Continuity and Change: Two Tunes All Leaders Must Know


It is exciting to hear of the energy and vitality with which so many churches are planning for the future. Many of you report changes planned for this fall that have much potential for helping your churches reach more people in deeper ways.

God’s new future for churches is always connected to their past. Connecting the changes with the church’s basic identity is as much a leadership task as leading change.

It is encouraging when churches make plans well ahead of their implementation. This gives leaders the time to prepare the congregation for those changes. Connecting the changes with the church’s basic identity is as much a leadership task as leading change.

The pioneering management theorist Peter Drucker maintained that all thriving organizations require two things simultaneously: holding firm the fundamentals of mission and values while changing how they are implemented to meet new times. There is an interweaving of continuity and change always present. And leaders champion both.


Leadership is about change because the current state of things is never synonymous with God’s ultimate will. But established churches do not naturally change. That is not a moral failure so much as a characteristic of organizations. They are designed for preservation but not innovation. Leaders understand that the only way to sustain a vital mission over time is through finding fresh expressions of that purpose. The church that decides to save its life by building walls against change is likely to lose its life.


But leaders do more than lead change. They also champion stability and continuity. God’s new future for churches is always connected to their past. Indeed, identifying the areas of continuity can serve as a bridge to the next chapter in a church’s history.

“Change and continuity are thus poles, rather than opposites,” Drucker concluded. The more you want to change, the more you need the stability of the basics. He called this “stability in motion.”

If church leaders ignore the church’s identity, they run the risk of destroying the very cohesion needed to sustain the changes. Leaders have to work especially hard at communicating continuity when change is taking place. The more change that is planned, the more the focus needs to be on the church’s ongoing mission and values.

Leaders Do Both

Church leaders often identify themselves on one side or the other of continuity and change, usually change. What we know about how churches change means that leaders must know both tunes and use the right one at the right time. In times of complacency, leaders ask the probing questions about how to execute the mission more fruitfully. In the midst of implementing those changes, leaders remind everyone that the church is seeking to do better what the church has always existed to do, just as previous generations made changes to fit their contexts. Leaders who know only one of the tunes may make changes but are not likely to lead changed churches.

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About Author

Dr. Lovett H. Weems, Jr.

Lovett H. Weems Jr. is senior consultant at the Lewis Center for Church Leadership, distinguished professor of church leadership emeritus at Wesley Theological Seminary, and author of several books on leadership.

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