The Real Reason Why Change Rarely Works

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As a leader, it's quite easy to get caught up with a vision. Leaders are encouraged to look out for opportunities and then take the lead in making things happen. But sometimes we find ourselves alone out front and wonder what happened to the people we're leading. Why aren't they with us?

Take a scenario of a group of people going fishing on a lake. Typical leaders get the vision, jump in the boat and are off to fish straight away. But the rest of the group may take a different approach. As the leaders look back, they find that half the people are still on the river bank. Some are still prepping their fishing gear, while others are just starting to launch their boats. Still others are on the water but are heading in the opposite direction. Some are going in circles, and others haven't even decided if they feel like fishing after all. That's when a leader needs to realize that only leading from the front doesn't always help.

In Winning With People, John Maxwell admits that patience is not one of his strengths.

"When I was younger," he writes. "I constantly cast vision for the people in my organization and then left them behind—not a good thing for a leader."

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At our church, Mars Hill Baptist in Chicago, when we as leaders cast a vision for a building campaign, we left some people behind. In the process, we simply dropped the ball at times and learned three humbling lessons:

1) Buildings are significant and hold many memories. Mars Hill has been part of the community for 37 years. Families have celebrated many memorable weddings. Parents have introduced their children to the church and sat Sunday after Sunday in the pews together. Others have said goodbye to loved ones, and those last few words in that place were significant. People have heard from God through listening to a particular sermon or whispering a quiet prayer. And all of that happened in a place that now looks completely different. Walking through the front door no longer triggers those memories.

Memories hold significance and give people a sense of belonging. So when everything looks so different, it's easy to understand how the memories maybe won't seem quite as real, and people feel left out. We didn't take the time to understand the significance of these memories and that for some, the transition would be a little more difficult.

2) Change happens quickly; transition follows slowly. We also assumed that most people would be able to accept the changes as easily as we did. We were only looking ahead of us; we weren't looking around. What we didn't realize is that while change happens instantly, transition follows more slowly.

For most people, change is difficult and for others, it's plain scary. As leaders, we should have invested more in individual relationships to help people understand and accept the transition.

If the church leaders had stayed on shore instead of going ahead in their boat, they could have helped and encouraged those who were uncertain about going fishing. Sometimes there is more serving involved in leadership than leading.

3) Casting vision requires careful communication. In Genesis, God gave Joseph visions and dreams of being a great leader. Young Joseph related his dreams to his brothers directly, and as a result, they sold him as a slave. We know that the visions came true, yet at that moment, the brothers couldn't understand how that might ever come to pass.

At Mars Hill, we had our vision fixed firmly on the future and overlooked how some people would feel about the changes. The leaders could have taken more time to share and communicate more details of the vision and how it would affect individuals. This may have helped people accept the changes more quickly.

Leaders must be committed to building relationships with people. At Mars Hill, where people feel that they have been excluded or left behind, we want to rebuild those bridges and include them in our community once again. There is much for church leaders and members to learn in any transition.


Dr. Clarence E. Stowers Jr. is senior pastor of Mars Hill Baptist Church in Chicago. He has more than 20 years of leadership experience, mostly as an executive director of a Christian school. This article originally appeared at cestowers.com.

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