When our first church called my husband as pastor, we were thrilled. It was time to finally make some changes to tradition so a new generation could experience church in a better way! But after several years of working, persuading, and fighting with absolutely no lasting change, we realized we were missing something. We were missing the fact that God is the one who truly changes and grows things. Jesus said, “I will build My Church.” I knew this truth in my head, but in my heart I believed it was up to me. If I have innovative ideas, boundless energy, and leadership skills, change will happen. I wish I had known transitioning a church is like growing a garden.
Transition takes time.
In our first garden we planted watermelon, our daughter’s favorite. Days after planting she hurried outside expecting to see watermelon, but found there wasn’t even a sprout! It was the last time she was interested in the garden.
Isn’t that like ministry? We’re called to lead a church who wants to grow. We make plans, tell our people, do the work…but nothing happens. It’s feels frustrating and pointless. But in Scripture we see that God often takes time to bring about His plan. God promised that He would make Abraham & his descendants into a great nation. This promise wasn’t fulfilled until 600 years later- after the people first were slaves in Egypt, wandered in the wilderness and fought battles to take the Promised Land!
Sound familiar? Ever feel like people are slaves to tradition? Like you’re wandering in the wilderness with a bunch of complainers? Fighting battles to fulfill the God’s calling? Transitioning a church is not for the faint of heart. Be patient. Keep trusting God’s promises. He hasn’t forgotten you. He hasn’t rescinded His calling. But God is not in a hurry. He grows things.
Transition takes a personal touch.
The year we planted our garden, we bought a timer sprinkler to water our garden while we were unavailable. But after a summer of VBS, mission trips and family vacations, our garden was dead. Some plants had received too much water while others were parched, and weeds completely choked out our little plants!
As leaders it may be easier to stand on a platform or sit behind a desk to dictate change, but true and lasting change comes through the foundation of relationships not through a position of authority. When God called us to our second church we wanted to be intentional about building relationships. We opened our home for meals with the families of our church. We accepted invitations to birthday parties, ball games and cookouts. We shared our story and listened to theirs. We laughed and cried together for over a year before we started making changes. By then our people didn’t dig in against the discomfort of change because they loved & trusted us. They knew we were making changes based on God’s leading and our love for them rather than just our own ideas. God loves people, and when we love people, and give them time to love us, true and lasting change can happen.
Transition happens organically.
Traditional gardens are full of tomatoes, cucumbers & green beans. But we were determined to be different. We wanted to grow blueberries, but the soil wasn’t right and they refused to grow. Meanwhile, we tossed out an old pumpkin from Halloween which took root and grew a vine that produced six giant pumpkins!
We come into leadership with plans for what we would like to grow within our ministries. We plant the seeds and work hard to produce growth, but never see any fruit. What if God wants to grow something totally organic in our ministry, something we would never expect, but something our communities desperately need? We have to let go of our own dreams for ministry and embrace the dreams God has for us. Our churches must reflect where we are planted. God knows what our church and our community needs. Imported plans don’t last but organic growth is from God.
Growing a garden takes time, as does transitioning a church. We must be patient, personally invested, and understand of the environment where we are planted. Then we can trust that God is the one who will produce fruit that lasts.
Are you in ministry leadership? What have you learned about leading a church through changes? Are you a church member? How have you felt when going through changes in your church?