Want to Lead Change? Disappoint Your People

Kathleen Ward at Church in a Circle recently posted about how to bring about change in an established church environment. Which is the environment I'm most familiar with. And her post got me to thinking about what is involved in leading change.

 As the pastor of a church that's been around since 1954 (though I've only been there since 2007), we've had our share of change--and resistance to change. A common misconception is that only older folks resist change. So not true!

In my time as a pastor, one thing I've learned is that everybody resists change.

Why do people resist change?

People resist change because when you introduce change, there is loss. When you introduce change, someone loses something.

We like to talk about win-win situations, where nobody comes out the loser. But the reality is that when change happens, someone does lose something. And sometimes what they lose is something they value.  That's when the resistance gets really strong.

This is why I love Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky's definition of leadership: Leadership involves "disappointing people at a rate they can absorb" (from their book, Leadership on the Line--a great book!)

I love this understanding of leadership because it reminds me that, as a leader, whenever I introduce change, at least some people will be disappointed. What you and I need to do is make sure that we don't introduce change too quickly--but also not too slowly. 

Sometimes your people can absorb more change, sometimes less. Your job is to watch and listen. And then initiate the change when the time is right.

What this means for missional leadership

As you lead your church into missional engagement with the world, some people will be disappointed, frustrated, even angry. Why?  Because they are losing something.  They may be losing their understanding of what church is supposed to be.  They may be losing their "comfort zone."  They may be losing the freedom to "just show up" on Sundays.

Don't push too hard, but push hard enough. Let your people wrestle with who God is calling them to be. Challenge your people to be more that "church-goers."

When they get through the disappointment, odds are they will find a fulfillment and satisfaction far greater than what they had known before.

What's your experience with leading change? What kind of resistance have you faced? How did you handle that resistance? And how is Heifetz and Linsky's definition of change helpful to you?

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