mediator who was issuing a decision concerning a church, “We’re dealing with the fine china of people’s lives here.” Tread softly. That pianist you feel is holding the congregation back lives for the opportunity to serve. That deacon you see as an obstructionist got that way from watching a former pastor brutalize a church. Respect these people whom you are trying to lead.
2. Considerately. Before changing anything, the new shepherd will want to find out what he has. Nothing is scarier to a congregation than a new preacher–it’s almost always a young, immature one–who walks in and starts making wholesale changes without learning what the church was doing and considering whether it was working.
3. Slowly. It’s possible to kill a church trying to reform it. But, more likely, the pastor who tries to make vast changes too quickly will find himself looking for a new job. Take your time, pastor. They did not get dysfunctional in a fortnight and probably won’t be healed of it that quickly either.
4. Prayerfully. Never forget this is the Lord’s people. He loved them before you did, more than you do, and He will still be here when you leave. He bought these people with His own blood (Acts 20:28) and you didn’t. Ask what He wants to be done in His church.
5. Corporately. Not unilaterally. Not alone. Not from the top down. You are not Moses and this church is not Sinai. Pull in a few of the godliest leaders and share your heart, then listen to theirs. Work with them.
6. Personally. Model it, preacher. If you want people to pray at the altar, do it yourself sometime. If you want a church service in which people share their testimonies, give yours – and once in a while interview someone about theirs. If you want them to be generous, lead the way.
7. Trustingly. Let the congregation learn that you love them and that this church is not a stepping-stone in your career. If they feel you are using them to enhance your resume, the more discerning of them will resist you. And well, they should.
8. Easily. Pastor Mike Miller says, “I tell the church, ‘Let’s try this for a semester. If it doesn’t work, we can always go back to the way we were doing things.’ That’s a lot less threatening to people.”
9. Sensibly. Give them the reasons for the changes you are introducing. Most people want to do the right thing and can be convinced if you have solid reasons.
10. Confidently. Do not waver, do not give an uncertain sound (I Corinthians 14:8), and do not blame others for the decision. As Margaret Thatcher said to George Bush prior to Desert Storm, “Now, George–don’t go wobbly on us!” You are the leader, so lead. When people complain, continue to love them. When they look for someone to blame, take your lumps. It’s the price of leadership.
11. Persistently. There will be setbacks. Some things you try will bomb. Humble yourself, take your lumps, get back up, and try it again.
12. Sermonically. (Is that a good word?) Use your sermons to tell what God wants from His people, what Jesus demands from His church, what people look for, and what they need. Let’s spend a moment on this point…
First, what that does not mean. It does not mean crafting sermons in order to get your personal philosophy into the minds of the people. A preacher must have a higher view of the pulpit ministry than that!
What it does mean: Preach the Word. All of it. You will find yourself amazed at how perfectly it fits your congregation’s needs at each point when you are preaching through a particular book.
God’s Word is filled with stories and incidents and instructions on how His work is to be done. Paul’s letters in particular were written to churches and to pastors on this very theme. The Old Testament teems with such stories–from the advice of Jethro to Moses to get organized (Exodus 18), to the rebellion of big shots in the congregation who resisted Moses’ leadership (which God took personally! Numbers 16), on to the injunctions (a half dozen of them!) to Joshua to “be strong and of good courage” in leading God’s people (the end of Deuteronomy and Joshua 1).