By Dr. Donald Lynn Hardaway
Every speeding ticket I have received was the result of having my mind somewhere other than behind the wheel of a fast-moving vehicle. Preoccupied minds cause us to miss the posted speed limit signs or direct our attention away from the speedometer (or to be unaware of the police vehicle parked near the road, manned by an officer with a radar device).
Because revitalization pastors are visionaries by nature, we can allow ourselves to be preoccupied with future possibilities rather than being aware of current realities. So, this is the first method to remind you to watch for the signs and keep an eye on your internal speedometer when leading change: Don’t confuse the future with the present.
What “should be” will never happen if we fail to appreciate “what is.” Our people have histories and memories together we are not part of; these matter to them and make them who they are – who they see themselves to be. We must acknowledge the value of these present connections if we intend to lead them successfully to the desired future. We must push the future vision, but if that is all we talk about, and we never mention where they are in a positive light, they will lack the energy and enthusiasm to adopt the future – in fact, it will continue to be a threat to their sense of identity.
Pastors live busy lives and we feel the pressure of expectations and demands of family and ministry; it is easy to let those things fill our minds and neglect awareness of the signs and traffic around us in church work. We should not be surprised, then, when a church member pulls us over and writes us a reprimand ticket for changing things too fast! While these are usually embarrassing conversations, and typically spoken in anger, they are helpful to remind us to not move so fast. Often the stakeholders in the church resist the change we want, not because the change is bad, but because we were careless and preoccupied in how we forced the change. Every revitalizer I know has experienced this more than once in their ministry.
A second way to remind you to check your speedometer is to find kind and supportive persons who know the people and the speed limit. Let them ride “shotgun” or be a backseat driver; these individuals are likely the most important voices in your revitalization effort. (If Maureen had been with me, reminding me to slow down, I would not have any speeding tickets on my record.) These key leaders will be able to convince others to raise the speed limit when you cannot. Their long tenure in the congregation trumps your recent arrival every time. Church members who resist change because they have survived several pastors before you will realize these individuals will still be in the church if, and when, you leave.
A third way to stay conscious of your speed of change is to ask questions and listen to the answers. “What would you think if we did this?” “Has this been tried before?” “If you could change one thing about this church, and money were no object, what one thing would you change?” “What is something you hope will never change about this church?”
If the church knows, through experience, that you are respecting them by paying attention to their speed limit, they will let you speed things up – a little at a time – until your God-given vision is driving them forward at a speed they would have thought impossible when you first arrived.