old assumptions just don’t work
anymore. The illusion of stability is
a reality of the past.
Today’s options are endless. They
almost paralyze us. How do I choose?
How do I live with others who have
not chosen similarly? When tolerance is no longer tolerant, what do
we do? As a person of faith, how do
I hold to the biblical truths so critical and essential to life in Christ, and
yet engage a world continuing to
move further from me?
The automatic response is to
entrench. Holding on to what you
comfortably know. Fearful to engage as people of faith, we stick our
heads in the sand hoping it will just
go away. So what does leadership
look like in times like this?
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” My colleague and coauthor
Peter Dickens told me this constantly. We were writing our book
Leading in DisOrienting Times and
this was one of his prophetic mantras. It’s a phrase often linked to
Peter Drucker and other management gurus, and is profound in its
insight. You can have the best new
plans, reworked policies or developed missional intent, but
without the right culture, nothing
different will take place. Unexamined assumptions and entrenched
culture will always trump change.
It makes sense. I have passionately focused on the revitalization of
the urban Church in Canada. Much
of my studies and reading centred
around organizational renewal and
the missional Church. I have seen
the reality of culture eating strategy
for breakfast. Well-intentioned
leadership implements a vision,
which on paper sounds reasonable
and exciting, but instead is met
with conflicts and roadblocks.
I have witnessed pastors and
leaders sacrificed at the altar of
resistance. Congregations and organizations can be unbelievably
destructive in their entrenchment.
Peter taught me to ask a series of
three questions to eke out the
congregational feelings about
• The first question is: Do you be-
lieve in continually asking the
question, “Can we do this better?”
Usually the majority of partici-
pants respond affirmatively.
• Then we ask whether or not the
participants believe the first
question has implications for them
and their church. Although the
look is often one of confusion,
most will again respond affirmatively.
• And now, the third question: Do
you believe improvement can happen without change? This is where
the fun begins. Many of the participants feel they have been
backed into a corner, especially
if they have been resistant to
change. Eventually they answer
yes, but generally with great reluctance.
The need to change is the ele-
Can organizations change?
phant in the room. Everyone agrees
transformation needs to happen,
but most people would like the
change to look strangely like the way
it is now. As one member of a con-
gregation once said, “Why should I
change? I have been here for 48
years. If they want to come to this
church, then they can make the
Can an existing organization actually change? The answer is a
clear, resounding maybe.
Most of us will not have the luxury or even the opportunity to work
from a clear, clean whiteboard of
organizational beginnings. Instead
we will find ourselves in organizations and churches desperately in
need of some kind of organizational renewal or remissioning. Leadership will require courage to nurture
organizations or churches into a
process of reinventing themselves
in such a way they will exist dynamically in the present.
It takes time and requires an
ability to live in the “not yet” while
moving toward the “what can be.”
DISORIEN TING TIMES:
CHANGE BY GAR Y V.
NELSON AND PETER
M. DICKENS (CHALICE