In a recent post I reflected on the possibilities and challenges of effecting change in a church “from below”, from outside of a congregation’s leadership circle. I wrote about the potential of tactics and suggested that any one of us can do something towards prompting change that makes our faith communities more welcoming, supportive and inclusive for children, young people and families. In this post I want to share some more practical tips. I give credit to the amazing work of Dave Andrews for generating some of my thoughts.
- Ask for divine preparation of your heart and spirit: Begin on your knees. Take your concerns, hopes and dreams to the Lord. Ask him to give you the right motivation and attitude in working toward change, and to grant you wisdom and guidance. Ask the Lord to first change and renew you. Ask God to fill you with his love for his church (Ephesians 5:25).
- Begin from a position of goodwill: In working towards change, be conscious of not coming across as a critic but as a concerned supporter of good mission and ministry. Presume the best of others and their intentions. Don’t assume that because something is happening or being conducted in a certain way that those in leadership oppose change. There may be a variety of reasons why things are the way they are, some quite innocuous. Respectfully ask why. Invite others to “wonder why” and to “wonder if”. Seek to understand the current situation and to communicate at all times in all ways that you are a supporter of the ministry of your church and have its best interests at heart.
- Seek a sponsor: Identify someone in the leadership of your congregation who has a passion for ministry to children, youth and their families. This may be someone who is of “grandparent age” who has a heart for the younger generations coming to and growing in faith. Be intentional about developing a relationship with them (you may want to focus on this first before raising any issues). At an appropriate time, share your heart with them, your concerns, and your ideas for possible change. Invite them to share theirs with you too. Seek their advice for bringing about change and ask them whether they would be willing to support you and mentor you from a leadership perspective.
- Find some supporters: Look for at least two other people who share your concerns and vision, and who are willing to invest time and effort to help you work towards change. Dave Andrews writes, “One person can make a point, two persons can draw a line. But it takes at least three persons to create a culture, which can demonstrate an alternative.”
- Develop tactics that will be both acceptable in the short-term and transformative in the long-term: Work together with your sponsor and supporters to clarify the “big picture” and the “end point” towards which you are working. Accept that it is unlikely that you will see the change you desire in the short-term. Consider innovations that are likely to be acceptable to your faith community in the short-term and discuss what steps can be taken to achieve them. You may determine that your “big picture” vision is too overwhelming or threatening to share with others at this point and choose to keep it to yourselves, even as work on building the foundations for that preferred future.
- Develop a plan, then communicate and consult: Good ideas frequently fail to gain traction because those who champion fail to match them with planning and resources. Don’t just “flag” an idea to your pastor or church leaders. Put time and effort into the questions of “why”, “what”, “how”, “when”, “where” and “who”. If you can demonstrate how sustainable change can be achieved without further burdening and stressing your church staff and leaders, it is likely to be much better received by them.
- Add lots of prayer to steps 2-6: Remember Proverbs 19:21 – “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Seek God’s will and God’s purposes in all you do. Remember that the church is finally his church, not yours or mine. Trust in his goodness, his provision and his timing.
I hope that some of this may be helpful … if you have any comments or insights to share they are most welcome!