Posted 2 years 26 days ago ago by Alan E Brisco 0 Comments
by Alan E. Brisco
Changes go wrong for all sorts of reasons - here are 4 Keys to dealing with change
You’ve likely heard, “The only person who likes change is a wet baby.” If change is so common – and inevitable – why is it so difficult? Unfortunately, as Robert Kysar wrote, “The church has a history of difficulty in dealing with change.” (Stumbling in the Light: New Testament Images for a Changing Church. St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1999).
This claim isn’t just ironic, it’s irksome. Don’t we Christians claim to be quintessential change agents; introducing new life…new Kingdom…new Master…new purpose…new destination? Ironically, while we claim to have solutions for life’s most complex issues we often fail to demonstrate much ability to bring about even the simplest changes.
Think of what you want to accomplish this week. How many of those things will mean change for someone? Extend your timeframe; envision your plans and hopes for the long-term. The number of people impacted by change expands dramatically; and without a doubt, you’re in that group too.
Changes go wrong for all sorts of reasons. I’m going to focus on just one. First, let’s understand the issue. Then, I’ll suggest four keys to address the issue.
Vocabulary is the basic building block of communication. It’s impossible to communicate clearly when the same word means different things to different people and in different situations. The word ‘change’ is a word with many different meanings. You change your pants, ask for change, change your mind, and talk about change as some abstract thing that happens.
For the sake of clear communication, let’s refer to ‘the change’ that’s being considered or implemented as ‘the fish’ and distinguish it from its context and its surrounding dynamics. We’ll refer to all that surrounds the fish and relates to making the change as ‘the water’. We’ll refer to the various people who may influence or be influenced by the fish and/or the water by their familiar titles (i.e., Pastor, Deacon, etc.).
Whether you want to move the coat racks (likely a guppy), introduce a new Christian Education curriculum (likely a trout), or build a new building on the other side of town (certainly a Bluefin tuna) – you’ve got a fish! Most people, including you, tend to focus mainly on the fish. After all, you and others have seen fish before. You’ve got ideas about what makes a fish good or bad, appealing or unappealing. Forgotten in the ruckus is that the fish has to be in the water to live! The fish by itself is a dead fish. And, in many places, people hold so many fish meetings where the fish is reviewed out of the water that the fish dies.
For change to be done well, both the fish and the water need to be handled carefully and monitored constantly. We need proper tools to see how we’re moving along. While a ruler is a good device to measure a fish’s length, it’s useless to evaluate water. Sticking a thermometer in water tells us the water’s temperature; sticking a thermometer in a live fish – let’s not go there.
At the First Pond of Seeking Saints (names changed to protect the guilty), Pastor Dave doesn’t think the fish is swimming fast enough, so he sticks a paddle in the pond and starts thrashing around behind the fish to get it moving. Deacon Jones, however, thinks the fish is going too fast, so he throws some sandbags in front to slow the fish down. This creates splashing muddy water, and some leaders start screaming, “This hurts, I’ve got mud in my eyes!”
What have you got? A frantic fish… a messy pond…and a big distraction.
My friend Mark Lau Branson says older approaches “attempted to create change by focusing on singular pieces or isolated segments” whereas newer approaches “emphasize relationships, the stuff in between the parts. Church leaders know that an apparently small change…can quickly affect the whole organization.” (Memories, Hopes, and Conversations: Appreciative Inquiry and Congregational Change. Herndon, Virginia: The Alban Institute, 2004).
Let me offer four suggestions for the folks at First Pond and for you.:
Above all, remember: the One who made you and your people also made the water and the fish. They’re all his, not yours.
- Before you introduce a new fish, spend lots of time together at the water. Hang out as a community. God values community big time. So should we. Close communities tend to process change much better than people who talk community but congregate in silos. Why? Because close communities tend to imagine a fish together. Prov. 15:22; 24:6
- Listen to dissenting voices. Don’t just hear dissenters’ words, really listen to them. Whatever time you spend listening on the front end – and as you move along – will be a lot less than the time required to pay for the collateral damage caused by ignoring or shutting out naysayers. Remember, some of the best ideas come from the most unexpected people.
- Whatever time you think you need to introduce a fish, plan for at least 50% more. Why? Even if you really understand the fish well, you can’t anticipate what the water will be like or how the fish and water will react to each other. Don’t be hostage to a timeline. Make time your ally.
- Keep your fish in the water. If you spend time staring at your fish, you may forget the water. You’ve got to consider both or you’ll be the fish out of the water!
by Doug Lawrence
Attitudes of the