Our churches should act more like tended gardens. We as people need curation. We need a gardener, or we risk turning into human weeds: becoming without arriving. But we need that like plants do, slowly, in the right season, enjoying the timeless delights of growing in the same direction.
I’ve worked in a global corporate company and in some large public sector institutions. Every one of them has gone through some sort of major change programme while I was there. It’s the nature of the beast, nothing is perfect so every five years or so it gets reinvented—usually fixing a real problem by creating a different one.
I’ve never been a change manager but in some of these changes they’ve been things I needed to happen or things I was tasked with implementing. On other occasions they’ve been done to me, which is about as delightful as it sounds.
At my previous University we were early on in a project to implement some changes to teaching that would (all being well) improve things for students. I remember my manager expressing consternation and confusion that those we were needing to change weren’t excited about the potential changes. I know, it was a naïve thought. I looked at her and said, “because all change is loss.”
I think that surprised her, but it’s a truism. The kind of churches I’ve been part of are dynamic and change fairly frequently. This is a great strength and a great weakness. It is always pastorally difficult to help a congregation through a change—even a relatively minor one—because for someone change is always loss.
Usually for those deciding on the change the loss is a desirable one, which can make it easy to lose sight of the fact that it won’t be for everyone, even if you think it should be. If you’re trying to lead change then people will be resistant to it if there is no tangible good. We have to remember that change usually challenges our underlying stories.
When change is done to you rather than with you that loss is inevitably pain rather than gain. It’s impossible to see the relative goods of the change or understand why its being done if you are a subject instead of a participant. Anyone who has been through a company reorganisation can testify to this.
Which is to say that if you’re a church leader and you’re changing something in your church’s life (and you probably are, let’s be honest), you need to consider carefully who will be impacted by the change. I would really encourage assuming someone will be rather than thinking they’ll be fine. What’s the story that this change will affect for them? Where will it hurt them, even though that wasn’t your intention?
This means organic or incremental change is easier for people to handle because we’re used to lightly editing our stories as we go along.