Change comes frequently in life and in ministry. The only thing you can predict about the future is that tomorrow will look different from today. Change is inevitable, and the scope and speed of change we’re experiencing right now would have been almost unimaginable to previous generations of leaders.
Years ago, I created a proverb that I’ve shared with many pastors ever since. I think it’s as relevant to ministry as ever: There is no growth without change; there is no change without loss; there is no loss without grief; and there is no grief without pain.
God can use change in your life and ministry to make you a better person and a better pastor. But you won’t have growth without pain.
How can you make the most of the change you’re facing in ministry right now? Here are eight principles for growth through change.
Look for God in the change.
“If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me” (Jeremiah 29:13 NLT). Even in the worst situations, you can see the face of Jesus. Unfortunately, we look for everything else but God when we’re in the midst of change. We look for comfort and relief. But when we seek God, we’ll find what we’re really looking for.
Ask God for wisdom.
“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking” (James 1:5 NLT). To deal with change effectively, your old way of thinking simply won’t work because you’re in a new situation. That’s why you need to ask God, “What do you want me to think?” Jesus tells us that we don’t have because we don’t ask.
Listen for God’s whisper.
“After the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And a voice said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” (1 Kings 19:12-13 NLT). Like Elijah, I’ve found that God’s brightest insights often come in my darkest days. But God doesn’t often yell in those situations—he whispers. You’ll need to slow down, be quiet, and read God’s Word so you can hear him.
Don’t ask why. Ask what.
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:12 NIV). The most important question you can ask when you’re struggling with change is, “Lord, what do you want me to learn?” Some things you only learn through experience. You’ll either resent it or grow from it. It’s your choice.
Focus on what never changes.
“The Lord’s plans stand firm forever; his intentions can never be shaken” (Psalm 33:11 NLT). Your situation will always change. That’s why we need to focus on what doesn’t change. The Bible tells us that the Lord’s love, his promises, his purposes, and his Word will never change. Focus on those truths while everything else is shifting around you.
Don’t face it alone.
“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed” (Ecclesiastes 4:9 NLT). This is not our natural tendency. When going through change, particularly tough change, we often retreat in fear. We don’t want anyone to know. But God tells us to do the exact opposite. We need someone to walk with us. If you don’t have someone like that, now is the time to find that person. You can’t navigate change without others.
Become a promise person.
“Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to Israel failed; every one was fulfilled” (Joshua 21:45 NIV). The Bible has more than 7,000 promises. They are waiting for you to claim them. You can bank on them. Change can be tough, but God always has the last word. He tells us that he’s not finished with us (Philippians 1:6), we are his personal concern (1 Peter 5:7), and his peace will guard our hearts and minds in Christ (Philippians 4:7). You can count on those promises during times of change (and every other moment of your life).
Tell God you’ll trust him no matter what.
“Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15 NKJV). There may not be a happy ending on the other side of the change you’re experiencing. But God is still good. He still knows what’s best for you. He still has a plan. It’s not easy to trust that plan sometimes, but that’s faith.
During times of change over the past 40+ years in ministry, I’ve had to trust God no matter what, particularly when there was opposition or intense criticism. That’s why it’s so important to learn how to hold everything the Lord gives you with an open hand—even your ministry.