3 Lessons on Change from Nehemiah

If your church is not changing, it’s not growing. I heard someone once say, “Don’t be afraid of change. You might lose something good, but you’ll gain something better.” However, bringing change in a church is often difficult. One of the greatest leaders of all time, Nehemiah, effected change in the setting that surrounded the building of the wall around Jerusalem. He modeled for leaders three essentials necessary to bring change.

In Nehemiah 5, after Nehemiah faced opposition from without (criticism from his adversaries) and opposition from within (discouraged people), he faced a new crisis. Wealthy Jews were exploiting the poor by charging excessive interest rates. As a result, the poor faced hunger, crippling debt, and even slavery because some had to sell their children into slavery to pay off the debts.

In the midst of that crisis Nehemiah engaged three essentials that resulted in the guilty party changing. The rich repented of their abuse and paid back the money they had taken from the poor.

He engaged these three parts of himself to bring that change.

His heart: he engaged his passion.

In verse 6 he writes, When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry.  In other words, this issue gripped his heart. It stirred his passion and emotions that motivated him to action.

His head: he carefully thought.

Rather than reacting to the situation and letting his emotion override good judgment, verse 7 says, I pondered them in my mind…. In other words, he paused long enough to get a clear picture of things before he acted. James reminds of this.

James 1.19   My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.

His hands: he did something.

Finally, he took action by taking these four steps.

  1. Define reality by clearly defining the change you want to bring (the rich were exploiting the poor and that needed to stop).
  2. Bring the right people to the table (vss 7-12). He had to engage the right people to solve the problem. So, he confronted the guilty party and informed the rest of the people what he had discovered.
  3. Secure commitment (v 12). He held the guilty accountable by asking them to take an oath that they would give back what they had taken.
  4. Set a good example (vss 14-16). Nehemiah didn’t simply expect others to change. He, too, took responsibility by setting a good example. He sacrificed by refusing the king’s food allotment usually given to governors like himself. He committed to never exploiting the people as former leaders had. He committed to being a different kind of leader.

Nehemiah wisely managed change by using his heart, his head, and his hands to effect that change.

What has helped you create change in your church or ministry?

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5 Telling Questions to Ask at Your Next Staff Meeting

Some time ago I read Andy Stanley’s book Deep and Wide. It’s a must-read for every ministry leader. In one chapter he poses 5 questions that are deeply telling about a church’s direction and impact. At your next staff meeting, pose these five questions and give your staff the freedom to answer honestly. Better yet, email them a few days prior to the meeting and ask each staffer to record his or her answers. Then, bring the answers to your meeting.

Below I’ve slightly modified each since you don’t have the context where they appeared unless you’ve read the book.

  1. As a church are we moving Kingdom priorities forward or are we simply meeting?
  2. Are we making a measurable difference in our local community or simply conducting services?
  3. Are we organized around a mission or are we organized around an antiquated ministry model inherited from a previous generation?
  4. Are we allocating resources as if Jesus is the hope of the world or are the squeaky wheels of church culture driving our budget decisions?
  5. If we ceased to exist as a church, would the community miss us (my question)?

What other key questions do you think we should regularly ask about our ministry’s effectiveness?

“I just learned 5 probing questions to ask key leaders in my church.” (tweet this quote by clicking here)

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13 Top Quotes from the Willow Creek Leadership Summit #WLS17

Every year I attend the Willow Creek Leadership Summit at a local video venue with over 50 of our leaders. This year did not disappoint. It was probably the best Summit for my team and me. In this post I list the top 13 quotes from the speakers. If you’ve not been to a Summit, make plans to attend one. It’s a great investment in leaders.

Top GLS quotes:

Andy Stanley:

  • The next generation’s good ideas seldom come from the previous generation.
  • Replace ‘how’ with ‘wow.’ (He’s referring to encouraging people with their ideas rather than discouraging them with, “So how in the world could we do that?”)
  • My greatest contribution to the world may not be what I do but who I raise.

Lazlo Bock, senior advisor Google:

  • Connect work to meaning.

Juliet Funt, CEO Whitespace at Work:

  • We all need white spaces which are strategic pauses between activities
  • The four thieves of productivity are drive that leads to compulsion, excellence that leads to perfection, information overload, and activity that leads to frenzy.
  • 4 crucial whitespace simplification questions:
    • Is there anything I can let go of?
    • Where is good enough, good enough?
    • What do I truly need to know?
    • What deserves my attention?

Markus Buckingham, author and consultant:

  • The two biggest areas that motivate employees:
    • At work I know what is expected of me.
    • At work I have a chance to use my strengths.

Sam Adeyemi, senior pastor Daystar Christian Center, Nigeria

  • Great leaders change other people’s view of themselves.
  • Leaders don’t attract people they want but people like them.

Angela Duckworth, author of GRIT

  • The Definition of GRIT: sustained passion and perseverance for long-term goals.
  • Two key indicators you have grit: you are a hard worker and you finish what you begin.

Gary Haugen, CEO International Justice Mission

  • Be careful of being more impressed with bad men that our good God. (He’s referring to the temptation to get caught up in all the bad things happening around us while forgetting that God is bigger.)

If you went to the summit, what were your biggest take-aways?

Avoiding Ministry Failure: 5 Questions to Ask when you do a Ministry Pre-mortem

Ministry initiatives in the church often fail. A simple planning tool called the pre-mortem, however, can minimize ministry failure. In my last post I suggested 7 good reasons to conduct the pre-mortem, a tool credited to Dr. Gary Klein. A pre-mortem is an exercise that assumes your plan spectacularly fails and considers beforehand what might go wrong. It helps teams plan ahead to avoid potential pitfalls. In this post I explain how to do a pre-mortem.

To get started, you’ll want to schedule a pre-mortem session with your team and include these steps when you convene them.

  • Brief your team about the proposed plan.
  • Describe the imaginary failure in colorful terms. Imagine it as a spectacular fiasco.
  • Ask your team to write down everything they believe could have possibly gone wrong.

After these steps, consider these questions.

  1. What did you miss that contributed to the failure?
  2. What went wrong as you implemented your imaginary plan?
  3. Who messed up and why?
  4. Had you known these pitfalls, what would you have done differently?
  5. After completing your pre-mortem session, what do you need to change about your proposed plan to avoid potential failure?
  6. Who needs to know these changes?

Here’s a helpful guide that describes in more detail how to do a pre-mortem.

Have you ever conducted a pre-mortem? If so, what additional questions would you include?

“I just learned how to conduct a ministry plan pre-mortem to help avoid failure.” (tweet this quote by clicking here)

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7 Benefits of an Often Overlooked Planning Tool: the Pre-mortem

Jesus recognized the role good planning plays in life and ministry. He said, Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? (Luke 14.28) Unfortunately, lack of planning often torpedoes otherwise good ministry ideas. Scientist Gary Klein, author of The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut Feelings to Make Better Decisions at Work, offers a great idea he calls a pre-mortem. In this post I unpack 7 benefits a pre-mortem offers in planning.

planning tools

Dr. Klein says that a pre-mortem can increase the chances that our plan will succeed. In contrast to a post-mortem that we often perform after a plan fails, a pre-mortem is an exercise that teams do before they implement a plan.

By imagining that an event is over and that it failed, a pre-mortem can often surface potential problems that you can address and prepare for before you invest time and resources in an event or a plan.

In my next post I’ll give crucial questions to ask to make a pre-mortem successful.

But first, I’ve listed several benefits of a pre-mortem.

  1. A pre-mortem helps you fail on paper rather than in practice. A pre-mortem considers what might go wrong so you can plan to avoid those mistakes
  2. You can surface potential pitfalls in a safe environment. Before others get overinvested in the plan, considering the pitfalls beforehand makes it less threatening for a team member to voice a concern.
  3. A pre-mortem helps you value your team members by soliciting their ideas and thoughts. We all like others to feel that our voice matters. A pre-mortem reinforces that experience.
  4. You can help team members become more sensitive to potential problems as you roll out the plan. By discussing potential issues beforehand, your team is more likey to see potential issues when you do roll it out.
  5. You can increase the chances that you will avoid a painful post-mortem autopsy prompted by a failure. We’d all rather avoid autopsies.
  6. You can surface potential problems you might have otherwise missed. Pretended your plan has failed makes you think outside the box.
  7. ___________ (what would add as a seventh benefit?)

So, the next time you plan a big initiative, try a pre-mortem.

“I just learned 5 good reasons to conduct a ministry plan pre-mortem to avoid failure.” (tweet this quote by clicking here)

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