The caller was worried.
The congregational vote on whether to call the preferred candidate as their next pastor was only a few days away, and significant opposition had arisen. He phoned me to ask how the church leaders, who unanimously supported the candidate, should respond.
“What is the source of the opposition? I thought he was widely and favorably received after his two weeks of preaching and visitation. What changed?”
A moment of hesitation was followed by, “He sent his resume and a statement of his vision and plans for the future of the church. A lot of people have responded negatively, some quite strongly.”
Prepare for Vision
It was a classic mistake.
He declared the vision without first preparing the people to hear and embrace it. He neglected the fact that resistance is the default reaction to proposed change. Any meaningful vision will provoke resistance because it requires change if the church is to move toward that vision. He failed to help them be favorably disposed to what he believed is Jesus’ vision for the church.
The results were predictable. The vote on this candidate revealed a deeply divided congregation. The candidate received only 55% of the vote. The bewildered members of the pastor search committee were disheartened, and several members of the Board considered resigning.
There is one way to consider this as “good news.” Although it was extremely painful for all involved, it finally forced the church leaders to acknowledge the elephant in the room. The deep divisions in the church could no longer be avoided. If they manage to step in and deal with those in order to restore the unity and peace of the church, it will end up being a good thing.
Let me clear up a potential misunderstanding that often arises at this point.
I’m not addressing the question of whether Jesus gives vision to the pastor or whether he gives it to the whole church. You can easily support both points of view from the Bible. This is why some people believe that Jesus gives vision to the pastor who delivers it to the church. But others hold that Jesus conveys vision to the church; the pastor’s job is to lead a process of inquiry, prayer, and discussion that develops consensus about Jesus’ vision for the church.
I am advocating that, whichever view you hold, you would be wise to deal with resistance before it pops up. If you believe that Jesus gives vision to the pastor first, you’d be smart to prepare the soil before sowing the vision in the church. If you believe that Jesus gives vision to the whole church, you should first prepare them for the process of identifying that vision.
Ah, that’s the trick, isn’t it?
Knowing the answer to that question is why they pay us the big bucks. (Well, sometimes we get paid!).
I’m currently working on another book, Prepare Your Church for Change Before Uttering the Word. It is the result of many years of experience leading churches through the vision development process, and a compilation of case studies that illustrate various ways to deal with resistance to fresh vision.
Stay tuned for more.