Navigating Congregational Change

“We need to be different than our clients, but not too different.”
-Kinley Sturkie, Marriage and Family Therapy Supervisor

“All social relationships have limits; therefore, one of the greatest challenges of leadership in any community or organization is keeping stress at a productive level.”
-Ronald Heifitz and Marty Linsky in Leadership On The Line

“A preacher’s task is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
-Ancient preacher wisdom

If we cling to either pole, productive change declines. One pole represents our need for stability, security, and safety. We gather around this pole when congregational change becomes overwhelming. When our energy is low, anxiety is high, and our thinking capacity declines, then we move to the security pole to remind ourselves who we are. We realize then that the swirling waters of congregational change won’t sink the boat. A long sigh of relief follows and we catch our breath.

The other pole represents our need for growth, adventure, and renewal. We move out in the waters, enjoying the thrill of the ride, feeling the current’s pull. We discover the congregation’s hidden strengths, see new leaders rise up, and are amazed at the courage of a church set free. Productive change flows.

But if we cling to this pole, productive change declines. We watch as muscles grow tired, movements change from graceful and rhythmic to stiff and staccato. Fear of the deep rises up, along with a growing dread that our boat will break apart. If we stay out in the foamy surf too long cling to this pole, the congregation will sink, not swim.

So where do we cling as congregational leaders?
Instead we navigate.
Sometimes we steer into calm restful waters, close to the security pole. Sometimes we steer out into the waves, holding on with the adrenaline pumping. Sometimes we even steer into troubled waters, battening down the hatches, riding out the storm.

Mostly, we try to stay just ahead of the congregation floating along with us. Not far ahead, for we are in the same boat – but far enough ahead to help the movement continue. There’s no need for clinging, when you are in a sturdy boat with a good rudder.

Sail onward.

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