You can’t lead without a vision. Whether you’re casting a new vision or just polishing up your old one, there is generally an emotional process that people go through before they completely understand and embrace the vision that God’s palced in your heart for the church or orginization.

It doesn’t matter if you’re putting together a family budget or leading your church in an entirely new direction, there’s usually 5 different stages of acceptance that every leader needs to learn to navigate with wisdom.

Leading Change

Stage 1: Celebration

This is the honeymoon stage of a new vision.

Typically, we all view something “new” as something to celebrate. But new isn’t the problem . . . CHANGE is. There are 2 things that you need to do during this first stage of acceptance:

  1. Focus your time on communicating the “WHY” of the vision in order to help prepare people’s hearts for the “WHAT” (the changes) that are coming. People need help understanding the value that the coming changes will produce.
  2. Build authentic relationships with the people you lead. Depending on the number of people you’re leading, you probably can’t build relationships with everyone, but you can build relationships with your team and leaders serving the house. Remember, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care..

Stage 2: Implementation

Vision is always celebrated . . . until it’s implemented. . 

When you initially cast your vision and speak of change, what some people think is, “Great! We’re going to change the things that ‘I’ think we should change.” They don’t realize that for the church or organization to move forward, the things that need to change also include some of those things they believe are fine just the way they are. At this stage they’re beginning to realize that when you said change you didn’t mean what they thought you meant.

This is the point where the sacred cows are being thrown on the altar, and people are beginning to understand that new vision not only means change but also letting go of personal preferences in order to see the vision move forward. Some folks are okay with a little change just as long as it doesn’t affect the things that are important to them. They never consider the idea that some of the things they like may have to change or stop in order to fulfill the new vision for the house.

It’s at this stage that any hidden entitlement within the church will surface. For example:

I once asked someone if they would please not move the ropes off of the roped off seating section in our early service. Instead, I asked her to please move 3 feet to the left. She declined, became offended by my request, and instead of moving 3 feet to the left, she left the church altogether. In the end, leaving the church didn’t help her grow more spiritually mature, but it did help the church get healthier.

When appropriate, listen to people, honor them, and let them know that they’ve been heard . . . but at the end of the day, you have to stand your ground and protect the vision that God told you to pursue.

Stay prayed up, and make sure you have good friends and mentors to talk to. This is nothing that you and God can’t handle, but you’ll need to be mentally, emotionally and spiritually prepared.

Stage 3: Rejection

Don’t take it personally!

Don’t be surprised when some of those that celebrated the loudest when you cast the vision turn out to be the same ones that push back the hardest when you begin to implement changes. We even see a sampling of this in scripture: “But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy” (Ezra 3:12 NIV).

My advice is “be patient . . . this too shall pass.” This is your chance to model grace and patience in your leadership.

Listen to me very carefully: some people at this stage will leave – and that’s okay! In fact, it’s often the healthiest thing that can happen for the church. Remember, your goal is not to first build a big church, but to grow a healthy one, and you can’t do that by catering to people who keep threatening to leave if you don’t meet their personal preferences. Refuse to keep trying to reattach branches that God Himself is trimming off the tree! You’ll only slow down the progress that God’s trying to help you make.

As these folks leave, honor them as they go, even if some of them don’t act very honorably. Why? (1) Because honor is the relational standard of the Kingdom of God and, therefore, your standard as a leader (even if it’s not theirs), and (2) Some of the people that leave will eventually be back.

Sometimes the people leaving are very much called to the house, but maybe the initial change was just tough for them to swallow. Or, perhaps, they got caught up listening to some of the self-righteous voices of entitlement trying to validate themselves by influencing other people to leave. But eventually sons and daughters always come home!

Difficult seasons offer leaders the greatest opportunities to build the most credibility.

Stage 4: Hesitation

Fear of losing the familiar is still present, but momentum is growing.

People are starting to see the value of some of the changes. Lives are being impacted, the culture of the church or organization is growing healthier, and there’s a fresh energy in the atmosphere. People are beginning to recognize and respect the value of what’s “new.”

Here’s a key point for successfully leading through this stage: though it isn’t always easy to do, take the time to listen to complaints. Be intentional about making sure people know that, while you may not value all of the same things they value, you do value THEM as people.

This is also the point where some of the people who left, but shouldn’t have, start coming back to the table of this new vision. The family is growing, being reunited, and becoming more and more spiritually mature.

Stage 5: Motivation

While not everyone who hears the vision will make it to this stage of acceptance, those that do make it are completely on board. You’ve been casting vision, taking the high road, loving people, and now, with the help of the Holy Spirit, the DNA of this new God-ordained vision has woven its way into the hearts and minds of those you’re reaching, serving, and leading.

Experts tell us that it takes 18-24 months to create institutional change and then another 3-4 years to build on that new foundation. This is important to understand in order to keep a proper perspective. If you’re only in year 2 but expecting year 5 results, you’ll be perpetually discouraged. Anything worth building takes time, so be patient.

Through it all:

1. Stay true to the vision Jesus put in your heart.
2. Stay teachable.
3. Pursue humility.
4. Lead with courage.

Eventually, with wise stewardship, the vision God has placed in your heart will be realized and will make tremendous impact. Remember, God is with you and for you!