Several weeks ago , I posted twice about how the recent release of new children’s ministry curriculums has sparked controversy in the children’s ministry community. In my posts, I suggested that major philosophical shifts are impacting the way ministry leaders think and talk about curriculum. It’s not surprising that such major shifts have lead to conflict, because change is hard. But how can we lead through these changes with Christian wisdom and love? Here are a few thoughts on leading change (or leading through changes) with grace.
- Know what is worth fighting for… In other words, lead with the kind of vision that gives your people a clear direction. Sojourn’s lead pastor, Daniel Montgomery, has defined vision this way: “Vision is a picture of what could be, matched with a conviction that it must be.” This kind of vision begins with revelation. God’s word inspires our vision, and the Spirit convicts us that we must act upon God’s word because it is necessary. Connecting kids with Jesus and the life he gives (John 5:39; Matthew 19:13-15) is the main thing for our ministry. And we believe that partnering with parents to capture the hearts of the next generation (Psalm 78:1-5) is an essential part of this mission.
- …and know what’s not worth fighting for. I love this Andy Stanley quote that I first heard from Jonathan Cliff: “We are married to the vision, but we just date the models.” Knowing the difference between the vision and the different models that contextualize that vision is essential. Keeping Jesus first and partnering with families are both deal-breakers for me. I’ll die for that vision. But we must be flexible when it comes to models. We use a chronological bible storying curriculum, but we’re open to using a virtue-based curriculum so long as we see the virtues as God’s grace gifts to us through Jesus. Attractional large group worship gatherings, small groups with games, a classical educational approach for preschoolers, a particular Bible memory program, etc. Those are all models. Don’t marry them. Get married to Jesus and the families that he’s called you to love.
- Know who your enemy is. When we’re passionate about a new ministry initiative (a new curriculum, new program, or just a new idea about how to make ministry better), it’s easy to think that anyone who stands in the way of implementing that change is our enemy. If you haven’t met opposition yet in ministry, know that it is coming. When you do, keep in mind that fellow staff members, the church board, the finance committee, and ruffled bloggers are not your enemies. “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood,but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). Even if you feel like someone is speaking against the gospel itself, remember that you were once an enemy of God. And while we were enemies of God, we were reconciled to him through the death of his son (Romans 5:10). The way to win an “enemy” is to be like Jesus, a friend to his enemies.
- Lead with humility. As a Reformed guy, it’s sad to me that our movement is known more for the doctrines of grace than for leading with grace. I saw Scotty Smith tweet recently: “The Calvinist’s doctrine of grace is completely antithetical to leading with arrogance.” He followed it up by saying: “Calvinism is a dangerous tool when employed by those who are arrogant in spite of the humility and grace the doctrine teaches.” Paul said it more simply, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). This isn’t just a problem for Calvinists. When we’re leading change, there is a temptation for all of us to act or speak first before listening and considering.. The way of humility listens and asks questions before passing judgment on the church board’s motives or firing off a complaint letter (or worse e-mail). When we speak first before listening, we take a position of self-righteous superiority. Don’t get me wrong. It is good to take pride in what the Lord has done in us–including the truth he has shown us–but we should never self-righteously compare ourselves to others (Galatians 6:10). After all, what do you have that you have not received?
- Pray. Paul follows up his instructions on spiritual warfare in Ephesians 6 with a section on prayer. He says, “Be alert and always keep praying for the Lord’s people” (6:18). My wife, Megan. recently wrote a great series of posts on lies that keep us from praying for our kids. Lie #6 is the lie of self-reliance. While we might not say it, deep down we often think “I don’t need to pray, because I can handle it.” When we do pray, often we are essentially praying, ”Lord, please bless my efforts.” Paul Miller writes, “If you are not praying, then you are quietly confident that time, money, and talent are all you need in life.” What are we saying we fail to pray about change? What are we saying when we fail to pray in the midst of conflict? How much time do you spend interceding on behalf of your “enemies”? Have you prayed that they will come to a knowledge of the truth? Do you think that your efforts and arguments have a better chance of winning them over than the Spirit of God? Many of us are ready to stand in defense of our ideas or ready to pounce when someone else fails to “get it right.” But do we give thanks to God and celebrate when we see evidence of change in our enemies–however small? If not, we are failing to trust that God is at work. And we’ve forgotten that he doesn’t really need us at all, but we desperately need him.
- Do the hard work of putting change into practice. If you’ve been convinced that your ministry needs to do more to partner with parents… or that Jesus and his grace needs to be more central in your teaching, stop talking about it and DO something. You might begin with a practical conversation with your lead pastor. You may just want to begin by making regular adjustments to the curriculum that you are already using. No curriculum is perfect, and “tweaking” usually doesn’t require a board meeting. If you make the decision that you do need to change your curriculum, check out the process we went through a few years back.
Change is hard–particularly when your church is in the midst of wrestling with a major philosophical shift–but the results and the process can be rewarding when we approach changes with prayer and humility. I pray that these few thoughts help you to navigate whatever changes may be coming your way.