Ministry Transitions

Ministry transitions can be difficult at times. There are emotions and relationships involved which can greatly complicate. As leaders and team members, how can we best handle transition?

Today, we are answering some questions we have received from one of our listeners. I have found that some of the best nuggets I have received from leaders have come through asking them questions rather than through a prepared teaching they gave. I think that is the case because the answers were specific to me and my situation and it pulled out a depth of knowledge from the individual answering me that they might not have even thought of. So, I think it’s great that these questions come in and that we are going to be answering them today.

Transitioning into new ministry positions is always challenging, even in the best situations. I have transitioned several times over the past decade. Breaking from one team of ministry into another hits on multiple emotions, for both leaders and followers.

It is very difficult to leave a team you have invested all of yourself into. I love people and I usually build strong friendships with those I work with. When you go through the ups and downs of ministry together, it’s almost impossible not to. And so, when I have to transition from one team to another, the most difficult thing for me is always the relational part of the transition. As the senior leader it is always wisest to allow the team you are leaving behind to develop the relationship with the new leader coming in. So, you have to, in essence, move on from those relationships as the previous leader for the betterment of the organization. That has always been emotional, and by far the most difficult part of transitions for me.

Question 1: Is it possible to transition into a new position, make changes, and not lose any leaders?

Every situation is different, but in most cases, no, it is not possible to keep everyone. In most instances, if a new leader is being brought into a new position, it is because the team has stalled out or has been in decline - these are always leadership issues. The team that led the organization into decline is not often the team that can lead the organization out. Changes will need to be made.

Also, you will be different from the previous leader and the people that worked best with the previous leader, won’t necessarily work best with you. You will need to develop your own team that works well with you. On the very rarest of occasions, it may be possible to keep everyone on the team. But, in my opinion, that will only happen when the new leader has been raised up from within the current team and already has the trust and relationship with everyone on the team. Even in those instances, it is rare to be able to keep everyone on the team in the same positions.

Question 2: When you’re the new leader in charge of an organization, and the hesitation to initiate change is damaging the growth of the organization, how long do you wait before implementing change?

Again, I think each situation is different, but I would say that there are a few general rules that will help you discern how much change and how quickly change can happen. The first thing to look at is the previous leader. If the previous leader was the founder of the organization, then change will most likely have to be implemented slowly. Everyone in the organization is in the organization because of the previous leader. They love them, that’s why they are there. So, to make changes quickly will be seen as disrespectful to the previous leader and most likely resisted at first. In the case of looking at the previous leader, it is best to understand John Maxwell’s 5 Levels of Leadership. As the new leader coming in, you will start at Level 1. You are only the leader because of your position. And changing at this level is very difficult. You will have to take the time to move up to Level 2, which is relationship leadership. You will have to build relationships with the team and earn their trust before you can implement big change. Even at this level, I would suggest making small changes—ones that will get a few wins under your belt—so you can earn the trust of your team. This will move you into Level 3, which is results based leadership; people trust you because of the results you are getting for the organization. When you reach this level, you can implement changes more aggressively.

The second thing you need to look at when it comes to implementing change is, what if the organization is in crisis and the new leader has been called to rescue the organization? What is the state of the organization when you take it over? If the organization is in an emergency state of decline and you have been hired as the leader to rescue it, then and only then can you make big changes quickly. I must state that the emergency is one that is declared an emergency by everyone in the organization and not just you. I have seen some leaders who see the organization in worse shape than the people do. If the people in the organization don’t see the desperation of the situation, don’t make changes. But, if they understand the seriousness of the state they’re in, you will have permission to change things quickly.

Question 3: How can a leader balance growing a church and building trust and relationships at the same time?

You have to put priorities on building trust in people. That’s what ministry is all about. It’s about the people. And sometimes, you have to slow down growth in order to build the team around you to sustain that growth. For example, in the book of Acts, Peter preached his first message and the church grew from 120 people to 3120 people overnight. He did not hold another meeting the next day to grow the church more. Instead, the early church went to work training and making leaders out of their new people and then they pushed forward for more growth. I think it is important to build a team first so that you can responsibly manage the growth that comes in.

Question 4: What advice do you have for a leader assigned to a team that he or she didn’t choose?

We always have a choice. We can quit. But, if you aren’t willing to quit, then you will have to go to work establishing trust with the team given to you.

Trust starts with relationships, it grows when the team gets results, but matures when the leader reaches Level 4 on John Maxwell’s 5 Levels of Leadership. Level 4 happens when the people follow the leader because of what that leader is doing for them personally. So, as a leader, you need to grow the people on your team. No one is ever handed a fully mature team of leaders. We all must grow the people on our team to become the leaders we need, to produce the results we envision. So, if you don’t have the team you would choose, then grow them into the team you would choose.

Question 5: What about the opposite? Any advice for a team assigned a leader that they didn’t choose?

The art of followership is vital to develop as a leader. I believe the better follower you are, the better leader you will be. So, my rule of thumb is, be the follower you want others to be when you are the leader. Leadership is influence. You don’t have to wait to lead until you have a position. Lead where you are. But do it in such a way that you can make your leader look good, just like you would like someone on your team to make you look good. Those type of people are invaluable to teams. So, become that person for the leader you have been given.

[bctt tweet="The better follower you are, the better leader you will be." username="kellystickel"]

Question 6: How do you deal with behaviours of leaders who resist the change you, as their leader, are authorized to initiate?

People will always resist change. It is natural for all of us! So, don’t sweat it. But, when it happens, you need to ask yourself as a leader “Have I explained the ‘why’ behind the change clearly enough to our team?”, “Have I involved my team in the process enough?”, and “Have I communicated to the people who this change will effect?”. If you answered no to any of those questions, then the resistance is your fault as the leader. You need to go back and fix the area you missed. If the answer is yes to all of those questions, then you need to look at how many of the team is resisting the change? Who on the team is resisting the change? If the majority of the team is resisting, and your best leaders are resisting the change, then you are probably implementing change too quickly. If a minority of the team is resisting the change, and the outside fringe of your team are the ones resisting, then you are probably right on track and can press forward.

Question 7: When change is resisted, do you back off and focus on building relationships?

All change is going to be resisted by some. The key as a leader is to find the balance. If the majority of my team is resisting, I have a problem. I’m moving too fast. If no one is resisting, I’m probably moving too slow. The key to implementing change is definitely built on relationships. Every team has the early adapters; those who are the first to jump on board with any change. There are also those on the team who will go with the flow. They won’t be the first to jump on board, but they will follow the excitement of the early adapters and will come with you once they see others getting on board. Then there are the slow adapters. These are the ones who are the most cautious and slow to change. They are important to a team because they can keep a team from going over the cliff in excitement! So, as a leader, once I identify which of my team are in which category, I will usually meet with one of my slow adapters one on one and cast the vision of the change I’d like to implement. Their pushback helps me hone my presentation when I need to cast the vision to the entire team. I also know that if I get them on board first, I will not have major issues with getting the rest of the team on board as well. So, as a leader, you need to know your team and build relationships with them in order to know how to involve them in the process of change.

Question 8: Does a leader with a clear vision occasionally have to put their foot down when their vision is being resisted?

Sometimes, I believe they do. However, this is a rare occasion and as a leader you need to be absolutely certain you are right with the change you are about to make, because the trust of your team is dependent on it. If your entire team is resisting your change and you do it anyway, and you see growth and positive results from it, your team will trust your instincts the next time and will be less resistant to your next idea. But, if your entire team is resistant and you plow ahead without them and it doesn’t work, you have voided their trust and will need to admit your mistake and apologize profusely in order to work toward earning their trust again. Even after apologizing, the next time something comes up and you give your idea, your team won’t fully trust your instincts and you will need more than just you on board, to move ahead. Leadership is tough. That’s why few do it. And trust is easily lost, so it is always best to involve as much of your team as possible in making decisions and trust your team, but on that rare occasion when you need to make a tough call, make sure you absolutely right. Your future as their leader depends on it.

Question 9: How does a leader protect the growth of ministry in times of leadership conflict among volunteers and/or staff personnel without dictating and managing change, rather than leading?

I work hardest on building the team and resolving conflicts within the team. I don’t let things fester within the team and will address issues quickly if possible. The key to moving forward and implementing change is to involve as much of your team as possible in the decisions. The best question a leader can ask to create team unity is “What problem are we called to solve as a team?”. And then shut up as the leader and let your team talk. If they come up with the problem they are called to solve together, then they will go to work together to provide solutions to that problem. If they are unclear on what the problem they are solving is, then they will individually come up with their own solutions and work in multiple directions. Remember, two visions is a di-vision. Nothing creates conflict more on a team than a lack of clarity on what the team is there to do. It is the responsibility of the leader to provide that clarity. And I have found that the best way to provide clarity is to involve the team in as many of the decisions as possible. Dictating change as a leader usually only fuels the conflict. Leading the team to a single problem to solve usually creates unity and a powerful thrust forward.

[bctt tweet="Two visions is a di-vision. #vision #unity" username="kellystickel"]

Question 10: How and why must the church today resist becoming so inwardly focused that they tolerate the average power rather than great power like we read about in the Book of Acts?

Each of us has a tendency to become insider focused. We listen to our feelings first and we listen to the loudest voices in the room second, which are always the insiders. But, it is vital that we resist getting so focused there that we neglect what problem we are called to solve. Our world is without hope and without answers. Jesus is the hope they are looking for and He is their answer. We are His hands and feet in this generation and we must keep our focus outward on those we are trying to reachbecause the church is the hope of the world and we’re on a mission to reach every available person, at every available time, by every available means, with the Gospel of Jesus Christ by creating churches unchurched people love to attend.

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