Answer These Six Questions Before Initiating Adaptive Change
“To persuade people to give up the love they know for a love they’ve never experienced means convincing them to take a leap of faith in themselves and in life.”
-Heifitz, Linskey, and Grashow in The Practice Of Adaptive Leadership quoted in
Farming Church: Cultivating Adaptive Change In Congregations by Mark Tidsworth
The seeds planted in the congregational growth environment which become the harvest of adaptive change are sown long before any change initiatives are introduced. In fact, insightful pastors, church staff, and lay leaders answer these six significant questions before leading toward adaptive change in congregations.
First, how much do we love our people?
The only acceptable reason to lead a congregation through adaptive change is love. Leaders must love their church more than they love the excitement which comes with change. Even more, leaders must love their people more than they love their change model or the next best approach to change which comes along. Do leaders love and accept these people as they are? Do leaders respect and appreciate this group of Christ-followers? In extreme circumstances, leaders must find something they like about the people they lead, even if it’s only that they are children of God. Without love, calls for change sound like noisy gongs and clanging cymbals.
Second, are we willing to pay the price?
Certainly Jesus encouraged spiritual seekers to assess the cost before following him. Likewise, leaders must assess their capacity and commitment for leading deep change before initiating such. Some questions :
Am I willing to see the change through; not leaving for another church when the challenge grows high and stressful?
Do I love them enough to stay with them through the tension and turmoil which comes from adaptive change?
Do I know what I need to know to lead adaptive change and am I willing to learn the rest of what I need to know? (Some pastors choose to “retire;” a responsible choice when they are not ready to learn a different way of being pastor).
Are my personal relationships strong enough to support a whitewater season in our church life?
How much do I believe embracing the Way of Jesus is worth the discomfort of changing our church culture?
How willing am I to be effective as a leader while not necessarily being liked as a leader?
Third, are we ready to provide greater support than ever for our people as we navigate change?
Engaging change means some level of disruption in what we know. This means we all need more support than before as we navigate those waters. So, are leaders ready to listen and reflect with disciples in the congregation? Do leaders have the spiritual and emotional capacity to ride the river with those in the raft? Is the holding environment strong enough to support this congregation during this change season?
Fourth, how ready is this congregation for change?
There are times to lean into the oars, charging the whitewater. There are other times when we need long slow pools for drifting and gathering our resources. Insightful congregational leaders assess the church’s readiness for change. One tool you may want to employ is Pinnacle’s Readiness Indicator, an inventory which assesses change readiness (David Brown, RI Coordinator).
Fifth, how clear is our change process?
There are many effective ways to lead adaptive change. Those congregations who embrace adaptive change, integrating its effects in mission-congruent ways, are those who begin with clarity. Even more than the particular process you use, the clarity of your process directly influences its effectiveness. We enjoy partnering in ministry with those congregations who choose one of our Transitioning Church Processes, while we can also recommend others to you. The point is starting with as much clarity as you can get.
Sixth, are we part of a Community of Practice?
At this point in history, there’s no even slightly compelling reason to go it alone. A Community of Practice is a group of congregations, often from one denomination, who covenant together to work their change process as a community. They share successes, failures, resources, and ideas. They practice Christian community on a larger scale, engaging with each other in our common faith journey.
While some congregations may need only a few tweaks here and there, many need significant change in order to live faithfully and with relevance in our Postmodern context. Before going there, these six questions can help pastors, church staff persons, and lay leaders assess their readiness. We believe God is not miserly with wisdom. God will give those leaders and congregations seeking guidance what they need to take their next steps. May we engage the opportunities before us with the strong assurance of God’s companionship, riding the rapids with us all the way.
Mark Tidsworth, President
Pinnacle Leadership Associates