Buckle up: Congregational change isn’t easy

I have my doubts about programs that claim to train transformational leaders. Most of them are implementing a pattern developed elsewhere, one that has to do with technique and data collection. I received one advertisement from a church consulting group that promised a transformed church. Eight churches that the group worked with attested to success. The brochure had the appeal of magic—quick and direct. But I know from experience that what was missing in the ad and in a lot of training efforts were the failures. Some churches didn't experience success. What didn't work? And why? Anne Lamott advises, "When the seasons change, buckle up." I would like to see a transformation project that says, "Let us prepare your congregation for change. Buckle up!"

I appreciate the goals of the transformational leadership movement. After all, in a world where "perpetual novelty" is creating a situation of "permanent stress" for all leaders, any help is welcome. But I have doubts about any movement that makes transformation appear easy and ignores the power of emotional forces.

Despite the scores of books, workshops and seminars devoted to transformational leadership, most congregations and leaders are not prepared to institute change on a systemic level. Yet we desperately need training—training that acknowledges three key factors: 1) Arduous effort is needed to move an emotional system to a new way of seeing itself. Fear and other emotions complicate all efforts. 2) Many pastors are not prepared to do transitional work in congregations. 3) It's absolutely critical that churches connect serious change with mission.