Reflections on the Journey by Sandy Messick, Regional Minister

A recent article in the Alban Weekly by David Brubaker caught my eye. “Four Ingredients of Successful Change,” outlined his view of four key elements for transformational change within congregations. They resonated with my experience both as a local pastor and as a leader within our region. Truth is, change is difficult. It’s not that people are against change, or most people anyway. It’s that they fear the losses that change might represent. David’s four keys, it seems to me, helps ground people in a community that offers support in the midst of change. David Brubaker is Associate Professor of Organizational Studies at Eastern Mennonite University.

The first key is “Team.” Dr. Brubaker points out that lone rangers often fail because in changing organizations it is important to build a team. Leaders need to partner with a diverse group of leaders and include even those who have questions about the direction the leader wants to go.

Secondly, leaders need to set a “Tone.” Here, the emphasis is on setting a tone that is inviting and open to listening rather than a “if you’re not for us you’re against us,” message. A tone that is inviting, even welcoming those who disagree, continues to promote a level of trust within the organization that begins with the team idea. Dr. Brubaker writes, “Congregational losses tend to be minimal when there is a deep respect for those who disagree with the new direction—rather than a disrespectful dismissal of their concerns.”

Third, leaders need to take their “Time.” It takes new leaders time to earn the respect of their congregations as well as to learn the histories, traditions, stories, and culture that, if not understood, can provide unseen obstacles to successful change.

Fourth, Dr. Brubaker calls upon leadership teams to ground their understandings of change in “Theology.” He writes, theology means “nesting our congregation’s story in the larger sacred story, which provides credibility and meaning-making for people who resonate with that story.” Some of our congregations that went through the Journey of Discovery process were able to ground their story in the story of the Exodus and the journey of the people Israel to the new land God promised. Even in the midst of that journey there were always those who wanted to return to Egypt. The same is true as we journey through change. It is hard to leave the known, as imperfect as it is, to venture into the unknown where the path and future are unclear. It’s helpful to know we aren’t the first to travel this path, and the God who led God’s people before, leads us yet today.

Now I can’t promise that if you include these four elements change will happen smoothly, without resistance or discomfort. Truth is, all change brings grief because all change involves some kind of loss. But here’s another truth: The God who is always doing a new thing and invites us to come along and join in, also goes before us to light our path and comes alongside us to offer support, strength, and encourage- ment. Thanks be to God.

If interested, you can read the full article here: