August 2017 – Honor, Disrupt, Align – The Actions of a Transformational Leader

August 1, 2017 | | GNJ News, Bishop's Relay Column

Honor, Disrupt, Align – The actions of a transformational leader

Have you ever been to church and a young child becomes disruptive? Maybe he or she is crying, or playing under the pews, or running up and down the aisle. I served a congregation that didn’t want disruption and printed on their bulletin cover, “enter the sanctuary quietly, meditate and prepare for worship in silence.”

The church overall has discouraged disruption. We have leaned heavily on tradition and the enemy of tradition is disruption. The irony is that all traditions owe their start to disruption. No tradition has ever started without someone being disruptive by doing something different and starting a new tradition – just like the child engaging in a new way challenges the congregation to engage children differently.

Today, change and disruption is no longer an option for the church; it is required to make new generations of disciples and to be engaged in meaningful mission in the community. The change needed is not surface or cosmetic change, but deep change that invariably creates disruption.

This is the second of a three-part series about what effective transformational leaders do to lead toward health and vitality – they honor, disrupt and align.

Previously I talked about honoring. Honoring is essential before, during and after change, otherwise people experience the change as being critical and even condemning what occurred in the past. Honoring people and past traditions is important to lead change as you move forward.

However, most leaders are afraid of disruption. Disruption creates conflict and resistance. Church leadership believe their role is to create unity and harmony, which is true most of the time but there is a need to disrupt the status quo to get a different result.

In a recent conversation with Rev. Sang Won Doh, who leads the Calvary Korean UMC in East Brunswick, the fifth fastest growing United Methodist Churches in the U.S., he told me his church leadership team challenged him to make changes so that they reach new disciples. Imagine leading one of the fastest growing congregations in the U.S., things are going well, and the leadership wants you to change and to introduce change. The last thing you think church leadership would want is change. But the leaders at Calvary Korean UMC want even more people to experience the transformative power of Jesus Christ and they are smart enough to know that it will take change; it will take some disruption.

Change, deep change that is needed in the church to make new generations of disciples, calls for disruption. Leaders who lead healthy disruption that helps the congregation get to God’s next destination use seven key leadership principles.

  1. Honor past history including past and current leadership. Healthy change leadership thanks others for their contributions, and highlights how the past has been important and impactful.
  2. Lead with why. Healthy change leadership lets people know why we do things as we do them and why changes are being made. This isn’t about the latest innovation, but reaching new disciples, engaging disciples in community mission and growing disciples and the church. It helps people understand why God and the times are urging change.
  3. Pursue the right thing. Healthy leaders pursue the right thing, not their interests or what makes them or the congregation most comfortable, but the right thing for the congregation and community.
  4. Create clarity. Disruptive change creates confusion and sometimes chaos. Creating more clarity about the mission, the values, beliefs and what the church is doing are essential for creating support for the change.
  5. Over communicate. Leaders cannot communicate enough how the past has been important, why the church is changing and how the church will achieve God’s calling.
  6. Work with a team. Leaders who identify, create and move the change by themselves are headed for failure. Working with a team ensures there are one or two people who are willing to ask the hard questions.
  7. Shrink the change and shape the path for change. Help people see the change is manageable and share the steps that will be taken to carry out the change. People are much more willing to try something if it is not overwhelming and there is a clear path with steps for the change.

Every leader who helps the church live up to its full potential and pursue a God-sized vision will create disruption. Healthy leaders lead the congregation in and through the change by creating disruption. They manage the change and disruption through seven leadership principles. As the leaders of Calvary Korean Church teach us, even in the best of times, leaders need to be changing.

I am grateful for every leader, lay and clergy, who are creating healthy disruption. You are the risk- takers, the innovators who are exploring what is next for the church’s ministry in the world. Thank you.



John Schol, Bishop

The United Methodist Church

of Greater New Jersey