Two Types of Change

The Reynolds Program in Church Leadership is requiring us to read, Leadership on the Line; Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading, by Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky (A Harvard Business School Press Book). This is not a book I would think I would see on the shelves of Cokesbury but it is very interesting. I am only a couple chapters in but already it is worth it weight.

The most beneficial insight found so far is their definitions on the two different types of problems or changes that happen within an organization. The first is technical problems. These are problems that the organization already has the skills and resources to fix. This is like the water heater going out in the church. You may not have the resources to fix it but you can easily find a solution, a short fundraiser or calling a ‘certain someone’. The second and more difficult problem they call adaptive challenges. These are problems that cannot be fixed with some direction from a person from on high. These problems/changes “require experiments, new discoveries, and adjustments from numerous places in the organization or community. Without learning new ways – changing attitudes, values, and behaviors – people cannot make the adaptive leap necessary to thrive in a the new environment.”

WOW. They go on to explain a little more about adaptive change but what really struck me is that adaptive change is where is really the job a clergyperson. It is the clergy’s job to help the congregation thought these adaptive struggles and to get them to the other side. It takes careful, considerate, and purposeful leadership. The key though is to be able to define what change you are facing.

For example: Currently we have a great opportunity at Trinity (not a problem, an opportunity). 1/3 of our worship attenders on Sunday are children under the age of 9. We average about 90 in worship and on average we have about 30 children under 9. This is a dramatic change in the life of the church. A decade ago they did not have any large number of kids and now they make up a 1/3 of our population. What I realized is that we are in the midst of adaptive change. There is no previous record of how to handle this ‘opportunity’ within this congregation. We don’t have the resources and at some level skills to minister to these children. It is taking a lot of experimenting and struggling to come up with solutions.

Realizing this is an adaptive change give me, as the clergy person, permission to attempt new ideas and have them fail. It is okay if they fail because we are learning what works and what doesn’t. That permission to fail, because this is an ‘opportunity’ that needs experimentation to solve it, frees me up to not take things personally. That means we learn and we try again. I don’t need to have all the answers only the willingness to attempt to find them. I need to share this with my children’s ministry leaders as well and hope it frees them up too.

Knowing what type of change/problems you are facing provides a great avenue to learn how to lead a congregation through that situation. More to come from this book!

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