By Jeff Iorg
Getting started on a major change is often the easiest part. Excitement is high and energy abounds. Staying with a project to completion is more difficult.
Many churches that have attempted major building programs know the painful reality of pastoral change soon after the grand opening. Pastors are often burned out by the construction phase and mistakenly think the job is finished when the ribbon-cutting ceremony is over.
A church building is a major change—but the change is not complete until the church has assimilated into the new facility and the final payment has been made.
Part of counting the cost before launching a major change is understanding when a project is really complete. When [Gateway] seminary moved into its new facility, for example, many well-meaning people asked, “How does it feel to have the relocation finished?”
We answered the question kindly, but our leadership team had projected the relocation would not be finished until at least two full years after we had moved to the new campus.
We knew we had systemic adjustments, organizational kinks, technology bugs, personnel adjustments, and policy rewrites that would all be needed, but only evident after we were in the new facility.
Leaders count the true cost—including the full duration of time required to implement a major change—and then commit to seeing it through to the end.
Once the true time frame needed to complete a major change is determined, leaders must ration their energy to make it to the end—not just to the end as perceived by their followers or the general public.
Doing this requires pacing—making sure some energy is saved for the long haul. Leaders cannot simply burn through the emotionally charged first weeks or months of a project.
For example, after we moved into the new campus, our leadership team kept working for months on finalizing transition issues. We planned to take time off in the summer after we relocated, not immediately after we moved to the new building.
Finishing the job requires a leader to allocate energy over the entire project timeline, not the perceived timeline of outside observers.
Is there ever a time when a leader can leave in the middle of a major change project? Yes, but only when leaving will not jeopardize the long-term health of the church or ministry organization.
My decision to leave the Missouri church in the middle of their relocation was agonizing. In my first few years at the church, we had paid off their indebtedness from a past project and raised the money to purchase and pay off the land for the relocation.
The church had then decided to raise at least half the money for building the campus before starting construction.
About a year into the money-saving phase, the opportunity to plant a church in Oregon was presented to me. My passion for church planting had been kindled and the need for churches in the Pacific Northwest had become evident during doctoral studies in missions and evangelism.
We struggled with the decision, not wanting to violate leadership integrity by leaving in the middle of the relocation. Ultimately, we decided God was calling us and we told the church we were leaving. Their response was gratifying and enlightening.
Comments like these helped resolve my concerns. One member said, “You are leaving us in good shape. Don’t worry. We’ll finish the job.”
Another told me, “If you were leaving us for a bigger church and more money, that would make me mad. But leaving for missions—I can really support that.”
Finally, one woman told me, “Taking your wife and young family from a stable church like ours to start over with nothing, we admire you and will pray for you.”
Another person focused on the finances, saying, “We are in better financial shape than when you came. Thanks for not leaving us in debt.”
For some projects—particularly those that happen in phases over an extended period of time—it may be impossible for the leader who started them to stay until completion. But leaders must not initiate a major change they do not intend to complete.
Leaders who are genuinely called to another responsibility, when they leave, must make sure they do not leave the project in disarray, incur debt someone else will have to find a way to retire, or harm their followers in some other way.
Leaders must be sure they are leaving in response to God’s call, not to escape a pressure-filled change situation or find greener pastures for their leadership gifts.
JEFF IORG (@Jeff_Iorg) is president of Gateway Seminary.
Excerpted with permission from Leading Major Change in Your Ministry by Jeff Iorg. Copyright 2018, B&H Publishing Group.