By Amy Butler
Church leadership experts offer plenty of recommendations for those of us crazy enough to take on the challenge of trying to help churches move into the future. I sit in these conference meetings and listen. I read the books they recommend. I know the concepts they propose, but do I act them out in real life?
Not so much.
Change is hard, friends. And as much as I’d like to say I regularly employ these strategies, I recently realized how far from their regular use I am.
Case in point: I have been trying to replace the light fixtures in my bathrooms for quite some time. Two of the glass shades on the fixtures — one in each bathroom — broke, so I have had their replacement on my to-do list for awhile now. The problem is that I have gone to one hardware store after another — even Home Depot — and I have not been able to find the exact glass shade to replace the ones that were broken.
Go figure. Apparently the shades I have are out of date, or something. How to replace those exact shades so that all of the shades in the bathroom fixture match? This has been my mental dilemma.
Weeks passed. OK, months. Honestly, I was just about to give up.
But one day recently I found myself in a large home improvement store. I thought to myself, “Well, might it be worth going to look at the glass lighting fixture shades, just to see if they have the one you need?”
So, I looked. I scoured the aisle, I tell you. I searched and searched for that one exact glass shade. Alas, they did not have it. I turned away, resigned.
But, then, I had the sudden thought: what if I bought three new shades all together? I could consolidate the shades in the two bathrooms, move one from upstairs to down, install three new ones and replace the broken one downstairs with one of the shades from the upstairs bathroom. I didn’t need to replace the shade exactly as it was. I could, actually, try something altogether different!
I stood there in the aisle of that huge home improvement store and turned to my kids to announce my revelation: “This, children, is adaptive change.” They rolled their eyes, but I knew it was an epic breakthrough. It’s not often that we think outside the box, consider other options, look beyond the expected.
I am more and more convinced this is the kind of creative leadership the church needs these days. The old ways just are not working. The church is in need of creative leadership to take it into the future. We might need to think outside the box, to consider solutions we have never thought of before, to pursue adaptive change.
What will this mean? Well, it will mean that people will not be happy.
After all, they liked the light fixtures just like they were. They never asked for the light fixtures to be changed. In fact, the new ones are not nearly as nice as the old ones.
All that may be true, but life moves on, light fixtures change and the Spirit of God blows fresh wind wherever it wills. It’s our job to respond, discomfort or not. It’s adaptive change, and it’s true for our individual lives and for the church.
When will we have the courage to boldly embrace this kind of change, to encounter the new opportunities that come as possibilities and opportunities instead of problems?
Change is hard. This is a true statement. But change comes, whether we want it or not. The Spirit of God is always creating new possibilities where we prefer to endow old institutions.
Will we have the courage to embrace this change? Or will we keep searching the aisles, hoping to replace what we had?
This column originally was posted on Feb. 10, 2011.