I have been thinking about the theme of limits and the unlimited nature of God as I work through a summer sermon series. This has led me to consider how our perceived limits often hinder our work in leading and moving through change. Here are five common limits to change, and five ways we might overcome these self-imposed limits.
1. Viewing our Resources as Limited
When a group or individual is asked to pursue change, a common response is the assumption that there are not enough resources to face the change. Persons will often recite how they don’t have enough time or enough energy. And a group might say, “we don’t have the people, or financial resources to do that”. We easily put limits on resources. I learned a long time ago that I did not need to sit on anyone else’s wallet or calendar as a leader. (They were more than capable and willing to do that themselves!)
What if we did not limit how we view our God-given resources and believed that God offers “enough” to sufficiently guide us through change? What if we approached change, from a position of resource abundance or sufficiency, rather than a position of scarcity? How might this free up our thinking and imagination? What new resources might we uncover and release to the work? When we impose limits, we often shut down what might be.
2. Viewing Failure as a Limit
Every new leader dreads the words “we tried that once.” Those words are true indicators that an organization allowed a failure, or less than stellar outcome, to limit their next efforts at change. In contrast, when we see failure as an opportunity for learning, and not limiting, we are positioned to build on what we’ve learned even if the outcome was not all we had hoped. If you can create a culture of experimentation where learning comes from all attempts, you will succeed in viewing failure as a limit best put in the rear view mirror.
3. Limiting our Identity and Purpose
Congregations and other organizations that have a rich heritage and past will sometimes limit their identity and purpose to what has always been. If this occurs, nostalgia can become a threat that sidelines change efforts. Identity and purpose questions like “Who are we?” and “What do our neighbors need from us?” are important, but should not be asked or answered in the past tense. We can free the work of identity and purpose discernment from the past by asking: “Who are we now?” “What is our purpose today?”
4. Limiting ourselves by our Experience
The complex challenges facing most organizations today when met with responses that are limited to our prior experience, will only yield frustration. Trying harder at what we’ve done before is not the answer when we are facing change that is discontinuous with the past. Reaching beyond our experience to try new approaches, learn from others, and give permission for new edge ideas to enter could lead to new discoveries and expressions in our shared lives.
5. Limiting our Next Steps
Absent the full, proven answer to challenges that face us, we at times become paralyzed and take no steps into the future, afraid they will be the wrong steps. What if, instead, we simply took the next step in the pathway forward? Gil Rendle, in his book Quietly Courageous, tells the story of “a young boy living on a farm who was instructed by his mother to go out on a pitch-dark night to check if the barn door was closed and locked.” The boy soon returned, reporting that it was too dark to see the barn and he was afraid to go further. “His mother handed him a flashlight and told him to try again.” When he soon returned, saying the light was still too dim to make out the barn, she said, “You don’t need to see the barn. Just walk to the end of the light.”*
What if, as we lead and move through change, we just walked the next steps to the end of the light? Doing so would be taking us that much closer to our destination. Sometimes its as simple as being willing to take a next step.
*Rendle, Gil. Quietly Courageous: Leading the Church in a Changing World, (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019), 218.