Red, Yellow and Green-light People

Written by Keith Doornbos
October 23, 2020

For those who have a passion to lead change, navigating the obstacles created by red-light people (people who say "no") is a major challenge.

Every church has red, yellow and green light people.  Green-lighters are early adopters who eagerly embrace fresh ideas.  Yellow-lighters will experiment if thoughtful attention has been given to the potential downsides of a proposal.  Red-lighters, however, resist change at every turn.  Red-lighters are wired to say an emphatic “no” to any idea that could disrupt the status quo.  A major leadership challenge for those who have a passion to lead change is navigating the obstacles created by red-light people.

Here are 7 best practices to deal with red-light people:  

Practice 1: Refuse to be Surprised

Some renewal leaders believe that casting a compelling vision should bring everyone on board.  That’s delusional thinking.  Every family system has “never” adopters.  A leader can cast a compelling picture of  “there” and there will always be those who prefer “here” no matter how uninviting “here” may be.

Practice 2: Love Red-light People Unconditionally

It’s nearly impossible to change the mind of a red-light person but it is entirely possible to change their heart.  Through unconditional love, red-light people often soften the intensity of their opposition in order to remain in fellowship with those who are extending grace.

Practice 3: Listen to Red-light People but Don’t Let Them Set the Agenda

Listening to red-light people is essential.  Red-light people say publicly what others think privately.  Red-light people help leaders anticipate vision pit-falls.  Careful listening should modify but never derail change.  As Ronald Heifetz says, “Leadership is disappointing your own people at a rate they can absorb.”

Practice 4:  Go With Those Who Get It

Tod Bolsinger says renewal leaders should partner with those who are the healthiest expressions of the group’s DNA.  Leaders should adapt to the maturing and the motivated.  To do the opposite stalls out ministry and encourages green-light people to leave for greener pastures leaving only grumblers behind.

Practice 5:  Do Not Allow Red-light People to Hold Positions of Authority

Churches must establish a process to vet those who serve in key leadership positions (this does not include casting lots or merely nominating and electing office bearers).  Leaders must be people of good character, people of the Word and prayer, lovers of Jesus and sharers in the church’s Spirit-given vision.

Practice 6: Anticipate That Some Green-Light People Will Become Red-Light People

Edwin Friedman in his book A FAILURE OF NERVE writes, “It is only after having first brought about a change and then subsequently endured the resultant sabotage that the leader can feel truly successful.”  Some of a vision’s earliest and most passionate adopters will participate in a future sabotage when anxiety and costs increase. Tod Bolsinger says, “Sabotage is not the bad things that bad people do, but the human things that anxious people do.”

Practice 7: Stay Calm, Stay Connected, Stay the Course

Renewal leaders who prosper do so because they remain calm (they go to the balcony when there is a riot on the street), they stay connected with God’s people (red, green and yellow alike) and they stay the course by never losing hope.  Renewal leaders simply have to outlast red-light opposition.

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