Regulating The Congregational Pressure Cooker: Leading Adaptive Change

Two of our Lead Pastor Cohorts this year are engaging the concepts and practices of Adaptive Leadership. They chose this focus area. These are pastors who are in touch with the huge adaptive challenges right in front of most congregations. Everyone finds him/herself in a post-modern, post-Christian culture in which fewer people consider organized religion and church as a part of their lives. In this world, church as we have known it, will not suffice for cultivating a new missional imagination.

So how do pastoral and lay leaders help churches shift and adjust to their present context?
One of the best images for cooking up a new congregational recipe is the pressure cooker. I remember seeing one on my mother’s stove come late summer. There is the small valve popping up and down, adjusting the steam level inside. There are the nuts or handles to screw down the top, keeping the heat in. There is the flame underneath, adding the heat. There is the gauge on top, so the cook can see when the temperature is just right for transforming these ingredients into something new. Successful use of this pressure cooker requires an attentive, skilled, responsive, and proactive cook.

For adaptive change whick leads to missional advancement to happen, sometimes we need to turn up the heat. When the ingredients are not heated enough, they remain in their original state, not becoming something new (a called and sent community). Adaptive leaders use the tools at hand to challenge the church, raising the temperature. Fortunately, pastors and church staff have many time-tested tools available: sermons, newsletters, one-on-one conversations, effective questions in leadership team meetings, etc. But what these kinds of leaders need most is courage….courage based on love for God’s people and God’s mission.

For adaptive change which leads to missional advancement to happen, sometimes we need to turn down the heat. As we go about consulting and coaching churches, we encounter the rampant anxiety present in congregations in 2013. Given the changes around us, some congregations react with fear, circling the wagons and taking care of their own. Adaptive leaders in these congregations first turn down the heat. When anxiety is too high, people shut down. Fortunately, God’s people have ridden this river before (see exodus in the Holy Bible; or Acts of the Apostles). Reconnecting with our faith narrative helps turn down the heat to free us for working on the adaptive challenges before us.
So how are you doing? How skilled are you at reading the gauge on this congregation? What’s needed now – a temperature rise or decline? These are questions right in front of leaders who want to help the church move ahead in mission and ministry. May we learn, grow, and develop ourselves so that we can be effective cooks in God’s kitchen.

Mark Tidsworth, President, PLA

Contact Mark at 803-673-3634 or