Engage the Church

Click here to read a conversation introducing this section
Paul: Well, Tim, how has it been going?

Tim: Grueling. But I think the transition team is now all on the same page. It was more work than we anticipated!

Paul: How are you feeling about it?

Tim: Thrilled one moment, but scared the next. Now that we’ve hammered out the statement (and it was a long arduous effort) it’s starting to settle in…the magnitude of what we are trying to do.

Paul: That doesn’t surprise me, Tim. Don’t give up. It’s a good thing, what you and the team are doing. Let me remind you that one of the main purposes of putting the BE proposal into writing was to force you to make sure that the transition team really has an agreed upon conviction of eldership based on Scripture.

Tim: Well it has done that for sure; we are all convinced more than ever that biblical eldership is the way to go.

Paul: Good, now it’s time to involve the congregation. This is where you need to tread carefully and intentionally.

Tim: What do you mean? The hard part is out of the way, the rest is going to be so easy, isn’t it? It’s so obvious that BE is the right way to go. We just present the document to the congregation and then take a vote, right?

Paul: Whoa, not so fast. How long did it take for the transition team to study and come to one mind about the transition? Months right?

Tim: Yeah, five to be exact. We’re a little slow, eh?

Paul: Actually, that’s not bad. But, keep in mind that you can’t expect everyone else to catch on after only one or two congregational meetings when it took your team five months of study and wrestling with the idea.

Tim: Good point. I see what you mean. You’ve been so helpful so far, I’m looking forward to what’s next.

Paul: We begin with first understanding how people respond to change.



Initial Thoughts

Ideally once the people understand God’s plan for BE in the church, the idea should energize their commitment. Why? Because …

  • It is biblical and gives a fresh sense of obedience to God. The congregation will no longer have to rely solely on the pastoral staff. Other gifted men will be empowered and used.
  • But, there can be barriers to people being energized by this. That is why you need to have a strategy that will provide the best opportunity for success in transitioning the church to biblical eldership.

Strategize

A good strategy should take into consideration two fundamental truths. The first is that the church is a living organism, the body of Christ, with our Lord as the head and the Holy Spirit as the energizer. This is the biblical characterization of the church. Second, the local church is inherently a dynamic organization, a group of people structured for a common existence and purpose. Where there are two or more people, they must organize to live, work and serve together.

The first characterization of the church (a living organism) is spiritual in nature; the second (a dynamic organization) is relational. The first requires spiritual disciplines on your part, like prayer, development of spiritual character, obedience to God’s leading, faith, hope and love. You can be assured the Lord has given your team what is needed for the task:

“His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3).

You need to simply make use of what the Lord provides.

For the second, requires a dynamic organization (the human, relational side), you can draw wisdom of those who have gone before you, both in church life and in non-church organizational life. We believe that all wisdom is God’s wisdom, and there is much value in the research of those who study organizational management. Researchers unanimously ratify what we inherently suspect to be true: change is difficult for any organization—because organizations are made up of people and people tend to resist change. However, your team can stem unnecessary difficulties before they arise.

A few insights are in order.

Basic principles in leading people through change

  • People need to understand the goal. They cannot intelligently embrace that which they do not understand. They need to understand that the objective you are presenting is better than the status quo or any alternatives. They need to be convinced that the proposed path is the best way to achieve the proposed goal.
  • People need lots of communication. Communicate, communicate, and then communicate some more! They need both written and verbal communication in order to feel they are being kept in the loop. This is often the number one problem in most organizations. Remember that what has taken you hours and hours of study and discussion cannot be comprehended by simply hearing you talk about it in a one hour presentation. What is clear in your mind needs to be repeatedely communicated clearly to everyone else.
  • People need clear communication. Use your best communicators for the bulk of the public announcements. Use your best meeting facilitators for the formal interactions and group discussions. Not every godly person is good at conducting profitable meetings or discussion times.
  • People need time for interaction. They are more likely to “own” a new idea, like BE, if they have adequate opportunity to interact with it. So get the congregation involved in the process. Obviously, not everyone can be involved to the same level, but the more discussion and interaction opportunities you can provide, the better. People need to feel they are being heard, that their opinions and perspectives are taken seriously. In fact, their considered feedback will be valuable and may even result in changes to the proposal. Even if you don’t include someone’s idea, he or she at least wants to know they have been heard.
  • People need time to absorb new ideas. Monitor the responses of everyone, but guard against setting the pace of progress based on only a few pre-mature adopters or the perennial foot-draggers. li>
  • People respond differently. People will respond to various members of the transition team differently. Therefore carefully select which of the transition team communicates best to which demographic group.
  • People need to know the leaders are flexible. Rigidity on details will discourage people.
  • People need to know the leaders are confident of where they are leading them.

Why people resist change

Though this is a negative issue, it is very helpful to address upfront the subject of why people resist change. Left unchecked, resistance can derail the whole transition process. See our article on “Why People Resist Change.”

Elements of a Strategic Plan

Every church is different and leaders have different styles. The following represent the categories that need to be considered in order to involve the church, and include some ideas for you to consider. Much of this will be planned out by the transition team.

Teach BE to the congregation

  • For those churches using Approach #2 (Function first, then Form), this teaching has already taken place. You can skip this and go to the next step, “Present the BE Proposal.”
  • Give out copies of “Biblical Eldership” (either the short pamphlet or the full book).
  • Provide in-depth teaching on BE to the congregation. You will need to decide what is the best time for this, whether Sunday morning to the whole church, in small groups, members only meetings, a hoc or special meetings.
  • Decide who is the best one or ones to teach this material.
  • You may use the lecture series on this website, either in video or audio format. Or you may use the transcripts, adapting them as appropriate.

Present the BE proposal

  • This is the working document that you submit to the church.
  • Hold a special meeting? How many meetings?
  • This large group presentation should be followed up with small discussion/interaction groups (see next section).

Organize discussion/interaction groups

  • The schedule of these should be planned by the transition team.
  • Identify the various sections of the proposal to be discussed. How many, over what period of time?
  • Each planned discussion session should focus on different aspects of the proposal.
  • Ample time should be given for people to ask questions, give feedback.
  • Each discussion group should include two members of the transition team. More than two members may hinder free participation of the others.
  • Congregation members may be brutally honest. Resist the urge to be defensive, but encourage free and open sharing of thoughts and feelings. This is valuable feedback for the transition team.
  • The transition team should meet regularly to discuss the feedback. Some of the feedback may result in improvements to the BE proposal!

What’s Next?

The transition team needs to prayerfully consider when the church has had enough teaching, discussion and input—and the time has come to make a decision. How long this takes is a judgment matter, and the team needs to be sensitive to the Spirit’s leading and the tenor and trajectory of the discussions. When ready, go on to the next section, “Formalize the Change.”