Creative Leadership

Focus Less on What Was, and More on What’s Next

Why so many people refuse to see what’s coming…

I’ll never forget how foolish I felt after The Salvation Army’s 150th anniversary celebration at the magnificent O2 Arena in London. My wife Kathleen and I were there helping to lead the media team supporting the event and hosting the film festival, and everything had gone off without a problem. During one of the breaks, I took a walk around the perimeter of the arena to see all the displays on the history, story and impact of the Salvation Army through the years.

That’s when I walked into the event store. It was a huge space that featured books, teaching materials, music, and musical instruments. The instrument section was pretty much all brass (as you would expect) and I found myself thinking how much music had changed in the last 150 years. Where were the guitars and amplifiers? How about drum sets? What about keyboards? I thought to myself that the days of brass bands are over, and during the next day’s parade throughout downtown London a brass band would probably be an embarrassment.

But to my shock, the next morning when the Salvation Army Band rolled through the streets of London, the streets were packed! People were standing 10 deep in line just to get a glimpse of the passing band. They clapped and cheered as if it was a scene happening 150 years earlier.

At that moment I was reminded of the power of tradition.

In a world of electric guitars, rock bands, and contemporary worship, the Salvation Army Brass Band stands out. They are unlike anything else in the music world, and because of that uniqueness, people notice.

On a more recent trip, I was back in London during the 100 year celebration of the Armistice that ended World War I. The events surrounding the anniversary have reminded me that traditions are wonderful. They cause us to pause and remember heroic events from our past, and remind us of the awesome calling of great men and women who have gone before. The Apostle Paul says in Hebrews that a “great cloud of witnesses” is watching us, and great traditions remind us that we are part of that eternal story.

However, the problem with “traditions” is that we often forget they are a “reminder” not a “destination.” Because traditions remind us of the great moments in our faith, we tend to get stuck in those moments, and forget that while God and His Word never changes, everything else does.

In a world where people, styles, trends, culture and ideas change, we need to speak the language of that world if we’re going to be effective sharing the gospel. And keep in mind, speaking the language of the culture doesn’t mean compromising our theology or principles. I’m reminded of just how much Jesus shook up the thinking of the religious leaders of His time. As if they were stuck in marble, He had to constantly chip away at their pre-conceptions, arrogant thinking, and self-centered living. When they asked Him questions, He shocked them with his answers.

They just didn’t do things that way…

The truth is, change is hard. Changing a ministry team’s thinking is even harder – sometimes, nearly impossible. And yet we all know that in today’s world of disruptive, 24/7 change, responding well is critical to our success. Jesus chastised the religious leaders of his day because they couldn’t read the signs of the times, and yet, today those signs seem to be rushing faster than ever. As you struggle with your leadership team, employees, volunteers, donors, and those in need to try to shift their thinking – and before you jump out a window in frustration – it’s good to have a reminder of the reasons people work so hard to resist change. Figure out which of these applies to you, and how to overcome it, and you’ll be well on your way to seeing the birth of a transformed organization.

Here’s a few key reasons why people resist change:

1. Self-Interest. They see change as an unfair imposition on their territory. Silos and walls happen, and people want to control their turf. They need to exert control over their immediate surroundings, and want to feel like they have a say in their own future. Like it or not, we human beings are territorial and want some sense of power – or at least control.

2. Misunderstanding or a Lack of Trust. What people don’t understand, they will resist. Just because you see why you need to change doesn’t mean everyone else will. Realize that you have knowledge they don’t have, so make sure you’re helping them understand all the issues and options.

3. Differing Ways of Assessing Things. People have opinions, and may see the cost as greater than the benefits. As a supervisor, you might not think much about where the coffee break room is located. But as a secretary, it could be very important. That’s just a small example of how different issues and policies mean different things to different people.

4. People Lack Confidence in the Decision-Making Process. Sometimes they don’t believe all the relevant info has been included in the process, or they don’t trust the person in charge of implementing the change. If they’re not confident that the cost is worth it, they’ll fight against it. The key here is to be sure they’re aware or involved in the process.

Knowing WHY they’re fighting change is half the battle to position your team for what’s next. Years ago, I actually consulted with a ministry organization who hated change so much they had department-wide meetings about how to get rid of me. In spite of the fact that my plan brought in record fundraising, greater awareness of their work, and other positive changes.

Most people struggle with change, so to position yourself for “what’s next” you need to figure out where they’re uncomfortable. When that happens, you can focus on what really matters – becoming the leader you were meant to be.

The question is, how often do we get stuck in our own methods today? Just because an outreach worked in 1989, does that mean it still works? Are the methods we learned at the start of our career the methods that work today? How has technology impacted the way people accept or reject the gospel?

The answers to those and other similar questions could be the difference between success and failure for ministry outreaches in the 21st century.

Photo by Claus Grünstäudl on Unsplash

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