Leading Change Is Often Fraught With Anxiety

The Onion is a satirical website which, and rightly so, considers no topic off limits. The title of one article before the turn of this century, I Just Don’t Trust the New Pastor Yet, gives voice to Trudy, who is suspicious of the different way her new (and younger) pastor does things. At the beginning of the piece she quips, “Pastor Logan seems like a good man. Maybe a bit too young to lead a flock, but still a good man. Nevertheless, he does a lot of things differently from Pastor Bufenkamp, and I simply cannot approve of some of them.”[i] Trudy goes on to voice complaint about several things that Pastor Logan does differently, which are by no means greatly significant in terms of the gospel, but they are significant to Trudy. This may not read like satire at all to many in the pulpit or in the pews, but rather – real life. Change of any kind – even good change – in a congregation may cause anxiety to rise.

Numerous jokes exist about change in congregations. Don’t worry. I’ll spare you. OK, maybe not…

Someone came up to the chair of deacons at a local Baptist church and asked, “So how many deacons does it take to change a light bulb?” The deacon responded with a look of dread, “Change?!?”

Suffice it to say that the anxiety congregational change can bring often leads to people trying to deal with that anxiety, including through humor. Humor of course is far preferable to bullying and dysfunction. A struggle for any pastor or church leadership team desiring to lead change is how to go about it without congregational anxiety taking control of the situation and sabotaging the vision and mission of the church.

Business leaders too often struggle to implement positive change in their companies and teams, meeting resistance at every level. Changing processes and systems can be much easier when the team buys into the shifts being made, and inter-generational workplace dynamics, as well as living in an increasingly polarized culture potentially make any systemic changes fraught with anxiety and even controversy. 

What would it look like in church, business, or non-profit to lead change in a way that reduces uncertainty, minimized anxiety, and includes multiple constituencies at every point in the process? Would a proven method of leading change help your church?

[i] “I Just Don’t Trust the New Pastor Yet,” Onion, June 23, 1999, accessed September, 3, 2021, http://www.theonion.com/blogpost/i-just-dont-trust-the-new-pastor-yet-10925.

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