John Ewart on Critical Abilities, Part 5

I have been discussing specific critical abilities a missional leader must possess in order to lead a church forward. These abilities build on one another. The first critical ability is to understand the true mission. Secondly, leaders must establish a biblical vision. The third ability from my last post is to build bridges of leadership.

The fourth critical ability is to manage change and conflict well. If a leader develops and displays the first three abilities effectively, I promise this one will be urgently needed.

Not everyone is going to get excited about moving everything under the banners of mission and vision and creating synergistic unity. This alignment may require leadership to say “No” to a ministry idea that does not fit as part of the train on the tracks. It may mean shutting down an existing ministry because, based on the mission and vision, it simply is not effectively fitting in with the new direction. It may also mean creating new ministries, decision-making processes, and end goals. Any of these changes can produce conflict and must be managed well.

I once pastored an established church next door to a public elementary school. There was a line of trees and bushes that completely separated the two properties. It was trashy and ugly and prevented one side from being able to see the other. It was a wall.

In addition, years earlier the church had allowed businesses to purchase the frontage property along the major roadway upon which the facility sat so any view from the front was obscured. It was known as “the church behind the Waffle House.” It was a wall.

Finally, the church had built a block wall on both sides of the main entryway. This thing stood several feet tall. It was literally a wall! Thousands of cars drove by every day but in order to actually see the facility you had about a 1.5 second drive by window of opportunity.

So…I met with the school leadership, organized work crews, and we cut down most of those trees, cleared out the overgrown underbrush, cut the front wall in half, planted some flowers and made the whole area park-like. No more physical walls. A teacher at the school actually said she did not even realize there was a church next door!

We then adopted the school, began to host their fifth grade graduation ceremony in our sanctuary along with a reception that followed, invited their sports teams to use our gym, conducted tutoring and reading programs during and after school hours, filled their supply closets, supplied snacks on field days, created experiences of appreciation for their staff and allowed them to use our parking lot as overflow whenever it was needed. In return they allowed us to distribute informational pieces advertising our various children’s programming opportunities to the families. We followed the rules and they did too and it was profitable for all. No more walls!

As a result we saw hundreds of kids and parents become involved in everything from our Upward sports programs, to music programs, to seasonal events, to our weekly programming. Many children and adults were saved and became great church members. In fact we were seeing God save people weekly and were baptizing each week. That was a new experience to this more than two hundred year old church. Walls were falling all around us.

This relationship caught the attention of the city mayor who invited me to his office. I spent 45 minutes alone with him discussing how other churches could and should become community partners like we had become. I even had the privilege of sharing the gospel with him one-on-one. So much for walls….

Or so you might think. While we were out there one Saturday cutting those trees, a long-standing member of the church walked up beside me. She crossed her arms, looked at me with a frown and said, “Pastor, I liked it better when the trees were still up. I liked it better when we could maintain our privacy.” Some walls are thicker than others.

To this day, many years later, all I can say is “WOW!” but I have learned that growth always produces change. Change often produces conflict.

How does a leader manage change and conflict well? I will be writing more about that next time.