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How much do you consider yourself a change agent?

If you are a pastor, a church staff member or lay leader, then welcome to the world of change management.

Every congregation is in the process of adapting to this new postmodern context in which we find ourselves.

Every congregation has varying levels of awareness about these changes, ranging from denial to proactive adaptation.

Recognize it or not, like it or not, energized and inspired by it or not, all congregations are currently in the change process. The exponential pace of change in North America (and the world) requires us to adapt or else.

The question then is about adaptation: How effectively will we navigate these white waters of change?

Soon after we accept the fact that we are in the change management and adaptive leadership business, then we quickly grow very curious about how to effectively lead change.

Most of us carry great respect for what was life giving in the past (conservative), intending to carry forward congregational practice and culture which advances the mission.

Most of us simultaneously recognize the need for innovation (progressive), so that we will avoid extinction and find our “mojo” in this new millennium. All of us are now change agents.

It seems that nearly every call, email, text or inquiry I receive about services has to do with leading or managing change well. A couple of congregational examples may clarify.

A fairly young pastor is recently called to a numerically growing church, which moved swiftly from pastoral to program-size church model in the last three years.

Now they are experiencing some pushback from the original members, growing uncomfortable with all this change (though it’s mission congruent).

This wise young pastor recognizes this swift and rapid change, though positive, includes the potential to blow the roof off this church (negatively speaking).

Another church, large and apparently vibrant, is recognizing a lower “return on investment.”

When it provides its high quality programs and ministries in its community, the numerical response is declining. They are just not drawing as many people as before.

Being courageous, including leadership with strong backbones, they are exploring what this is about. Curiosity is a fine asset when it comes to leading effective adaptive change.

These two examples are representative of what it’s like to be in congregational leadership now. The theme running through nearly every inquiry that comes my way is related to effective adaptive change.

So what about you? How much do you consider yourself a change agent?

Perhaps this question will help: “Given who you are, given the context of this congregation, given where this congregation is in its spiritual journey, what does this congregation need from the role of (insert your role) over the next six months in order to live out its calling?”

This question works like a laser, identifying the adaptive change needs in your congregation.

As Ronal Heifitz, Marty Linsky and Alexander Grashow emphasize in “The Practice of Adaptive Leadership,” “A successful adaptation enables an organism to thrive in a new or challenging environment. The adaptive process is both conservative and progressive in that it enables the living system to take the best from its traditions, identity and history into the future.”

To effectively embrace the challenge we must:

  • Lay aside lament about what was and is no more.
  • Remember our faith – that God has shepherded God’s people through change countless times throughout history.
  • Banish the fear and engage the opportunities of the present to rise up and follow the Spirit’s lead.

These three actions are vital to becoming effective change agents that can lead our congregations to join God’s movement in this world.

Mark Tidsworth is president of Pinnacle Leadership Associates. A version of this article first appeared on Pinnacle’s blog and is used with permission. His writings can also be found on his personal blog.

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