Change is Hard, Really, Really Hard

CGGC Executive Director,
Lance Finley

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.

Christ’s Peace,

CGGC eNews—Vol. 13, No. 34

One thought on “Change is Hard, Really, Really Hard

  1. Lance,

    Yours is an informative and academic post, the sort of writing I enjoy and which is provocative to me and I thank you for it.

    I’m somewhat familiar with Deutschman’s, CHANGE OR DIE, and, so, I think I can guess where you will go with your next post.

    However, I want to fold into the recipe, one ingredient that is normally left out when organizations, or institutions, like ours attempt to shift direction and move forward.

    It is this:

    There is a type of change that is not hard. In fact, that sort of change is accomplished so easily that is next-to-inevitable.

    In the CGGC, we are already changing. As statistics published during General Conference sessions make clear, we have changed again in the past three years. There are fewer of us. Those who remain are older than our people have ever been. Across the body, our spiritual vitality has diminished to a new low.

    More to the point, the characteristics that were at the core of our existence in our first days as the Church of God have changed very radically…and not for the good.

    For example, our fierce, white-hot obedience to the Bible as our “only rule of faith and practice,” which could once be taken for granted among people in the Church of God, has disappeared.

    The conviction that we should be taking the gospel into the world, once an essential conviction for us, has been replaced with an internal focus.

    We have changed dramatically.

    And, no one had to master the literature of leadership gurus to create the change that has taken place.

    Others before you have been struggling to introduce, to our body, a different sort of change…the change that is hard…for at least 30 years.

    I believe that they have, instinctively, been attempting to apply Deutschman’s three step approach, since before he even wrote the book.

    Yet, without success.

    What we have ignored to this point, I believe, is the reality that what the CGGC is now is rooted in a very sophisticated theology…even philosophy…of church.

    You and I reject that way of thinking, of course.

    What we can’t do, however, is pretend it away.

    Our people do what they do because of what they believe. They believe what they believe about church because of what they were taught years ago by the men who were sitting behind the desk you use, in the office you occupy.

    As you attempt to lead the change that is hard, you will be leading a battle over what is true.

    You will be fighting against truths once embraced by the people in our body who possessed the highest institutional authority.

    You and I may disagree with what most people in the CGGC believe about church but we have to respect the reality that many, even among the CGGC clergy, have very strong and settled beliefs about church and that what they are doing today is the fruit of those very real convictions.

    You are not writing on a blank slate.

    I believe that you are going to have to find the substance that will erase what’s already been etched in CGGC stone.

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