Pastor’s Wives: Helping Others Through Stages of Change

By Darlene Dryer

Editor’s note: This is the second post in Darlene’s series for pastor’s wives, addressing how to find compassion for those in your congregation who are struggling with change. Check out part 1 here.

Initiating change in the church is a constant in replanting and revitalization. How can we redeem these circumstances as another opportunity to love the people God has handed us to shepherd? How can we find compassion for the congregation struggling with change?

Change comes in five stages: pre-contemplative (Pessimist Peggy), contemplative (Calculated Carol), preparation (Prepper Patty), action (Action Alice) and maintenance (Maintenance Maddy). If we can identify where the struggling member is in the process, we might be able to understand them better – so we can love them better.

The reaction we see in people when they experience change can tell us a lot about where they are in the process of change. We can better walk alongside Bookkeeper Betty when Pessimist Peggy says, “It is fine the way it is,” because we are able to identify which change “friend” she is dealing with.

Maybe you have a personal testimony to help Bookkeeper Betty understand the need to update the library. Maybe it was your child who checked out “Seven Spells of the Stars: Intro to Black Magic.” She loves your kids; maybe that would help her reach the next stage. Then when she meets with “Calculated Carol” struggling with all the “what-ifs,” you could help by turning the questions around: What if we don’t change? What if we do nothing?

Acknowledge that her questions are valid, and she is obviously gifted in seeing the potential dangers. Then encourage her to help with the process so she can navigate the challenges as they arise. When Bookkeeper Betty meets with “Prepper Patty” may need to use the word “start” so she can stop with all the planning.

If we let them, Betty and Patty will keep planning, adjusting the plan and recalculating until Jesus comes. Recognizing where Bookkeeper Betty is in the stages of change can help our frustration turn into compassion. When we share love in difficult seasons, we can set the tone for everyone else.

Why do some people get stuck in one stage? Will some people ever make it to the action stage of change? We may never know the answers to these questions.

We cannot control them or get into their head to find the root cause of their stagnation. Is it still possible then to show compassion for the person who seemingly makes no effort to get on board with the revitalization of the church? The answer is yes. We can control our response to the ones creating the most headaches for our husbands.

Romans 8:1-11 tells us we have the power of the Holy Spirit within us, the very same power that raised Jesus from the dead. If the Holy Spirit can do that, imagine what God can do for us in this moment, if we allow Him. Giving Bookkeeper Betty the cold shoulder or the stare-down is not controlling our responses; that is simply giving in to an autonomic response.

Reflecting on our natural inclination and adjusting our responses to edify the body of Christ is a great place to start. Identifying the stage of change the member is struggling with is the next step so you can meet them where they are.

What do we do when struggling members don’t meet our expectations, conflict arises or members leave over the projected change? Keep it simple! Support the leadership of the church and love the struggling members. Remember the church is a body and we can only operate at our best when we are all focused on the same God-centric goals.

How to deal with unmet expectations and say goodbye to long-time members are lessons we only learn with time. People are going to leave, and that is OK. These seasons are very important aspects of our job as we are trying to preserve the life of the church and encourage individual lives as well.

Maintaining longevity in the replant the Lord has called us to requires time – time to wait for struggling members to catch up to the team as change happens. The more they experience the change with compassion from others, the more likely they will move faster through the stages the next time change is needed.

In our neck of the woods, change is a snowball effect. One change leads to another and another! This gives ample opportunity to get to know Peggy, Carol, Patty, Alice and Maddy!

Tell them I said, “Hi!”

Published October 8, 2023

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Darlene Dryer

Wife to an amazing pastor husband, mother to three beautiful daughters, leads NAMB Replant Spouse Care and Development, and counselor to the strongest women in the world. Darlene has a master's degree in Christian Counseling from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Doctor of Ministry in Counseling from Liberty University. She enjoys homeschooling her girls, being in and around the ocean, and traveling!