Category Archives: Pastors

Living Beyond Limits in Change

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.

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5 Ways to Overcome Common Obstacles to Change

Daniel M. Cash and William H. Griffith

The following article is an excerpt from our book The Changing Church. This article is soon to be published by the Lewis Center for Church Leadership in their online newsletter Leading Ideas.

Leading is a challenge in the most tranquil of circumstances within congregations today. When you add the layer of introducing or working toward change on top of the myriad of things already required, “challenging” may feel too soft a word. But there are ways to lead past the common internal and external obstacles to change.

  • Know that relationships are key.

Being a person of impeccable integrity is without question a need in any public leadership role, most especially in the church. Taking time to know and love the people whom you lead, including those who are at times hard to love is also important. In a word, it comes back to relationships. Good leaders, leaders who earn the right to lead change, know that relationships are key — building them and maintaining them. Mobilizing the right people to support the change initiative is far easier when one already has a solid relationship with those people.

  • Over-communicate.
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What Kind of Change Is This?

In our new book The Changing Church: Finding Your Way to God’s New Thing my friend and co-author, Bill Griffith, and I distinguish between two kinds of change congregations and their leaders often face. These are “continuous” and “discontinuous” change. Here’s an excerpt from chapter two where we define these types of change:

Continuous change, sometimes also referred to as incremental change, is change that is tied to past experience. In working through this type of change, we simply are making an adjustment in something we’ve had prior experience with and want to improve.

Discontinuous change is change for which we have no prior experience or reference point. It is change of a completely new direction or orientation, outside our experience and prior knowledge. Many of the challenges that congregations face today are of a discontinuous nature.

Which type of change have you found more common in your congregation’s ministry of late? How do you begin to approach discontinuous change? We invite you to pick up a copy of our book to learn more about this and how to have conversations with one another in a congregational setting.

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Something Like a 500 Year Rummage Sale

“Phyllis Tickle, in her book, The Great Emergence, quoting Anglican Bishop Mark Dyer, suggests that about every 500 years the church has undergone a significant change. She refers to these periods of change as “rummage sales” and states that we are in the midst of such a period today. Tickle identifies former 500 year rummage sales as The Great Reformation (Oct. 31, 1517), The Great Schism (1054—Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic), the leadership and influence of Gregory the Great (540–590—following the fall of Rome and start of the Dark Ages), and the Crucifixion of Christ, which led to the birth of the Church at Pentecost.

I, (Dan), despise rummage sales, but it seems to be my fate in ministry to have served congregations that used them for fundraisers. Here’s my view on how they work. People bring their junk, their cast-offs, the stuff they want to get rid of (rummage) to the church and clutter it up. A committee spends an inordinate amount of time sorting through it all and arranging the rummage for others to peruse. Then, on the day of the sale, folks come with an eagerness to riffle through other people’s junk, finding prizes they simply cannot live without and paying pennies on the dollar to haul it away.

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Lead Us, Not Into . . . .

A few years after I listened to a podcast on The Lord’s Prayer by Adam Hamilton, I changed how I pray this final phrase of Jesus’ prayer. Hamilton suggested that we put a comma (,) after the words “Lead us,”. When you do this it changes the way you hear and pray this phrase.

How often do you ask the Lord to lead in your life? You may feel you do that fairly often. But when I’m honest, I am more likely to tell the Lord what I need and see if God will follow my lead. Are you? By inserting this comma after “lead us”, I have been reminded to seek God’s leading. I will even sit in silence sometimes, having been invited to pause by that comma, to consider what it is I need God’s leadership in that day or moment. I invite you to try it.

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