Helping Your Church Navigate Change

“Annie Hawks would be turning over in her grave if she heard that song!” This was the very passionate statement said to me after church one Sunday. We had just done the Matt Maher / Christy Nockles song, “Lord, I Need You”. The song is largely based and/or inspired by the hymn “I Need Thee Every Hour” written by Annie Hawks.

Helping Your Church NavigateAnd on this particular Sunday, the song was close enough but different enough where it became very difficult for this gentleman to accept. His memory of the hymn had been tainted by what he felt was a drastic change to a hymn that he dearly loved. And this… this was another reminder to me that change can be hard.

I think we all understand that change is difficult, and I’m sure each of us have dealt with change on some level or another. But in that moment, I realized I had a role and a responsibility as a Worship Pastor to help navigate the path of change for this gentleman. Because let’s be honest: as Worship Pastors there’s a good deal of change that takes place all the time. Whether it’s new songs, new musicians or singers on stage, new layout of the stage, different arrangements of familiar songs, or just changing the order of service a little; there is a lot of change that we are introducing on a regular basis.

So how do we help our people navigate the change? How do we help those people who have a dear, beloved memory of a hymn and feel that any modern day equivalent will not do it justice… or that it will disgrace the namesake of the author somehow? I’m going to use my interaction with the gentleman I’ve mentioned to provide a couple ideas. Make no mistake: this is not the end all, be all for helping people navigate change. But it helped my situation, and maybe it will help yours too.

First, be sympathetic and compassionate. Also known as being Pastoral! Listen to the person; identify with the person… even grieve with the person. When the gentleman made his comment, I totally understood where he was coming from. He probably sang this song dozens of times for years and years and it was very special to him. I didn’t dismiss his feelings, I acknowledged them.

Secondly, help them understand your vision. Is there a reason you’re doing the song? Was there something significant about the change you implemented that is helping the church move forward or taking the church to a place it needs to be? I shared with the gentleman what we were doing with that song and how it fit into the service. I shared how it was a song I wanted to move forward with in the future. I’m not sure if he fully bought into my vision, but I brought him alongside me and I walked him through what I was doing. Don’t just tell people to accept it, help them buy into it and invite them to walk through it with you.

Finally, ask them to pray with you to be the best leader that you can possibly be. I find this to be the most helpful thing when talking to people who have a hard time with change. Most of the time, it seems people have a very passionate view about change and want to express that view. But as soon as you get them to step back and look at the big picture of who you are as a leader and someone who wants to follow God, their perspective quickly changes! By asking this gentleman to pray for me as I work on songs and music and creating a service, I suddenly was able to show my humanity and that I can’t do it on my own. I need God’s help. And I need him to pray for me to have God’s direction.

Suddenly, I’m not the bad guy… I’m just a normal human who is trying to lead and follow God’s leading. I may not get it right every time, and I know that. By asking him for prayer, I communicated my deficiencies. And I gave him an active role to play in the process. Now he has something he can do instead of just complain!

Change is tough, and as Worship Leaders, we do a lot of it. But helping your church navigate through change could be one of the most important, and Pastoral things that you do. So make sure to do it with humility and always with grace.


Author: Kevin Kruse

Kevin is the Worship Pastor at Laurelwood Baptist Church. He attended Multnomah Bible College where he met his wife, Melanie. Together, they live in Vancouver, WA with their two daughters (Callie and Hailey), two cats (Bailey and Daisy), and their dog Lucy.

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