Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Simple Change

Written by: on March 1, 2019

I chose simple change as the title to my blog post this week because it seems to me like an impossibility within the church. The problem I am working on for my dissertation is how do you change the culture of a church from being inward focused and me centered to a focus on what really matters, making a difference in the community and world for Jesus. I have been a part of several churches that have tried in vain to change the culture of an established church. I have been a part of church plants where the goal was a culture of outreach. In both circumstances there was excitement about the possibilities to come. In the established churches the excitement has turned into push back, which in turn has turned into anger and resentment, leading to one of two things. The release of the pastor who was trying to bring about the changes, or, the quite resignation to the idea that the change would not work and lets just try to clean up the mess and do things the way we have always done them. On the flip side, the church plants have thrived in the idea of new ways of doing things, but inevitably, systems began to come into play, and they began to look like all the other churches I have been involved with, mainly because it is easier.

In Jennifer Berger and Keith Johnston’s book, Simple Habits For Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders, I found a kindred spirit, change within an organization is not easy, it comes with painful processes if not managed correctly. In the first chapter, after the opening drama there is a quote that hits at the heart of the issue of change today. “The dogmas of the quite past are inadequate for the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew”[1]

Berger and Johnston say that three habits are important to change, they are habits of the mind. They are:

  1. Asking different questions (instead of having the answers),
  2. Taking multiple perspectives (even when we disagree), and
  3. Seeing systems (including emergence).[2] (also found on page 19 of text)

I started looking for other options that our authors this week have to talk about their leadership ideas and found their YouTube channel. The following video gives an overview of their three habits of mind.

They have multiple videos but this gives you an idea of their work.

So how does one take these ideas and put them into work in a church. That is the real question for me. I am intrigued by the discussion on “searching the system to find out the inclinations” [3] They argue that we need to trace patterns of whatever systems make up your company, or in my case my church, and figure out, if left alone what will they do. They instruct you to look for the most obvious causes to rule them out. Most of the time these are the things we have tried before with little to no success. That is why we must find new ways. In many of the books that I have read on changing the culture of a church the answer is always the same, do not be afraid to make some people mad and make the changes. This rarely if ever works for the simple reason, the people of the church have probably been there much longer than you, and will be there long after you have moved on. They have had pastors come in and say were making these sweeping changes, they try, they fail, get discouraged and move on. The average tenure of a pastor over the last 20 years in the Southern Baptist denomination has been a little over five years. [4] The first 2-3 years are spent trying to get the lay of the land, they next try to make the changes, fail to do so, sometimes spectacularly, and move on. 

One thing that can be put to use in any organization is the idea that is safe to fail.[5] What this means is that if we try something, and it fails, then it is not catastrophic. No one needs to be fired, we just chalk it up as a learning experience and go to the next option. I think if this was put into place in churches, it is ok if something we try does not work, then the fear of being fired for trying something new would be removed and people could be more bold in trying to reach people with the gospel.

Think about no repercussions for a program not being the best thing ever. Pastors might just leap into the unknown and do something great for God. The apostles had no fear of failure so they did powerful things. Paul did not care if one group paid no attention or even attacked him. He just tried another approach. Think if the church today could grab a hold of this idea. Great things might happen.

[1] Berger, Jennifer Garvey, and Keith Johnston. Simple Habits For Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders. Stanford: Stanford Business Books, 2016. 7.

[2]Volkmann, Russ. Integral Leadership Review. July 29, 2015. Accessed March 01, 2019. http://integralleadershipreview.com/13366-819-jennifer-garvey-berger-and-keith-johnston-simple-habits-for-complex-times-powerful-practices-for-leaders/.

[3] Berger, Jennifer Garvey, and Keith Johnston. Simple Habits For Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders. Stanford: Stanford Business Books, 2016. 49. 

[4] Rainer, Thom. “Six Reasons Pastoral Tenure May Be Increasing.” ThomRainer.com. June 19, 2017. Accessed March 01, 2019. https://thomrainer.com/2017/03/six-reasons-pastoral-tenure-may-be-increasing/.

[5]  Berger, Jennifer Garvey, and Keith Johnston. Simple Habits For Complex Times: Powerful Practices for Leaders. Stanford: Stanford Business Books, 2016. 54.

About the Author

Jason Turbeville

A pastor, husband and father who loves to be around others. These are the things that describe me. I was a youth minister for 15 years but God changed the calling on my life. I love to travel and see where God takes me in my life.

11 responses to “Simple Change”

  1. M Webb says:

    Hi Jason. I’m writing from Chicago waiting for a flight to Istanbul.
    Excellent introduction and change comparisons between the established church and the planted church. There are a lot of good guides out there on how to manage change, but in the end, it always comes down to the leader(s) and what the elders or deacons or board of directors let the boss do. While they may want change, hire you for change, there are always sacred cows in the midst that they do not tell you about. The biggest factor in all the above is the influence of spiritual warfare. The devil always finds ways to get Christians to go at each other over time, always! So what is the answer? I guess the authors this week have a few ideas that look pretty good and can be adapted into the Christian context, but they do not deal with the supernatural forces at work.
    Many well-intentioned Christian leaders do not want to address the devil in the room and unfortunately over time, he whittles away at everyone. And if he cannot get you, he goes after those you love by destroying them, making you less effective because you are distracted.
    So, what do we do? For me, I try to purposely surrender daily to the Lord, be sensitive, submissive, and dependent on the Holy Spirit. I have no chance of being successful in that if I do not put on the whole armor of God first. Even then, I mess up and stumble all the time, but I praise the Lord for protecting me from how bad it could be if I was not wearing Christ.
    M. Webb

    • Jason Turbeville says:

      The idea of spiritual warfare is always going to be in the scope of our work but sometimes there is just the sacred cow. I am working through the idea of helping the congregation not just be focussed on their own desires but those who need Christ to be focused on.


  2. Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Jason!

    I was interested in your Bibliography. “Rainer, Thom. “Six Reasons Pastoral Tenure May Be Increasing.” ThomRainer.com.”

    Wow, I would have guessed the opposite. Now that you mention it, though, I did a quick analysis and in my tribe, it is exactly right. Thanks for turning me on to this. I am going to use this with my troops…

    • Jason Turbeville says:

      Not only that stat but also youth ministry has gone from 18 mos average tenure to 3 years, to me this is one of the biggest challenges for a pastor, stay long enough to do what God has called them to do without getting run off.


  3. Dan Kreiss says:


    Great post as always. You are in a challenging yet critical position. Yes, if the church is to fulfill God’s purposes for it there must be constant adaptation to the needs of the surrounding culture. I believe that much of the reason that emerging generations are moving away from the church in general is that the culture is changing and the church has failed to adapt. And, it is incredibly hard for visionary pastors such as yourself because those already in the pews are there because they like the way things are currently and feel no great need to adapt for the benefit of people outside. As you mention, even those churches planted specifically to engage the outside community coalesce into routine because it is difficult to maintain the edginess. So…..what are you going to do? Will you keep pushing your church to ask new questions? Will you leave and start something new? Or is there possibly something completely different on the horizon that has not even been considered thus far?

    • Jason Turbeville says:

      I have found I can continually ask the questions and push the changes if I continually have the small conversations. By doing this I have found the big changes can get buy in. You just have to continually be in communication. What I also work at is saving some of the churches culture they already have while integrating the new culture.


  4. Great post, Jason!

    Your first line really captivated me and made me think. You mention, “I chose simple change as the title to my blog post this week because it seems to me like an impossibility within the church.” It’s a sad reality that change within the church is seen as an impossibility. It’s a great theory and ideal, but when push comes to shove, the majority of churches see change as a threat to the foundation of the gospel.

    Berger and Johnston suggest, “Ironically, in a world where there is no right answer, there are also fewer wrong answers. This can be very empowering for leaders and also very frightening” (Berger and Johnston, 86). I find that the idea of conversion has encompassed more than salvation and spilled out to politics, social ethics and personal convictions. It’s as though, in order to be a Christian, one must agree and adhere to everything that the church stands for and upholds. I find this frustrating from the position of being a congregant. How has this extreme loyalty spilled over onto the pastoral staff? Are pastors and leaders encouraged to hold varied beliefs? If not, is that why change is seen as threatening? Is it considered disloyal to the church and ultimately to Christ?

    • Jason Turbeville says:

      I have the conversation with my congregation that no matter who you vote for, no matter what side of the aisle you reside on, God is still in control and he is interested in one thing, our relationship with him and our obedience to our call from him. I try to leave politics and other issues out of my message, the love of Christ is central and the Supremacy of Christ is the most important thing I preach. I am not worried what others think of my positions so I really don’t give it much thought.


  5. Hi Jason,

    Static situations — like yours where you’re trying to influence positive change and most people are resistant — are definitely a challenging leadership context.

    I think the secret in those contexts is to create a skunkworks off to the side with a small group who really buy into the new vision. Do it as a pilot project, frame it as “an experiment”. Allocate a small amount of the budget to it. It will give you life because you are able at last to lead into some change, but it won’t be threatening for the whole congregation. As you learn and grow, you report back to the congregation what is happening and (hopefully, over time) the larger group eventually embraces the change for itself. This is a “safe-to-fail” environment that helps the majority eventually adopt it as they witness its fruitfulness.

  6. Kyle Chalko says:

    Jason, your point about these problems being here longer than me was powerful. As church leaders we are inheriting some systems that might have been around for almost 2000 years. helps me forget about my whole savior complex

  7. Dave Watermulder says:

    Thanks for this post, Jason. I think you are right in the right place at this point– taking the readings we have (like this one) and asking how you will be able to apply it in your context, in your system, in your church. I am also inspired by reading this to try some “simple” things and to see what kinds of results we will have. God is in the mix of it all, so let’s keep going strong.

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