Monday, July 02, 2018

Thoughts on Change: Lessons from failing

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"There is a temptation for all of us to blame failures outside of our control: "the enemy was ten feet tall." "we weren't treated fairly", or "it was an impossible task to begin with." There is also comfort in "doubling down" on proven processes, regardless of their efficacy. Few of us are criciticized if we faithfully do what has worked many times before. But feeling comfortable or dodging criticism should not be a measure of our success. There's likely a place in paradise for people who tried hard, but what really matters is succeeding. If that requires you to change, that's your mission"--Stanley McChrystal, Team of Teams, p. 8

Don't just embrace change, embrace a continual process of changing

While serving in Hot Springs, I spent about 4 of my 6 school years with hands on involvement in helping lead the youth ministry at United Churches. I was encouraged to do this by some key current and former leaders, and was glad to do it because our youth ministry had a lot of potential but needed leadership and guidance. 

When I jumped in and helped, we had multiple "youth groups". In some settings this is not a bad thing, but in our setting both our kids and our leadership needed accountability and structure. 

The first year we made a change to have the groups meet on Thursday evenings. Since Hot Springs had a four-day school week, this was really like their Friday. It coincided with some other church activities. It was a good fit. The group grew. There was a lot to celebrate.

The next year my wife had cancer, we had to survive sabotage by some rogue leaders (both within and without our youth group), and I gave the leadership team two options. First, go on Thursday without me, or combine our ministry with our Sunday evening worship. I was willing to serve, but I was going to limit my evenings away from family during chemotherapy. The thing is, the church grew during that season as well. The following year the growth slowed. The year after that attendance was virtually non existent. 

There were several things that played into this attendance pattern, some beyond our control, and some in our control. However, one thing I took away from the experience is that if we were to continue to remain relevant we needed to not only change for one or two years. We needed to continue to change over and over again. We needed to be committed to a process of adaptation to keep pace with the missional task of our community youth ministry.

What is true of youth ministry in Hot Springs may also be relevant to all ministry in the coming years as we seek to adapt in order to reach the world around us. Perhaps we need to begin to think of church transformation, not so much as an event or a process with a beginning or ending, but a continuing habit of our lives together. 

Admittedly, this sounds scary. I know when I lead worship if there are changes in the order of service it takes me a while to adapt. Heck, I am still adapting to the folkways of serving the Lord's supper here in North Platte. But, if we don't make continuing change and transition a habit, the changes we recently endured may be for naught.

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