When I first got into ministry, I was equipped with a graduate degree, a couple of internships and my ideals. I had little respect of the methods of those who were practicing ministry before me. I thought the best contribution I could make as a leader was to critique the practices and the theology of people around me. I found myself deconstructing everything as quickly as I could. For example, at the first congregation I worked, students looked forward to many fun community-building events every summer. I looked at their calendar and immediately began my criticism. I gave theologically sound reasons why the emphasis of the youth ministry should not be on entertainment, and when given the opportunity, I dismantled much of the core of the youth ministry calendar. There might have been some good and healthy reasons for what I did, but the way in which I did it left an emotional gap for parents and students. Instead of increased energy around a new focus, many parents and students simply said, “He isn’t any fun,” and left disappointed.
I believed that deconstruction was a task for those leading ministry. Over the years, I have come to realize I was wrong. Leadership has little to do with criticism. Deconstructing theologies or practices is easy to do. It takes little skill to point out the flaws. Anyone can be a critic. Leaders build something better. One of the statements I have embraced in recent years is the phrase “show me better.” When I begin to complain about something in my congregation, I stop to remember that my task as a leader is not to point out shortcomings, but to cast a vision for how things should be and why that is a better path. I encourage those around me to resist the urge to dismantle things without showing others what a better option should be. That is what I mean by “Show me better.”
If you have ever watched a video of building demolition, you understand that it takes much more skill, patience, and health to construct something rather than to simply tear something down.
Here are a few guidelines when thinking about what it looks like to show others a better way.
1. Become a historian– Find out why the current practice is what it is. What forces or needs influenced the response? Do not make decisions until you know the history involved.
2. Respect the individuals involved– Assume that they are godly people trying to do the best they know how.
3. Emphasize the positives of the current practice– Communicate the benefits of what is currently happening.
4. Admit the downside– Be up front with people about possible risks and losses. What will you lose by making a turn?
5. Motivate the change– Tell people what life on the other side would look like. Why is it a better place to be? Why is it a healthier practice? Why should we do what you are wanting us to do?
6. Give them time– Remember that while you have had the idea in your head for months or years, this is brand new for others. Give them time to process, think through, digest and absorb.
7. Move out– When you have motivated the change and people have embraced the vision of what life will be like on the other side, you must then begin to bring about the changes you wish to see. People cannot live in transition too long without becoming impatient and losing faith. Execution is essential for leaders.
8. Pray at every step.
How have you successfully led transitions and changes? Do you have another suggestion? Show me better!