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Books for those in ministry organizations who desire to take their leadership, teams, governance, and ministry effectiveness to the next level.

27 Feb '13

Creating intentional waves


Organizations, teams and groups crave equilibrium - predictability. Especially in Christian contexts there is also an aversion to strong disagreement or "conflict." The phrase "don't rock the boat" reflects most people's aversion to surprises or major change. We are more comfortable on calm seas then in the waves.

In fact, so comfortable are many organizations with the status quo that they are willing to drift into decline and even oblivion rather than create waves. We watched General Motors do that in recent times. They lived in a fairy tale world while the world around them changed dramatically but with its change adverse culture no one was willing to create some waves, wake people up, help them smell the coffee and realize that it was not 1960 anymore!

Churches, mission organizations, and Christian ministries often do the same thing. And many are living like General Motors did.

Without a crisis major change does not occur in an organization. Yet without major change, organizations become obsolete. This is why wise leaders regularly create a crisis - they intentionally create waves that cause discomfort to the system because without shocking the system the system always returns to its comfortable equilibrium.

Waves are not bad and leaders often need to create waves and even some anxiety if they are going to convince others that change is needed. Over a decade ago, we intentionally created a crisis in our denominational office to convince our staff that either we needed to change - to become a premier service organization for our churches - or we would become unnecessary and obsolete. It was not a comfortable time for our staff but it had the desired result of helping us change our culture.

Leaders create waves, sometimes small, other times large, to rock the boat, upset the equilibrium, get people's attention and force the organization to look at some issue differently. If someone had done that at General Motors years ago, they would not have found themselves in the spot they did. The same is true for many churches who are quietly drifting into irrelevancy oblivious to the fact.

When equilibrium is disturbed, people begin to talk about issues and solutions that they otherwise would not discuss. The REVEAL study done by Willowcreek Community Church on spiritual formation created a crisis in many churches as they realized that their assumptions about life change were in fact flawed. That has sparked huge conversation around how spiritual formation actually takes place and we will all be better for it.

As in the REVEAL study, leaders create waves by asking tough questions about the assumptions that often underlie our ministries. Those questions are uncomfortable and perhaps intimidating but they force the organization to think differently and to engage in significant dialogue. As our world changes at an ever more rapid pace, the need to create waves that spark discussion and new thinking becomes all the more important.

Some leaders are intimidated by the prospects of disequilibrium because they cannot control where the waves will lead. That is true! But with an organization full of good people, the likelihood is that the discussion and dialogue will create a pretty good solution.

In our mission, I intentionally created waves several years ago by suggesting that we wanted to be planting churches internationally that were healthy, indigenous, self-supporting, interdependent and reproducing - and that many of the churches we planted or groups we worked with were not committed to these things.

My white paper was taken by some to be unrealistic, by others to be a slam on what we had been doing and by others to be a threat to the status quo.

But it sparked a great deal of discussion (not all of it comfortable) and in the end we sharpened our understanding and goals for the kinds of churches we wanted to plant and the strategies we would use to accomplish it. But I had to be willing to create a crisis in order for the dialogue to take place - and take the risk of a period of uncertainty as that dialogue was going on.

In fact, when leaders are no longer willing to create waves (it can be uncomfortable for them as well) it is time for them to step aside.