Leading from the Second Chair
I was the creative director at a pretty large church. I learned that, even with a title and a strong desire to affect change, you need to go about it the right way. Unfortunately, I had to learn this lesson the hard way. I so desperately wanted to change things, not because they were wrong, but because I saw so much potential that was being overlooked. I pushed and pushed for more, newer ways, better thinking… things that I thought were obvious.
I ultimately pushed myself right out the door. Were my ideas bad? No. Most of the things I was pushing for are now being done two and a half years later. Were my motives wrong? No. I wanted them to succeed. Were my methods wrong? Yes, in every way.
Being a creative minded dreamer, I can walk into a church and quickly see things that could be better. If you are anything like me, you do this with your own church too. But you may feel that you can’t affect change because you don’t have a title or you aren’t the leader. But that’s just not true as long as you do it correctly.
When I was on staff it seemed like common sense to me:
- That thing would work better if it was over there. So move it.
- Or that thing is old and out dated. Get rid of it. After all, it’s just a thing.
What I failed to realize was that behind every thing were people with deeply rooted feelings. Some of those people have spent most their lives working and doing their best and are often very proud of what they have accomplished. All they heard was me saying it was all wrong and needed to be changed. I didn’t realize or respect their feelings and the ministries they had devoted their lives to. I never told them the things they were doing right to affirm them. I was merely the jerk that was telling them that all of their effort was wrong.
My wife explained it to me like this: Imagine walking into someone’s house and starting to rearrange, repaint, throw out their old stuff, and change their schedule – when they ate, woke up, and went to bed. How long do you think you would be welcome there?
I’m not currently on staff at my church. I’m a volunteer. That’s it. I don’t get paid. I don’t have a title. Just Ryan. I serve in the youth ministry, I help with some of the outreach ministries, and I help on Sunday mornings when I can. Yet I have been able to play a pretty significant role in leading change in my church.
Our pastor, seeing the missing generation from our church, stood up and said, “we have to change.” And I got to be part of that.
So how did I go from volunteer to helping lead change in the church? Well, the first thing I did was affirm the pastor and tell him that I thought what he said was right-on. I told him that I had his back with any changes he wanted to make, and that I was there if he needed me to do anything. That was it. I didn’t start telling him all the things I saw that needed to change. As much as I wanted to, I knew that all he needed to hear was that he had someone on his team.
It wasn’t long until he came with a request to design a new logo for the church and boom, there was my wide open door. From there I was able to lob questions, ideas, and suggestions in his direction.
So what do I suggest you do to lead-up? First, Pray. Second, learn from others who have. A book I wish I had several years ago is The 360 Degree Leader by John Maxwell. In the book, John teaches how someone can be a leader even when they aren’t the leader. There are two things that he outlines in his principles of leading-up that I think are key:
1. Lighting your leader’s load.
Help your leader. Be there for them. Let them know they aren’t alone in the battle. Make their job easier. Here are some of the things John says about lifting:
- lifting gets you noticed
- lifting shows gratitude for being on the team
- lifting makes you part of something bigger
- lifting increases your value and influence.
2. Know when to push and when to back off.
This one takes practice. This is where I have failed miserably in the past. You must be able to gauge the atmosphere and gauge your own motives.
John provides some great insight and questions to ask yourself when faced with the option to back off or press on. Push forward if: there is something you know but your pastor doesn’t but should. Has time run out? Can I help my pastor win?
Back off if: You are promoting your own agenda or if the time isn’t right.
Can you lead change when you are just a small group leader, volunteer, Sunday school teacher, or just a member? Yes! Through prayer, patience, good timing, and a willing heart.