Navigating the whitewater of change seems to be the number-one challenge of our times.
Trying to convince individuals, families, businesses and congregations that change is happening is like trying to convince the sun it is yellow. Some things are so obvious they are not worth debating.

Given this, I’m fascinated by the native disposition of those experiencing change toward the change. Through leadership coaching and congregational consulting, I am regularly presented with individual leaders as well as groups of people facing adaptive change.

These people and people groups seem to carry a particular perspective or disposition through which they assess and evaluate the challenges before them.

I’ve been curious how much of this “change disposition” is physiological, emotional or spiritual – as if we could divide ourselves according to these categories.

Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman in “Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing” confirm that a biology does influence whether people perceive change as an energizing challenge or a discouraging threat.

On the other hand, they, along with many others, describe one’s perspective on change as multi-layered.

So I’ve been gathering a list contrasting two orientations, dispositions or perspectives when it comes to succeeding or failing in the face of change.

People tend to lean toward one side of this list or the other, developing a “change disposition” over time. In fact, entire congregations tend to approach adaptive change from their preferred side of this list (though unconsciously).


 Success oriented

 Failure avoidant

 Continuous risk-taking

 Avoiding costly mistakes

 Playing to win

 Playing not to lose

 Intensification of effort

 Conservation of effort

 Approaching the challenge

 Avoiding the challenge



 Taking initiative

 Pulling back

 Gain oriented

 Loss prevention oriented

 Learns from mistakes and moves on

 Dwells on mistakes as if terminal

 Driven by desire to achieve

 Driven by desire to avoid failure


One can see how these factors combine together to form an orientation or disposition. Unfortunately, we encounter too many congregations living life in the defensive mode, afraid more losses will come along.

Predictably, their response strategy includes most actions on the right side of this list. Predictably, as well, they leave little room for faith and hasten their demise by these fear-based activities.

On the other hand, there are some individuals and congregations who are caught up in the powerful flow of the gospel. They are riding the current of God’s strength, engaging the challenges with hope and faith.

Certainly life is not easy for them, but they are the ones who are far more likely to adapt to this changing world. May their tribe increase, and may we be found among them.

Mark Tidsworth is president of Pinnacle Leadership Associates. A version of this column first appeared on Pinnacle’s website and is used with permission.

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