Continuous Change vs. Discontinuous Change

The world is changing. Fast. And I don't think I need to convince you of this. Just think back to what your cell phone was like ten years ago!

Because of this tremendous change, leadership--and I'm thinking specifically of church leadership--is hard! Here's why.


Photo by victoriapeckham (Creative Commons)Photo by victoriapeckham (Creative Commons)Why Church Leadership Today is So Hard

In the past, church leaders could succeed at ministry simply by doing what their predecessors did. Alan Roxburgh, in The Missional Leader, puts it this way:


…the churched culture of the twentieth century said to aspiring leaders, “If you want to be a pastor in this denomination you must go to Seminary X and learn skills Y and Z; then you will be ready. We know skills Y and Z are the right ones because they have worked well for us in the past and will continue to serve us into the future.”


Today, however, pastors and other church leaders struggle with doing effective ministry in a world that is changing by the minute. It seems like every day we're faced with challenges we never anticipated.


Two Kinds of Change

We're talking about two very different kinds of change here: "Continuous" and "Discontinuous."

Continuous change refers to a kind of variation over time that is expected and understood. 

The gradual growth of a child into an adult is continuous change. Though such growth may involve times of confusion and upheaval, nothing about human growth is new or unexpected.

This is the kind of change the Church in North America is familiar with. As Alan Roxburgh stated in the above quote, the training of new pastors and leaders has for a long time been based on the assumption of slow and steady variation over time.

Discontinuous change is different. Discontinuous change is not understood because there is no precedent for this kind of change. 

For instance, whereas the growth from childhood to adulthood is a form of continuous change, an example of discontinuous change would be if the child were to lose both parents and become an orphan.

A disturbing example, I know. But it illustrates the severity of such an unanticipated development. It's completely new. It's unexpected, difficult to understand, and requires us to respond with skills we don't yet have.


Our Current Condition

The Church is in a time of discontinuous change. The Church finds itself now in an environment that it does not fully understand and in which it finds itself no longer at the center of society.

This is not an easy place to be. But it's where we are. And it is the place where God wants to do some new things in new ways.

What new things? I don't know, yet. That's both scary and exciting at the same time. But I'm looking forward to participating with God in whatever God has in store!

Do you have any stories involving continuous vs. discontinuous change? Where have you seen leaders or organizations get confused between continuous or discontinuous change? 

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