To Change the Future, Disturb the Present

Reflections flowing from time with Danielle Strickland at the GLS2019

Here’s the thing about change, real change, transformational change:  it means that leaders have to listen, to learn and then to live out of what they discovered.  It means that leaders have to look within themselves and their organization, to go deeper, to discover the firmly embedded beliefs and values that are held by both the individuals in leadership and the organization itself.  But the deep dive doesn’t stop there.  Real change only begins when leaders look long and hard at those beliefs and values, the soil in which the roots of the organization are fed, to see what kind of fruit they are yielding.  And then, leaders must have the courage to disturb the present to change the future.  Perhaps an example might help.

Since many if not most of you reading this work within the ecclesial world, let’s take a hypothetical deep dive into the beliefs and values of an imaginary parish.  Let’s look down deep.  There in the soil are these deeply held beliefs:  the clergy have all the power; preaching the Gospel will alienate some of the parish’s biggest givers; it’s important to give parishioners what they want; being nice is more important that being Gospel centered; the church does not change.  I’ll stop there.  You get the idea about looking deeply and honestly about the beliefs in the soil of the parish.

These beliefs have either created some values or sprang from values:  peace-defined as the absence of conflict and even of confrontation; family-defined as warm, welcoming and affectionate; people-centered-before-Christ-centered; consistency and comfort over change and challenge.  Let’s contrast these values with Jesus’ values:

Peace: the kind that passes understanding because it flows from being in a right relationship with God, God’s people and creation is what Jesus values.  Whatever disturbance or disruption is caused by getting into and maintaining these right relationships is just that:  what it takes.

Family:  Jesus’ family are those who do the will of the Father. Period.  Belonging is centered on saying “Yes!” to God and living out of that relationship, wishing to do as God intends, repenting when that does not happen, living with a generosity of spirit with each other.  That’s  Jesus-defined family.

People-centered over Christ-centered:  Jesus made it very clear that he is THE way, THE truth and THE life.  He is the head of the Body of Christ, the Church.  His command is that we choose to demonstrate our love for the Father by doing as he commands, which is to choose the good of our neighbor before our own good.  Jesus wants fidelity to the Father to come first.

Consistency and comfort over change and challenge:  Jesus said, take up your cross, deny yourself, don’t take cloaks or sacks or extra shoes, come and follow me.  Do not look back, sell or detach whatever you own that owns you in return, repent, forgive endlessly, keep going out to share the good news…none of these statements are about the doing the same things over and over again to promote comfort.

This kind of deep dive with honesty is the work of leaders.  First, they look and listen, in order to learn what is really happening.  Why?  Because leaders must identify the right things to change.  Most of you reading this know about change initiatives in a parish/congregation that have fallen flat.  Many of you have also believed the reason they did not work were related to people or money.  Danielle Strickland would challenge that.  She’d ask:  did you identify what really needed to be changed?  Her premise, born out by my own experience, is that too often the answer to that is “no.”  And the “no” is rooted in those deeply held beliefs about what a parish is, what a faith community feels like, what people will stand for or want rather than what the Lord intends his people to be, and what he showed us and taught us real disciples feel:  heartbreak for the outcast, persecution, fear, trepidation, need, suffering, unworthiness, sinfulness, and the need to repent or for forgiveness.  Jesus also made it clear that what people will stand for or want only matters insofar as it is also what God stands for and wants.  Otherwise, the work at hand is change:  repentance, conversion, ongoing learning, trial and error, forgiveness and mercy and mission…discipleship.  Change of heart, change of mind, change of behavior:  change.

Ecclesial leaders are in the business of disturbing the present so that the Kingdom of God may break through a little more, here and now.  They are about the work of ongoing conversion…ongoing change.  There’s little about effective ecclesial leadership that is rooted in certainty, stability, niceness, maintenance or inertia.  Ecclesial leaders who follow Jesus’ leadership direction are transformational leaders.  As such they have to embrace the stages of transition, welcome chaos as the creative ground for the Holy Spirit’s amazing work, and foster relationships strong enough to support one another in the chaos.

So what are those stages of transition according to Strickland?

What do you need in order to bolster your courage so that you, like Jesus, are not afraid to disrupt the present so that the future might be more like what God created in the beginning?   Check out ConSpirita’s offer to equip you for this kind of work.

Why listen to Danielle Strickland?  22 years as an officer in the Salvation Army, Ambassador for Stop the Traffik, co-founder of Infinitum, Brave Global, Amplify Peace, and the Women’s Speaker Collective, author, church leader, wife, mother and motivational speaker.  That’s why! 



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As I write this, it’s just under a month until the first phase of the Church’s Synod on the process of synodality is to begin.