We recently changed vets for our dog, Owen, from a large, national chain to a small, private practice down along a country road. Owen had been having ongoing, unresolved ear infection issues and my wife and I felt it was time for a change. After just two visits with the new vet, Owen is a new dog!
Isn’t that what we want to see in ourselves and in our people? As I thought about our experience with the new vet (emphasis on our because everyone’s experience is different), there were some lessons I learned about change as it relates to ministry.
1. EMBRACE CHANGE
Yes, change is hard, but often necessary. This is coming from someone who generally does not like change. I value stability, consistency, loyalty, and longevity. Had it not been for my wife, I would have been fine just “sticking it out” with our old vet. But the fact of the matter was, our dog was not getting better and a change was needed.
As we have probably all experienced in our churches, there has been a “shifting of sheep” during and coming out of the pandemic. In the last couple of years at my church, I’ve seen people leave for other churches and new people come in from other churches. It’s hard, but I’m learning to embrace this kind of change. I know there’s a lot that can be said about the reasons why people change churches and about how we ought to handle the “shifting of sheep,” but that’s beyond the scope of this post.
My basic point here is that sometimes people need a change, and so do churches. People move on and that’s okay. Sure, a void is left, but the void can also be a new opportunity for growth. People have left other churches to come to our church, and that’s okay too. Sure, people may bring baggage with them, but they can also be a catalyst for positive change. They bring fresh energy. They see things about the church that we don’t see. They ask questions that haven’t been asked in a while. They do things in ways that we never thought about. They connect with people we’ve had a hard time connecting with. They bring certain gifts, passions, and experiences at the right time when the church needs it the most. I’m learning to embrace this kind of change and to trust in God’s sovereignty that He is doing His work, in His way, in His time, with His sheep, and for His kingdom advancement.
2. IT’S NOT MY JOB TO FIX PEOPLE, BUT TO PARTNER WITH THEM IN THE PROCESS OF CHANGE.
Our old vet, which was a rotation of vets, would perform check ups, run tests, and then prescribe medication or treatment. We expected them to fix the problem. It wasn’t working. The new vet did the same things, but also did something new. He not only prescribed medication, but he also took the time to show us how to effectively administer it, which can be tricky with dogs. He administered the first dose on our dog as we watched. He gave us tips and tricks. He didn’t just tell us what to do or refer us to the detailed instructions in the paperwork, he modeled it for us. He knew what to do with our dog. And he also knew it was more important that we knew what to do. He talked about how this was not just about a quick and temporary fix, but a partnership together with us for the long term.
I think about my role as a pastor. It’s not to fix people. That might be the expectation, but I’m learning to see my role less as a fixer and more as a partner. It’s not about offering quick fix solutions and then moving on to the next person. Partnership is about modeling it for them, resourcing them, being available to them, and ultimately pointing them to the One who has the power to change us. Change is a process, an often long and slow process. Be ready for the long haul!
3. ALLOW PEOPLE TO SEE THE PROCESS OF CHANGE HAPPENING IN YOU.
Something the new vet did that the old vet never did was to invite us in to the back. We got to see what it looked like where tests were run and procedures were done. He opened up cupboards to show us things. He even invited us to look into the microscope to see the sample that he took from our dog’s ears. I appreciated the glimpse into his world.
How are we offering people a glimpse into our world to see the process of change happening in us? How might we invite people in to see how God is growing us in our areas of weakness? Someone recently remarked how I’ve been more vulnerable in my preaching and how that’s empowered them to be more vulnerable. Another way I can allow people to see the process of change happening in me is to seek out feedback, input, and advice from people. That lets them know that I don’t have it all figured out (because I really don’t!) and that their partnership is invaluable for my personal health and growth and for the church’s as well.