Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Time for a Change in Organizational Life?

I once worked with an associate who said that whenever I walked into his office with a certain smile on my face his first thought was,  “I am about to be stretched again.”  Flexing our physical, mental, and spiritual muscles to reach that which is just beyond easy grasp requires that we intentionally invite change into our lives.  Some coaches encourage clients to adopt “stretch goals” that are a little beyond their reach and will call for focused personal development.  How does this apply to organizations and churches?

My experience is that most pastors inherently have this “stretch reflex.”  All entrepreneurs do.   By their very nature, these leaders see the potential in their church members individually and collectively.  They also see the needs of the community and the world.  Therefore, pastors instinctively want to stretch their people in new directions. This is change and often means pain!

Leaders of other organizations recognize that the climate in which they work is in a constant state of flux and they will either change or die.   A little pain is the cost not only of survival but of success.

Change happens when someone acknowledges that there is a clear gap between reality and vision--where we are now and where we want to be.  A stretched rubber band is a good analogy.  If you loop a rubber band around your two  hands and then begin to move them apart, you will feel some tension. To apply this to the work of a visionary leader, the leader provides just enough tension to create some discomfort without snapping the rubber band.  This requires knowing both the quality of the material and how fair it will stretch.  If we go too far there is a problem and we loose the whole thing.

If you say this is more of an art than a science, I would certainly agree.  It is one thing to “cast a vision” or work with a church or organizational team to develop a vision statement.  It is quite another thing to create the tension that moves the congregation or organization into the change that has been envisioned.

Casting vision is one way to encourage congregational or organizational change, but this process usually only happens after the congregation or organization has already become aware of the need for change.  This may come as the result of seeing what others are doing, membership decline, change within the community surrounding the church, differing priorities among the leaders of the organization, or conflict within the congregation.  Occasionally, the impetus to change comes from a growing awareness of the biblical mandate to ministry in the name of Jesus to an underserved people group, to refocus from internal needs to external needs, or to shift from program development to people development.

Whatever the cause, an awareness develops that not only can we be more as individuals in our service to God but that we can do more for the Kingdom of God if we are willing to take the risks, experience the tension, and make sacrifices required.  When this happens, it is time to either change or die.

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