by Rev. Susan Brims, East District Missional Strategist & Superintendent
This is the second in a series of articles regarding leading through change when dealing with difficult matters. We all know what it is like to want something to be different, yet nothing seems to be able to impact the change we want to see happen. You have a goal of reaching younger families, but they don’t seem to come to the church. Or you have a goal of wanting to engage more people in volunteer leadership roles, but people don’t step up.
In the first article you were invited to identify a challenge you are facing. The next step was to describe your aspirational goal. Then describe your current reality. Why do you care about this issue – where you are as compared to where you want to be?
In today’s article we focus on the gap between the current reality and the goal you want to accomplish.
In Tod Bolsinger’s book “Canoeing the Mountains” he talks about the importance of the adaptive process, of learning and growing, in order for us to fulfill the missional purpose of the church. Bolsinger writes these words:
“Adaptive leadership, again, is about leading the learning process of a group who must develop new beliefs, habits or values, or shift their current ones in order to find new solutions that are consistent with their purpose for being. At the heart of this work is a three-step process of ‘observation, interpretations, and interventions’.” (Canoeing the Mountains – page 111)
When observing the details, rituals, practices, culture present in the gap between current reality and desired goal it requires an objective perspective. Imagine standing on a balcony or mountain top. From a higher perspective you are able to notice things you might not be able to see when you are at ground level. Good observations require that one be as objective as possible, less emotionally reactive, less subjective in your observation. Make good notes about what you observe.
Once you have some observations made, then begin to engage in a time of listening in order to learn more. Meet with groups of people and ask them their observations about the gap that is present in the matter you have identified. Ask them to get on the balcony or mountain ledge and see what they notice. It may be helpful to create 3 objective questions to ask the people. It may also be helpful to gather statistical data. For example, do you want younger families in your church, perhaps it would be helpful to look at the demographic information in the community.
Once you have the conversations, and gathered the other data you need, as objectively as possible look for patterns, trends, or common threads in all of the information you have gathered. Once you have this information it will be important to begin to attempt some interpretations about what you see before you.
Let’s look at an example:
One church I’ve worked with had a goal of involving younger people as liturgists in worship. The current reality was that the same 4 people served as liturgists month after month. Some of the things heard in the conversations included statements like:
- I volunteered, but no one called
- I volunteered but the stuff I was supposed to read was handed to me when I showed up for worship. I would rather have things in advance so I can practice
- I can’t tell you how many times a pastor asked me to be liturgist just before the service began.
- People complained younger people talked too fast.
- Younger people cancel at the last minute; I ask people I know I can rely on.
- (Name) loves being liturgist. I don’t want to hurt feelings.
- There aren’t young people in the church, yet the statistical information revealed 10% of the worship attenders were, in fact, people between 15 and 50 years of age.
As you look at the statements above, what interpretations begin to come to mind? Are there competing values that you notice? Write those down.
In the next article we will take a third step into the process of leading when dealing with difficult issues. This is the step of beginning to design some experimental interventions to see what might begin to decrease the gap between your current reality and the goal you want to live into.
Don’t rush the observation and interpretation steps. Let these words from scripture fill your heart and give you the assurance that time and attention will produce good fruit. James 1:5: If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.
As we move through the pandemic, we have all learned that we are at a holy place in the life of our church. There are some things we have learned that we want to enhance in the months ahead of us. There are also some things we have learned that we need to change or let go of completely. Growth is not always easy, but with God’s help and the care of the community of faith it will be possible to see fruitful results.
God is with you and you will be able to accomplish the vision God has placed in your heart.
Blessings and peace be with you.
Your sister on the journey,