Faith Change Agents – 21st Century Pastoral And Lay Leadership

NOTE: Learn more about Faith Change Agents in the forthcoming book by Mark Tidsworth, Farming Church: Cultivating Adaptive Change In Congregations.

There are particular seasons in the life of the Church when a particular kind of leadership is needed. God’s Church needs different kinds of leaders than it did before, when conditions in the growing environment were different. Now that everything is changing, what pastoral leadership image might guide us? What does the Church need from its leadership in order to adapt to its context?

Those who have been part of congregations during the Modern Era recognize certain images guiding pastoral leadership like the Statesman, Chaplain, and Entrepreneur. Each of these approaches to pastoring was effective and helpful during the Modern Era. Yet, now that we are in the “Great Migration,” as Brian McLaren calls it, we need a different kind of leadership in congregations. We need Faith Change Agents.

Congregations are caught up in the same developmental challenge as other societal institutions and organizations; adapting to the world in which we live. We are transitioning into new expressions of church even as we speak. Some churches won’t make it, finding the transitions required beyond their capacity. Others will develop the kind of leadership needed to adapt to the new weather patterns in their growing environment.

A new pastoral and lay leader guiding image is rising up to help us describe what we need from congregational leaders to effectively make this shift to the Postmodern world in which we live: Faith Change Agent. We are suggesting that congregations need pastoral and lay leaders to embrace this image, understanding their primary calling as helping congregations move from here to there; to transition well, adapting as we go. This is what congregations need now. By embracing the Faith Change Agent pastoral and lay leadership image, congregational leaders will more likely apply their leadership to what’s needed. So, how do we describe Faith Change Agents?

First, everything we do as disciples and congregations is centered in our faith. Our understanding of God and God’s ways, our trust in God, our worldview…each of these are components of our faith. Congregational leaders who live into this new image start from faith. Faith is the foundation, motivation, and guiding system for their leadership. They speak the language of faith when framing the leadership challenges before us. They work to draw our faith to the surface when we are facing problems. They challenge us to put our faith into action, generating innovative practices. They encourage us to trust the Holy Spirit, who leads us into creative adaptation. Though they may use leadership principles and practices from the world around us, they translate them into our indigenous language: faith.

Second, these pastoral and lay leaders view their primary calling as change. This is the greatest need of established congregations, making it exactly what we need from our leaders. Certainly Faith Change Agents may use comfort, reminding us of our security in Christ and encouraging stability where it’s found and needed. Even so, their ultimate goal is to help move from church-as-we-have-known-it to church-as-it-is-becoming. They see the focus of their calling as transitional; to help us transition into the church we need to become. Adaptive, healthy change is their aim. They combine the faith journey with the change process, constructively leading our adaptation.

Third, these leaders integrate this Faith Change calling into their personal self-image as leaders. All leaders carry mental pictures of themselves functioning in their roles. Faith Change Agents believe they are called to this people for this time in the life of this congregation. They believe they are agents called to lead the adaptive change process. This is not only professional work for pastors or volunteer work for lay leaders; this is personal calling for them. Faith Change Agents believe God has prepared them particularly for leading this congregation forward into adaptive change. Perhaps they pull from other leadership images like social movement organizer, group therapist, aspirational vision manager, positively-oriented parent, leadership coach, or holy provocateur. Yet, they see their core calling as congregational leaders in this 21st century as Faith Change Agents. These leaders are energized by the adaptive challenges ahead, yearning for the actualization of our aspirational, compelling vision.

May we faithfully embrace our callings to serve through leadership in ways which help God’s Church to thrive.

Mark Tidsworth, President, PLA