We live in an age of instant response. People become upset if they have to wait even a few seconds for something to appear on their computer screen. Everything in our homes comes on instantly when we press the on/off switch. We are not a patient people.
That lack of patience used to get me into trouble more often than I like to admit. When it came to change in the church I didn’t understand a very fundamental principle. Change takes patience and time.
The pastor’s advantage
It took me a long time to realize that when it came to a new direction for the church I had an advantage over everyone else that attended. I was hired to do nothing other than think about the church. Others volunteered their time and often gave a lot of it to the church but I was the only one who was actually hired to spend my time thinking about the future direction that the church should go.
The result of this was that I came up with many more ideas than anyone else. I’m an ideas person so coming up with new ones has never been a problem but I also had the time in which to think. I was constantly reading books, attending workshops and talking to other leaders and all of those things sparked ideas in my mind.
I was paid to do this and I got to spend forty, fifty, sixty hours per week doing exactly that. The people in the church who worked forty, fifty, sixty hours a week at other jobs didn’t have the time that I did to think about the church.
I would read a book or attend a workshop and the seed for an idea would be laid in my mind. I would then dig up anything else that I could find on the subject and read it as well. I might even contact the person who wrote the book or taught the workshop if that were possible.
With a bit of research the seed would start to grow and an idea would take shape. Over the next while I would run the idea through my mind until it had taken the shape that I wanted it to take. This might take a matter of weeks or even months. However long it took it wouldn’t move from seed to idea over night. Like a potter I would take the time that I needed to mold and shape it before I told anyone else about it.
Then the big night would come and I would present it to my board. I would have it laid out in presentation form so that they would have a clear picture of what I was proposing. Then with great excitement I would tell them what it was that I thought the church should do.
In some cases the board would get mildly excited about my presentation but in many cases they would reach over, take down the pail of cold water and throw it all over the idea. Usually to my surprise they didn’t get nearly as excited as I would have liked them to get and in some instances they were downright hostile to what I was proposing.
There have been many times when I went into a meeting excited and left the meeting depressed. Finally I figured out what I was doing wrong.
A simple change in approach
I realized that I came into the meeting having spent hours looking at the idea from every angle trying to sort through the advantages and disadvantages. I had spend months working from the point at which it was just a seed that had been planted to the point at which I had a fully developed proposal. After a large investment of time and energy I brought it to a group of people who were hearing about it for the first time.
I was asking them to make a decision on something after a few minutes of discussion that could change the direction of the church and I wasn’t giving them any time to think it through. I was expecting them to make their decision solely on the basis that I said it was a good idea. It took me some time but I finally realized that if they did that they were not doing their jobs as the group who had the responsibility for protecting the church from bad decisions.
If I was going to have them come on board, I needed to give them time to properly process the idea and to make an informed decision. The job of the leadership board in any church is to keep the church from going down a dangerous pathway. By expecting them to make their decisions quickly, I wasn’t allowing them to do their jobs.
A lot of us don’t like the word “process” but it is so important when working with leadership. I would make the following suggestion in regard to presenting new ideas.
- Take the time to talk to your leaders before you make your presentation. Lay the ground work ahead of time. Talk with them about the problems that your idea is trying to solve. Talk about the reason why a new direction is important. Prepare them for the board meeting before it takes place.
- Never ask for a decision at the meeting at which you make the presentation. Give them some time to think about it. As I mentioned you may have taken months to shape your thoughts. At least give them the time between meetings to think about it. The greater the change the more time they are probably going to need to process it.
- Don’t insist on taking credit for the idea. If during this process they start to take ownership of the idea, your problems are mostly solved. Let it become a group idea. If it is implemented and it works let the whole group take the credit.
- If possible suggest that the church try it on a trial run. Many churches will do something on a six-month trial that they would never do on a permanent basis. Most short-term trials become permanent and if it doesn’t it is probably because it wasn’t a good idea to begin with.
- Right from the beginning accept the fact that all of your ideas may not be brilliant. If the leadership rejects your idea it just might be because it is a bad idea. Every leader needs to be prepared to have some of her ideas left on the scrap heap.
There have been a lot of good ideas that didn’t succeed simply because the proponent of the idea didn’t want to take the time for the process to work. It is a shame when a great idea fails solely because someone didn’t have the patience needed to make it work.