Twenty One Marks Of A Pastoral 

Change Agent

Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div., M.S.A.

  "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he."
Proverbs 23:7

What's your perception of your ministry? What's your perception or understanding of your leadership role in your church?

As the writer of Proverbs indicated, what one thinks in their heart is one of the greatest factors relating to the fulfillment of one's calling to ministry. Those who perceive their primary role as preacher will emphasize preaching and proclamation of the Word of God over every other ministry role.

Those pastors who see their primary ministry role in counseling, teaching, equipping, administrating--or any other of the many possible ministry roles and combinations thereof--will emphasize and direct their efforts toward their perceived primary ministry role. It follows, then, that the specific primarily ministry role (or combination of roles) which pastors choose and implement for their ministry will be the standard by which they will evaluate their own effectiveness and faithfulness in God's ministry.

Importance of Role Perception

In "A New Decade Demands A New Breed Of Manager," (Management Review, 1990, 79(8), pp.20-24), researchers Harari and Mukai, in consultation with researcher Nicholas Imparato, demonstrated that the real difference in the performance of effective and ineffective managers was not experience, education and motivation.

If it's not experience, education and motivation that makes the real difference in effective managerial performance, then what does? The accuracy of their understanding of their managerial role. The following formula  illustrates this finding:

Performance = Ability x Motivation x Accuracy of Role Perception.

Though Harari, Mukai, and Imparato's research focused specifically on managers as change agents, it's application to pastoral ministry is obvious. How one "thinketh" directly affects how one "performeth." The way managers, leaders and pastors understand--and implement--their primary role, then, is (humanly speaking) the most important indicator of their relative effectiveness in fulfilling their role.

Pastors As Change Agents

There's no doubt about it. Pastors are change agents...whether they perceive it or not. From the prophet to the apostles, God's calling to ministers has consistently shared at least one common thread: the call to be change agents.

Certainly Scripture does not specifically call ministers "change agents." Yet it is the keynote task of ministry. The very essence of ministry is to preach, proclaim and lead to people of God to change: changed lives, faith, attitudes and faithfulness on every level imaginable--personal, communal, national, and internal.

Though the overcall scope of God's calling to "change agency" knows no bounds, God's specific calling to pastors is such that is fits precisely within those parameters which God has designated, by grace, to each pastor relative to the gifts, calling, and ministry setting which God has given. The pastor's primary God-pleasing response, then, is to discover, understand, and realize the specific call to change agency as God has given.

All God's Ministers Are Change Agents!

If a pastor's calling is to administer a growing congregation, the call to change agency may be to encourage and incite such change as to continue the growth. If a pastors calling is to preach in a congregation resistant to outreach, the calling to change agency may entail some patient and painful ministry to incite the people toward changes--personal and congregational--to incite heighten outreach efforts.

Regardless of the congregational setting, the call is the same: be a change agent. Isn't that specific calling of God which makes the ministry calling so challenging? Regardless of the setting, however, the power is the same. God's Holy Spirit, working alone through the Word of God, is that which brings the change. The minister merely bears the Word and leads the ministry of change as God enables.

Toward A Proper Perspective Of Change-Agent Ministry

The value of Harari, Mukai, and Imparato's research to the Christian church is that it sheds light on the importance of the pastor's role as change agent. Indeed, it is the pastor's calling, as God's spiritual leader in the congregation, to lead at least the following changes specific to the public ministerial office...

1. to boldly and fearlessly preach the fullness of God's Word in Law and Gospel;

2. to minister in the lives of individuals in such a way that God leads them to a process of individual spiritual change and transformation in their lives; and

3. to minister to the entire church of Jesus Christ in such a way that they are confronted, encouraged, and challenged to go through the changes and transformations necessary so that the whole Body--and each according to his or her gifts--is vigorously involved in world-wide disciple-making.

In virtually every setting which God has given for ministry--congregations, hospitals, colleges seminaries, missionary settings, denominational leadership, et al.--His calling bears the same unmistakable identifying common element:

to minister with the power of the Word of God in such a way that, by the working of the Holy Spirit, it changes lives, congregations, denominations, cultures, nations...even to the farthest ends of the earth!

Pastoral Perceptions

Though the ministry is a change-agent calling, the perception of this role may vary greatly among Christian pastors. It may also vary greatly among congregations who may receive--or reject--the appropriate ministry of God-directed change.

Some may assert that labeling pastors "change agents" is tantamount to subjectingChristianity in favor of the whims of Harvard School of Business. Other may posit that the pastor's role is simply to pray to God for the changes and transformation in ministry which He desires. Yet, is not prayer one of the essential tools in a ministry of change?

Whatever objections may be voiced, disagreement with the position that pastors are change agents cannot be voiced without overlooking the key role of those prophets, apostles, ministers, pastors and so many others who bear God's prophetic presence with one overwhelming purpose--to lead change as God directs, empowers, and wills.

The Scriptural models for pastors as change agents are, frankly, not the type that would be lauded in the Harvard Business Review. After all, which Fortune 500 company in their right mind would send their best to markets in which their message would fall on deaf ears and kill their representatives?

Even as John the Baptist--or any other prophet for that matter--did not wear a three-piece suit, oxfords, and a conservative tie, so the character, nature and purpose of the ministerial change agent may not necessarily reflect that of our culture or the expectations of the world. What the change agent ministry must always reflect, however, is the specific calling and purpose of God.

God's calling to His leaders is to faithfully lead godly change in the manner, style, pace, and methodology which He determines. He will bring the results. His promised outcome is that toward which His leaders strive.

The Perception Is Key

All theological perceptions aside, if a pastor doesn't see and perceive himself as a change-agent, he won't be a change agent...or at least not an intentional one.

As is the case in virtually any other human endeavor, pastors do ministry based on their perceptions of what they believe their ministry is. Sometimes their perceptions are accurate; other times they are inaccurate. Sometimes they agree with God's plan and calling; other times they don't.

Pastors, in recognition of their standing before God as His servants, need to regularly test, check and re-check their perceived role over against God's Scripturally-defined role for them. Whatever their perceived and preferred ministerial role, if they do not understand that they are first and foremost God's change agents to a sinful world, they will fall far short of God's calling for them.

Seminars, training events, and all the knowledge in the world may help to make pastors aware of this aspect of ministry. But, without an accurate self-perception that they are change agents, it is unlikely that they will aspire to this aspect of their calling. Remember Harari and Mukai's formula,

Performance = Ability x Motivation x Accuracy of Role Perception.

What, Then, Do Pastor-Change Agents Do?

Pastors who perceive and recognize that God's calling for them is to be in a change-agent ministry recognize the following "Twenty Marks..." as important bases for effective change agent ministry.

Twenty Marks Of Pastoral Change Agents

1) They Embrace Ministry Enhancing Change.

Instead of trying to make the organization 'settle down', instead of seeking predictability, order and stability, pastors must promote a Biblical vision of continued embracement of change.

2) They Recognize That Turbulence Is A Fact Of Ministry.

Pastor change agents recognize that though change is fearful, change also presents opportunities for increased faith, increased growth, and increased transformation. Most important for both pastor and people, however, is that change leads to an increased experience and trusting expectation of God's leading as He wills.

3) They Focus On External Realities.

They are not myopically focused only on their congregation and the internal impact of ministry. Instead, they continue to draw the focus of the people toward the external reality of God's calling beyond their "safe" territory.

4) They Recognize The Necessity To Exercise The Influential Power Of God In Their Ministry.

God will cause people to respond in congregations. Yet, He has chosen to do it through ministers. Since this is His calling, it is imperative that pastors recognize that they do wield influence. Their respect--or lack of it--does impact the ministry.

5) They Continually Seek A Broadening Of The Power And Leadership Base.

The more congregations rely on the same leaders to carry out the "same ole same ole" year after year, the greater the potential that they are either becoming dysfunctional, becoming increasingly dysfunctional, or entrenched in dysfunction.

6) They Passionately Call God's People To Make A Positive Ministry Difference.

Calling people to make a positive difference is where God's renewing power gains its strongest and most powerful foothold in even the most dysfunctional, conflicted and dying congregation! Some existing leaders, of course, may be threatened by those whom God raises to make a difference. Nevertheless, renewal and God-pleasing change often comes fastest from the newest leaders.

Continue to minister to the seasoned leaders, continually reaffirming to them--and everyone--their key ministry directive: to make a positive difference in the church according to God's calling. When they do make a positive difference, celebrate it in every way possible! After all, it is a wonderful affirmation that God is really at work in His church.

7) They Delegate And Develop Other Experts In The Organization.

As more people desire to make a difference, the change-agent pastor will find that more and more of the auxiliary functions of ministry can be delegated. Gifts of worship, music, teaching, leading, helping will start to present themselves eager to be used.

Change-Agent pastors delegate both the task and the responsibility, maintain an pastoral coaching style that will facilitate maximum flexibility, maintain necessarily levels of accountability (i.e. not legalistic!), and maximize opportunities for learning and development to encourage appropriate ministry perceptions in all who assist in the work of ministry.

8) They Let Leaders--And Potential Leaders--Lead.

The translation here is simple: Get out of the way!!! Let them go...and watch with prayer. God will bring transformation you could never have ever imagined--or done--yourself. Remember: sometimes the things you dislike most may be the most necessary and powerful action of God for your ministry. Be patient with "failures," encouraging with "successes", and always waiting on God's purpose for the results.

9) They Share Information And Insight.

While on my ministry internship, I learned the importance of what I call the "Golden Rule of Communication." It's based on Jesus' words in John 15:15,

"I no longer call you 'servants,' because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you 'friends' , for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you." (NIV)

If you want servants (Greek "douloi" i.e. "slaves"), keep them in the dark. If you want "friends", keep them informed...and insist that it be reciprocated. After all, the communication described in John 15:15 is a two-way street! Practice it!

10) They Address Fear With The Confidence Of God.

Instead of using intimidation, rudeness, indirectness, abruptness, broken promises, rushing to judgment, and a general sense of communicating that these are the most demanding days, effective ministers maintain a high sense of urgency and high standards for God's ministry.

Their top priority is to reduce--in themselves and in their organizations--the fear of challenging the process in order to aspire to God's great vision. Though they experience fear, they are able to overcome the crippling effects with an unshakable courageous confidence in God's leading.

11) They Are Comfortable Working With Individuals Whose Ideas And Values Are Different From Their Own.

They recognize that part of their pastoral role was to defuse people's more common personal fears about confrontation, loss of influence, and being left behind with attitudes of faith, trust, and God's empowerment for them.

12) They Recognize The Subtle Signs Of Impending Conflict.

Pastoral change agents not only know how to implement change, but they also are aware of the signs of impending conflict. Most importantly, they know how to deal with such signs in a timely and appropriate manner.

The manner in which they deal with troubled leaders, individual and/or organizational fears, and their own personal conduct of ministry character are just some of the important keys to leading a congregation into--and through--inevitable conflicts of congregational life. (For more on this topic see  Ministry Health articles Five Principles Of Change [#42] and John Simpson's excellent article, Subtle Signs Of Impending Conflict [#37]).

13) Their Door--And Ministries--Are Open.

Instead of guarding secrets and "scrubbing' financial data, pastoral change agents keep no secrets. This not only enhances their credibility, reduces fear, anxiety and distrust, but also sets the stage to develop a congregational culture in which everyone has both the information to make decisions and to take risks. Special incentives and rewards are offered to those who attempt these risks.

Open-door policies, supportive feedback, and training are also exercised by pastors seeing themselves as change agent as part of their commitment to reduce fears that might enervate or proliferate in the church to otherwise thwart the realization of God's will in the congregation.

14) They Balance The Nature And Pace Of Change.

Not all changes are equal. Nor do all changes happen with equal effectiveness or in equivalent time patterns. Effective pastor change agents differentiate between high and low-impact change and intervention strategies. They recognize that effective   restructuring is not a mere manipulation and re-shuffling of superficial forms.

Instead, when the need for a new layer or style of ministry is needed, effective pastoral change agents will call for such a comprehensive evaluation and planning process which will support the significant changes in a planned, reasoned and timely manner.

15) They Communicate A Sense Of Continuity With The Past...And Hopeful Future.

Effective change agents frame the proposed changes in terms of a continuity and sharing with the people of faith. "A Great Heritage, A Great Future" is an outstanding motto for the pastoral change agent. The goal is not to reject the past. Instead, its a matter of separating the present ministry from the past without clinging to it.

Effective pastoral change agents are able to explain past without rationalizing and justifying past errors to encourage a victim mentality and to describe a vision for the future consistent with the hope, plan and power of God.

16) They Demonstrate Emotional And Spiritual Maturity.

Effective pastoral change agents project a God-inspired urgency, passion, composure and confidence. Confident in nothing less than the awesome action of God in their midst, they do not shy away from working with anyone or doing anything that was required to get the job done. They don't whine or complain; they just move forward in God's power.

17) They Consistently Maintain Their Ministerial Prerogative.

Even during trauma and stress, effective change agent pastors are able to maintain their composure and confidence in their calling to lead the flock. Even in the worst of times--and during times of extreme personal weakness, self-doubt, and fear--they are willing and able to draw on the strength of their God-given calling for public ministry.

Furthermore they recognize, live and are sustained by the certainty that God's calling is not based on the "bottom line." It's based on faithfulness of leading God's people through the process of transformation to the "bottom line" which He alone has determined.

18) They Are Able To Maintain A Consistent Non-Anxious Presence.

To transcend the personal effects of the stress in the exercise of public ministry is perhaps one of the most important skills of the pastoral change agent. One uncontrolled outburst, one display of uncontrollable anger can be a very, very difficult thing from which to recover. In all circumstances, God's calling to ministers is, as it was to Moses at Meribah, to trust him and honor Him as "holy in the sight of" (cf. Number 20:12).

Privately, pastoral change agents do everything necessary--including psychotherapy and medication--to deal with the effects of stress in their lives before it overwhelms, overtakes, and potentially destroys them and their most treasured and necessarily relationships (e.g. spouse, family, confidants, congregational leaders, denominational officials, et al).

Finally, pastoral change agents pay close attention to the maintenance of necessarily coping relationships, coping mechanisms and their spiritual connected-ness with God. (cf. Ministry Health article #14, Five Types of Coping Relationships).

19) They Present And Hold High The "Big Picture."

Perhaps the most singular important leading insight in Rick Warren's, The Purpose-Driven Church, is that leaders repeatedly and redundantly set the vision of the ministry before the people.  As ineffective leaders can not put together a practical, coherent "big picture" for themselves, they certainly can not do it for organizations, either.

20) They Stand Unmoved.

In a recent phone call to a highly-influential retired denominational leader and pastor of one a church which became one of the largest in his denomination during a tenure, I mentioned, "the new pastor appears to be quite good." "He is," the individual responded. "When he stands for something he stays with it."

Pastors content that the ministry merely "make budget" tend to lack consistency and continuity needed for leading an effective change agent ministry. Susceptible to fads, opportunism and expediency,  they may tout the "program of the month," or follow the current "political winds" or the whims of the most influential leader(s) of the moment.

Effective pastoral change agents, however, define themselves and their ministry in terms of one or two identified ideals...and they are tough, persistent, and consistent in promoting those ideals. They know there is a cost for their conviction. They know that the hard decisions are the painful ones. Yet they stand unmoved in the confidence and grace of God by which they are enable to stand, and stand firm.

21) They Celebrate Their Calling...Daily

Pastoral change agents, regardless of the way in which the Word of God works in their midst, daily celebrate the joy of being in God's service. They understand that the work of change is really God's whether they experience amazing feats, unprecedented happiness or setbacks and discouragement, they nevertheless always know there is joy in ministry.

They are certain that God builds His church. They know deep in their soul that their calling to ministry goes beyond the immediate visible results of what they do and experience--it's what they are down to the "bottom of their toes." To recognize this is to celebrate, with extreme joy, God's action of grace to have chosen them--specifically them--for the ministry in which they serve as God has called. 

Are You A Change Agent?

How do you perceive your calling? Do you recognize that God has called you to be a change agent, to be God's tool to make a difference in the lives of those within your sphere of ministry influence?

He has. Indeed, He has. All one needs to do is to grow in the biblical perception of God's calling to boldly and fearlessly proclaim the eternal, life-changing message that the Kingdom of God is here...for a real change in all of us.

Thomas F. Fischer

Last modified: Tuesday, March 24, 2020, 10:19 AM