I’ve heard over and over again how much folks appreciated the three general sessions with Tod Bolsinger at General Conference Sessions 2019. Tod’s presentations were certainly a highlight for me as well. If you haven’t picked up a copy of Tod’s book, Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory, I would encourage you to do so.
One of the things that struck me most in what Tod shared related to the difficult nature of change. We don’t like change. It’s almost as if we’re hard-wired as humans to resist change. Tod referenced a book by Alan Deutschman entitled Change or Die: Could you Change when Change Mattered Most? In this book, Deutschman set out to study people who had been told to change by their doctors. These situations were typically extreme, the kind of situations where the doctor would offer such warnings like “if you don’t quit smoking today, you’re going to die.” “If you don’t quit drinking today, you’re going to die.” “If you don’t change your diet today, you’re going to die.” Deutschman found that if you could get an authoritative figure with data to focus a person’s attention on the severity of their situation, only 90% percent of those people will continue on their present course and die. When faced with the reality of change today or die, only 10% of people chose to change. Most people would rather die than change!
As a result of his work on this subject, Deutschman found three things that do not produce change: fear, facts and force. Interestingly enough, Tod called fear, facts and force a few of his favorite things (and I must admit, a few of my favorite things as well).
Fear does not produce change. Whether it’s the doctor telling the patient “change or die” or a denominational leader telling a church “change or die” the result will most likely be death because we don’t like to change. When I look across the landscape of the North American church, there’s plenty of fear to go around. We fear losing the next generation. We fear the idea of being the one to close our local church. We fear failure. Folks like me try to use fear to shock people awake to our present reality and motivate real and lasting change. Fear doesn’t produce change very often.
Facts don’t produce change. We’ve got plenty of facts to face. We’ve got years of declining statistics in worship attendance, membership and a whole host of other categories that ought to shock us, startle us or motivate us to change. Much like the doctor with a sheet full of data on our vitals, we can produce pages of facts that tell us things are not headed in the right direction. The startling facts rarely produce lasting change.
Force doesn’t bring change. I’ve had to learn this lesson several times. I can’t force you to change what you don’t want to change. I know this is one of the fears that lives out there: “what’s the region or the denomination going to try to make us do this time?” Every generation has looked at the generation before them and said: “when we get our turn, things will be different!” “When we get to call the shots, we’ll get things pushed through and change will happen.” Guess what? Generation after generation have got their shot to lead and yet change hasn’t happened very often.
Change is hard, very, very hard! We resist change.
Next week I’ll share some better news: there are some things that do help produce change! That’s next week. Today we have to face the reality that fear, facts and force don’t help produce change and we have to own the fact that these are often our favorite tools to motivate and inspire change in our lives and in the lives of our churches.
CGGC eNews—Vol. 13, No. 34