As a Leader, You Often Sense It — Even When Others Don’t
True leaders have a gift from God to see what the congregation and even lay leaders haven’t seen yet. You know that what worked in the past won’t work in the future, and are often the one responsible for leading the charge. In this episode, Amy and I talk about the gift and responsibility pastors have to champion change for the health of the Church:
In this episode, we discuss:
How to approach communicating stuckness
The truth behind no pain, no change
The important distinction of methods vs. message
Specific challenges of maintenance phase
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Amy Anderson: Welcome to the podcast. I’m Amy Anderson and I’m here with Tony Morgan. Each week we share a conversation that our team’s been having about getting churches unstuck, and this week we’ve been talking about how leaders are often the first ones to sense that their church is stuck. And Tony, I think this is a conversation that you actually started with us, so tell us what you’ve been noticing.
Tony Morgan: Yeah, I have actually seen it along the way when I was in full time ministry myself and then as we’ve worked with more churches, it’s not uncommon for the senior pastor because we’re working with churches for the senior pastor to be the first one to sense something’s just not right. Something needs to be addressed and sometimes that’s a small something and sometimes that’s an indication that there’s something core that needs to be fixed, that needs something, needs to happen to help the church move forward with strength. And so we’re finding more and more, uh, that because God’s gifted certain people with this leadership gift. Part of that that comes with that I think is the sense, a discerning ability that leaders have and they see things before other people in the congregation can. They see it before other staff. People see it. They sometimes see it before other lay leaders see it on boards and elders and so on.
Tony Morgan: And what I want to just encourage leaders to do is when you sense God’s prompting you with something that is gonna, eventually help your church find health and find momentum again. Sometimes you have to, you actually have to lead, you have to go ahead of people and help to communicate. This is what I’m sensing, this is where I think we’re stuck and begin to build the case for why change is necessary. Coming out of that. And actually amy, I think you even recognize us for the unstuck group in recent months. Um, I came to the leadership team that you’re a part of and I said, you know what, I’m just sensing there’s some things here that we need to, to have maximum impact. And um, so I think you’ve even noticed that a little bit in my leadership of our team as well.
Amy Anderson: Yep. We are always a few steps ahead of us and I mean that in a really good way. And don’t you think Tony, yet when we have planning retreats or I know, and I’m on site, especially dealing with staffing structure issues, one of the most common things that, as I’m concluding with the senior pastor, they say is, you know what? I had been sensing this, but this just confirmed it. Do you get, do you get that a lot too?
Tony Morgan: I do, and uh, maybe the biggest thing I want the senior pastors that are listening today to hear is, um, it’s the, the folks around you are not bad people or they’re not wrong or, and it’s not that they’re not doing their job, it’s that many times you’ll see things before they see them and uh, so don’t, don’t be second guessing the team around you if you feel like you’re the one that’s sensing some level of stuckness and other folks don’t see it, it’s just that because I think because God’s called you to the position you’re in and you have that leadership gifting that maybe others have at least in a unique way of how it gets carried out in your church. Um, I really do believe you’re going to send some things in. You have to act on that. You have to begin to begin to talk about it and you have to begin to act on it.
Amy Anderson: Yeah, he told me, um, can you share a specific example of a leader that came to that conclusion or stuck and they really leveraged that stuckness to start initiating some change?
Tony Morgan: Yeah. So one great example, within the last year or two, we’ve been working with the church and the pastor, a female past are very strong leader and she, she kind of recognize this, that the church was stuck and really took that as a moment then to rally her leaders, both staff and lay leaders to begin a conversation about the next steps that the church has to take moving forward. But part part of the, one of the first thing she did was gather rally her leaders and really just share the honest truth of where the church is currently. And she was pretty pointed. In fact, this is, this is some of what she shared with her staff and lay leaders. Uh, she said in the last year there have been 15 funerals in our church, but no baptisms and no weddings, in other words, that, that life change the new life.
Tony Morgan: They weren’t able to celebrate that. Um, and that was an indication something’s just not right in the church. And other things she shared was that 75 percent of the giving was coming from people 60 years and older. And then 50 percent of the giving was coming from people 70 and older and obviously then that points to an aging challenge that the congregation is facing and she just needed to communicate to her leaders. We need to recognize this. We something that something’s not right as far as the future health of the church is concerned. She went on, she explained that a little bit of our help here, uh, she was able to explain the leaders at the church was in the bottom 10 percent of churches when it comes to inviting first time guests. And so she started to explain kind of the reality of where the church is and that really, um, those, some leaders in the church staff and lay leaders weren’t recognizing the challenge, kind of the pain that was associated with where the church is currently.
Tony Morgan: And more importantly, what the church would or would not experience in the future. She used this as a moment to really clarify this is where we are today and this is why we can’t stay here. And as a result of that, the specific line that she shared with our leaders is this, what worked in the past won’t work in the future and use this really isn’t an opportunity to talk about why the church exists and the need for the church to help fulfill the purpose of, of going forward with the great commission and the great commandment and at that moment then started to talk about new mission, New Vision, new ministry strategy to help the church move forward. But I love this, that here’s an example of someone with great leadership gifts that recognized as a ministry, we’re stuck in step d really leaned into that leadership responsibility then to communicate with the rest of the leaders at the church. Here’s where we are, here’s why we can’t stay here. And this is where we’re going to go next.
Amy Anderson: And you know, when you initiate change like that, I’m out of stuckness. Of course, change follows and change is really, really easy, right? Tony?
Tony Morgan: Um, goodness. Well, uh, actually, uh, in addition to this podcast, talking about leading change and how leaders see the stuckness first. Uh, I recently wrote an article and it’s called a no pain, no change, and one of the reasons why I labeled that article or that article in this way is because I’ve recognized for churches in particular, I think this would carry over to just about any organization, unless unless enough people recognize that the pain of staying where we are today is going to be greater than the pain of the change we may need to go through in the future. Until people get to that point where the pain of staying where we are today is greater. The change is probably not going to happen. And so what this points to is again, it’s the role of the leader, the senior pastor in our case, to really be able to communicate.
Tony Morgan: And this is part of vision casting is not only leading change but as a part of how we cast vision to the church for where we’re going next is to explain why we can’t stay here and why the pain of staying here is actually going to be greater than the pain of the change. That may need to happen for the church. To move forward with strength and health and let’s face it, amy, all we can, we can say we liked change personally, but every one of us, if someone came and told us we have to change the way we live our lives or in this case how we do ministry. If someone came and told us we need to change any one of us, no matter how much we think we like change, we’re going to flinch a little bit. And so, uh, we just, we just need to be cognizant of that, that necessity for us as senior pastors then to really go in front of our leader staff, lay leaders, and then eventually the congregation to explain why the pain of staying where we are is greater than the pain of the change.
Tony Morgan: We may need to go through them.
Amy Anderson: Yeah. I tend to believe people who say they like change. I think they really like change that they’re in charge of. That’s true. That’s true. I get inflicted on us is often, um, a lot harder. Just one other thought on this, Tony, um, the example that you gave us, that church probably hasn’t changed for a long time. So this is a big change just by the evidence is that you laid out there. Do you see that once churches start making change, that future change actually gets a little bit easier?
Tony Morgan: It sure does. And it may be a big change is required. You have to start with a small change and help help the church get accustomed to that. And so, uh, I love, uh, some, a couple of the churches I was a part of in the past, I think we’re more receptive to change, but they, they started with some small changes, like this may not be a small change for your church, but just changing service times. Um, the, it got it, got the church and the leadership accustomed to, you know, we periodically change your service times. There is nothing holy and righteous about meeting specifically at nine, 11:00 AM on Sunday morning. And because the church over time got used to us changing service times, I think the church. And then more importantly, the leaders who are really driving the change became more open to the fact that change is a part of our culture and the message that we communicate, the truth, we communicate who Jesus is is never going to change. But the methods, the approach we take out of necessity will change because the culture is changing around us. People are changing the communities that we’re trying to reach are. And so we as a church and the methods we use to carry out the great commission and the great commandment, those methods are going to change as well.
Amy Anderson: In just one more question. In your book, the Church, when you talk about stuckness and needing to leverage change, when is it most critical? Which phase of the lifecycle do church leaders really need to pay attention to this need to get unstuck?
Tony Morgan: Yeah. So amy, uh, it’s, it’s interesting, the folks, the, the churches that are moving from launch toward sustained health, just generally one of the characteristics of those churches is they’re pretty receptive to the changes that are going to need to be needed periodically. It’s the churches that are on the decline of the lifecycle that of course we have the most concern with and the churches that have to embrace stuckness and then then move forward with some changes and I would say the most critical phase, the three declined phases are maintenance and preservation and then life support and life supportive courses. That moment where the church is, I mean there were about ready to shut their doors because they just can’t survive any longer, but the most critical time where leaders are really have to go ahead of their, their, uh, their team and their congregation and really own the stuckness as a prelude to the change that may really be required.
Tony Morgan: The most critical season is that maintenance season and it’s usually that time in the church where there are actually a lot of healthy things still happening in the church. That’s still is. The church is still having great impact. But this is that initial season where things have started to plateau or even declined slightly. And this is when leaders really need to step up and communicate clearly. Look, we we, for whatever reason, we’re not seeing the health and the strength and our ministry that we’ve experienced in the past and we need to be aware of this. We need to own this and we need to begin considering now the next steps we need to take and the shifts that we may need to take as a church so that we can prevent ourselves from further decline. Moving into those seasons of preservation and life support, and the reality is this.
Tony Morgan: If a leader lead strong at that moment, the change that’s required at that time is far less of an impact than the change that’s required. When churches get into preservation or life support, by that point, the changes that are required for a church to get back to health are quite significant. And because of that, many churches refuse to make those changes and ended up dying. But if you can, if you can capture that moment where you recognize were beginning to get stuck in that maintenance season and take initial steps then and lead strong in that. And in that moment, the change that’s required usually isn’t as significant and it will allow your church to return back to health much more quickly.
Amy Anderson: And I should just mention, you know, if you are a senior pastor and you’re sensing some stuckness, you can go to our webpage at theunstuckgroup.com and actually take that unstructured assessment for free and it may confirm where you think your church is at right now and, um, give you some ideas on where the stuckness is coming from.
Amy Anderson: Well, thank you tony, and thanks again to all our listeners for joining us for this week’s conversation about getting churches unstuck. Uh, we hope you’ll tune in again. So be sure to subscribe on iTunes, Google play, or wherever you get your podcast so that you don’t miss an episode. And we’d love to hear your thoughts and comments. So join the conversation on social media using the Hashtag unstuck church.