Winning Through Resistance
When your vision meets obstruction, which way do you go?
by Wayne Schmidt

Everyone on staff agreed: blended worship would increase the impact of our choir in Sunday morning worship. The choir would be more involved as worship leaders. They would lead congregational singing as well as sing anthems.

To accomplish this, we started doing things we had never done. We required auditions to discern the spirit and talent of choir members. Rehearsals were extended to include time for worship and small group prayer. The workload increased.

The vision was great, but as we made changes, resistance grew. Several long-term choir members dropped out. Others pointed fingers at staff members, accusing them of exerting excessive power. Some argued: “We’re becoming just like the Saturday night service.” It was painful to hear people react to our attempts for greater depth in worship by saying of the choir: “They’re just doing doo-wops’ for the worship team.”

I was getting another lesson in reading the resistance.

Sometimes It’s a Phase
Change is the price of vision, and with change comes resistance. The greater the change, the greater the resistance. In the words of my mentor Dick Zalack, “People prefer the painful known to the uncertain better.” Casting a vision involves that “uncertain better” that stretches faith and invites resistance.

There are four stages to most transitions:
1. Denial, or holding on to the illusion that nothing will change and the pressure to do so will go away.
2. Resistance. Resistance interrupts sleep, makes us angry, and tempts us to withdraw back into denial. Many churches and leaders bounce back and forth between resistance and denial.
3. Exploration of options for our future.
4. Commitment to pursue that future.

Interestingly, we tend to justify our own resistance while judging the resistance of others. I’ve even found myself impatient with others in the very area where I was initially resistant. Once we overcome our internal resistance, we expect others to do the same but in much less time.

I saw this recently while attempting to implement changes with our staff. For years I had viewed staff meetings as a waste of time. However, doing without them left us operating as loosely affiliated entrepreneurs rather than as a team. Once I recognized the value of meetings in creating a sense of team, I was impatient with others who resisted the meetings. I was frustrated by the very resistance I had created by reinstituting meetings.

If resistance is simply a stage of transition, give people time and encouragement. The resistance will subside if it’s just a phase. But it may be more than that.

Sometimes It’s Spiritual

Understanding why everyone is anxious and nobody is doing what you had hoped takes discernment. With time and prayer, trace the resistance to its source.
1. Resistance may signal redirection from God. As a river’s flow changes because of an obstacle, so a God-placed obstacle may cause our energy to flow in another direction.

When our church moved to its present site, we anticipated moving from a multipurpose space to a new worship center within a few years. Initial plans for funding the worship center produced resistance because the need for adding children’s ministry space was more pressing. We delayed construction of the worship center, added more worship services to the schedule, and paid cash for the new children’s wing. Then we revisited our plan to build the worship center.

When circumstances beyond a leader’s control force change, ask if God is at work. A good indicator is when the congregation sees an alternative direction and most everyone agrees. If that is the case, pray about it and prepare to change direction.

2. Resistance can be a call to humility. This source of resistance merits special attention, mainly because it is so prevalent. God resists the proud (James 4:6), but pride may be subtly disguised as feeling unappreciated or left out. Those with the greatest investment in the old way of doing things are often the most resistant to a new way of doing things.

I like to view myself as a flexible person. However, when our competent lay ministry team recommended that we change our spiritual gifts training materials, I balked. I had created those lessons.

I didn’t see the need for change. Besides, I said to myself, they didn’t fully appreciate the strengths of my approach.

Eventually the lay leaders’ tactful persistence won me over to the conclusion others had reached long before. If pride is the root, humble yourself before God humbles you!

3. Resistance may mean altering something within us. Recently we made some changes in our staff structure. Some of the resistance was my own, since the plan uncovered changes I needed to make in my life. Some of our staff difficulty was due to deficits in my leadership skill. So realigning our staff led to a list of skill-development areas for myself.

If you are resisting change because it requires changing yourself, consider this. Resistance is strongest in my life when external uncertainty confronts internal insecurity.

4. Resistance can be a sign of spiritual warfare. Some people view all resistance to their ideas as an attack of the enemy. Others downplay the reality that a God-given vision will result in spiritual opposition. The truth lies between.

We recently broke ground on a new student center. While the congregation strongly supported the vision for reaching middle schoolers and high schoolers, there was dissension regarding our approach to raising the necessary dollars. Many of us came to believe this disunity was part of Satan’s strategy to derail this ministry initiative. Knowing unity was the desire of Christ for His followers, we prayed and discussed the matter until we reached a spirit of unity. We agreed on the vision, although we did not have complete unanimity on the details.

If spiritual warfare is suspected, this calls for prayer. Persistent prayer will dispel the fears and amplify the faith of the congregation.

5. Resistance may indicate a need for balance. One part of the vision may be well developed while another is underdeveloped. Or a vision’s impact on one segment of the congregation may be clear while its impact on another is unclear. Balance issues may be about age, interests, taste, or tenure. But legitimate balance issues are about ministry.
One source of resistance is related to spiritual gifts. Our church board consists of people with various gifts. The gift of leadership is most predominant, however, and a direction rising from this gift sets our course. Sometimes a few on our board resist, usually people who have the gift of mercy.

We’re learning the best response isn’t “Well, they don’t have the leadership gift; no wonder they don’t get it.” It’s better to ask “What can we learn from their gift of mercy that will make the vision clearer or the process kinder?”

If ministry balance is an issue, test whether the opposition arises from people who have a common spiritual gift. You may find that the change was prompted by leaders with a different (even opposite) gift.

Benefits of Resistance
When working out at my athletic club, I overhear trainers telling their clients that resistance builds strength. They offer promises of greater muscle definition and strength as they pile on the weights. The ability to handle additional resistance indicates progress.

For the church leader, progress requires honestly assessing the resistance to change.

With the issue of our choir, I searched my own heart and prayerfully determined that my motive-the deepening of our corporate worship-was right. The leaders of the change consistently humbled themselves before God and, from what I could see, were overcoming the pull of pride. Nor was it a balance issue, because other priorities were not suffering. In the end we decided that two causes were at work, as is often the case.

Resistance to changing the choir was, in part, a phase. We had raised our expectations several notches at one time. In doing so, we upset everybody’s routine. There was also spiritual warfare involved, because deepening worship invites the presence of God and the interference of Satan. The resistance was not God’s call for redirection, for the evidences of his blessing were clear even in the midst of the resistance.

The choir’s new role has now taken hold and is gaining momentum, and I’ve had another first-hand lesson in reading resistance.

When committed church leaders prayerfully seek God’s direction for the future, resistance often signals the need for perseverance. Its weight contributes to greater definition of the vision and greater determination among those who champion it. It’s a blessing in disguise.

Wayne Schmidt is pastor of Kentwood Community Church, 1200 both Street, Kentwood MI “Reading the Resistance,” LEADERSHIP, Summer 2000, Vol. XXI, No. 3, Page 43 From 2004 Christianity Today Intl