Regardless of the “why” behind a senior pastor leaving a church, the transition unleashes a powerful tsunami which impacts everyone. But not everyone responds to change in the same way. What often puzzles and befuddles the leadership team is that the reactions by those in the church are all over the board: the sheep are acting like cats!
- Some appear unmoved, even stoic, able to take it in stride and wanting to move on.
- Then there are those who are stunned and don’t know what to think or what to do.
- Some feel stuck…so impacted by what happened that they struggle to look forward.
- And others admit their struggle, but believe God is in it and something good is coming.
As I mentioned in Part 1 of Shepherding Change, Kerry Bunker reveals that a person reacts to change based on two dimensions: their comfort with change and their capacity for change. The interaction of comfort and capacity gives a framework for shepherding cats during pastoral transition.[i]
Responses to Change
Bunker explains that there are 4 major responses. Each one has its own unique initial reaction to change and an underlying emotion about the future.
Overwhelmed (low capacity for change, low comfort with change)
Those in this group report feeling depressed and powerless. They tend to withdraw and spend enormous energy in not thinking about what is happening. They are just trying to survive in the new environment. But their fearful negativity can infect others.
Entrenched (high capacity for change, low comfort with change)
Those in this quadrant focus on riding out the change. They know the familiar is going away and they feel anxious, angry or threatened. Typically, they blame someone in leadership for messing up what was working. They try to keep their heads down and avoid risks.
Posers (high comfort with change, low capacity for change)
Those in this profile project a high level of confidence in handling the change, and are eager to move on. They appear to be competent and confident and are willing to take on any responsibility during the transition. But they overestimate their ability to lead through change, and often overlook the emotional needs of others.
Learner (high comfort with change, high capacity for change)
Those with this response don’t deny they are being challenged and stretched by the pastoral transition. But they believe the Lord wants them to grow in an ambiguous and difficult situation. They are optimistic about the future but not unrealistic.
The exciting thing for church leaders who want to shepherd well during pastoral transition is that people can increase their comfort with change and their capacity to change. But the flip-side is also true, neglected sheep can also revert to a less effective response to change.
Shepherding the cats
So here are a few ideas to help you shepherd the cats in your church:
-What the overwhelmed need: they need assurance and a clear understanding of what has not changed. They need encouragement to let go of the past, and yet given a listening ear for their stress, fear and frustration. They need stability and the opportunity to adjust to change in small doses. They need to be lovingly reminded not to withdraw or become passive-aggressive.
-What the entrenched need: they too need assurance and an understanding of what is changing and what will stay the same. They need to be connected to someone in the learner group who has a sincere hope in the future. They need to see how they personally can contribute in a positive way during the transition. They also need someone to help them identify what to let go.
-What the posers need: to understand the deep emotions that those around them are feeling during pastoral transition and not run rough-shod over them. They need to not press for quick decisions or new initiatives, but engage a wide range of people in decision-making. They need to invite people to grow in their comfort with change and not push or pull them.
-What the learners need: they need assurance and encouragement to lead in the transition. They need support to move forward and not be afraid of making mistakes. They need to see the big picture and how they are a part of it. They need to be guarded so they don’t take on too much.
Shepherding well in the midst of change is not about being able to label the cats. But being observant of behavior and loving others well so they do more than survive, but thrive during the transition.
“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” -Phil.2:5
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[i] p. 10 Responses to Change -Helping People Manage Transition, Kerry A. Bunker, Center for Creative Leadership, Greensboro, NC, Copyright 2008