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08 Oct '12

Not ready, proceed slow, lets go: When leaders resist change!

Posted by T.J. Addington in change, change resistance
I was in a fascinating meeting recently. I would guess that there were at least sixty people present and the topic was organizational change (very much needed). The outside facilitator asked everyone present to put a post it note on one of three large sticky pages. The first was labeled "Not Ready for change," the second, "proceed slow with change" and the third, "lets go with change." 

Not one post it note was put on the "Not ready" sheet. Yet, when the discussion turned to change there was very significant resistance in the room to doing anything by a good number. What some did not want to admit is that they didn't want change at all, even though all the evidence pointed toward a deep need for change.

I often face this resistance when working with church boards or ministry organizations who call me in to help them solve problems. They know problems exist and they know that what they have in place is less than adequate if not out of date and inadequate but there is still resistance to change. Some will not admit it but they are just resistant to change no matter why it is needed.

What really fascinates me in Christian organizations is the ability of change resistors to spiritualize their reasons for not changing structure as if structure is a spiritual issue. It is not. Structure is simply a way of organizing to serve the mission of the ministry. The mission may be spiritual but the structure is not. Good structure is simply good structure. Inefficient structures are simply structures that no longer serve the mission well and therefore need to change. It is not a spiritual issue.

When I hear soliloquies about how God led our forefathers to organize in a certain way so we cannot change, I immediately know that we are no longer talking about the purpose of organizational structures but about resistance to change, for whatever reason. Someone uses this line of reasoning almost ever time church bylaws are revised. What people forget (often conveniently) is that what got us to here got us to here but it won't get us to there. In many cases those forefathers are not even living anymore. They led in a different generation with different issues and in different times. 

Organizations do not simply grow. They change. No organization is the same organization that it was ten years ago and the structures that serve the mission must be adjusted at regular intervals to ensure that they are serving well. I am always amused that church bylaws are so hard to change. We will violate scripture on any number of issues but don't touch the (sacred) bylaws. Really?

When we resist changing our structures, they often end up actually hurting and hindering the mission whether in churches, denominations or other ministries. Organizational structures that served the mission in one era can hinder the mission in a different era. That is why antiquated governance structures in local churches must be dealt with or the congregation is likely to plateau or move into decline. The same is true for other organizations as well.

Here is my challenge to leaders. When it comes to change, "not ready" is not acceptable. Yes we may need to "proceed slow" or be ready to go but not ready or to be more blunt, not willing is not a sign of leadership but of non-leadership. Our world is changing at a rapid pace. Those who are in leadership positions must be ready and willing to change practices and old ways in order to meet the challenges of a new day. And the proof is not what we put on the sticky paper but whether we are willing to seriously engage in change discussion, not matter how uncomfortable that might be to us personally.