Sunday, June 22, 2014

change processes: finding voice

On Saturday, I was allocated 60 minutes to lead a discernment process at our Presbytery and Synod meeting, in regard to mission. After I finished, a participant approached me to ask who they could complain to about the process. They considered what I had done a waste of everyone’s time. The conversation helped clarify for me some ongoing questions about change processes across systems.

I want to blog about these, in order to help clarify my thinking. In this first post, I want to outline what I did and why. In a second post I want to reflect on the complaint, and what it helped clarify for me about where and how systems seek energy, change and leadership. In a third post, I want to summarise a presentation I made on Friday, on how New Testament churches inter-connect and to relate it to how churches today are connecting. Fourth, I want to reflect on what I might do differently and what denominational change processes are needed in the 21st century.


In March, an overseas speaker, Dave Male had addressed the Presbytery and Synod in regard to mission. Towards the end of the day, Dave presented 12 challenges to us. Following these challenges, those gathered spent about 20 minutes in table groups discussing the 12 challenges. People were invited to write their comments, which were collected. The meeting moved on with the existing agenda. In other words, nothing concrete was decided by this gathering of people.

Afterward, I was asked if, the next time we gathered, I could provide some leadership in helping us take some next steps. I was allocated 60 minutes and here is what I did.

Introduction (10 minutes) – The 12 things were re-introduced. Woven into this summarising was “appreciative inquiry.” Various “bright spot” stories, of local examples from the Synod, were presented. This served both as a reminder and as a contextualisation. Where there was no obvious “bright spot”, we paused for prayer.

Introduce process (5 minutes) – The Presbytery and Synod gathers around table groups. On each table was placed a task. 1/3 had a blank piece of paper and they were invited to identify a word or image from bright spots. 2/3 were provided with some part of the table group feedback from last time. The task was to come up with 1 proposal; with 1 action that might help us as a Presbybery and Synod take a step forward.

Group work (15 minutes) – In preparation I had analysed the table group feedback. I had looked for movement. Green lights – What did people most want to push forward? Orange lights – what were things that people were wanting to question, to nuance, to think about more carefully?

Green lights – Train all your people to share their story; Presbytery mission staff to be involved in fresh expressions; Invest in people not buildings

Orange lights -The Role of Holy Spirit in our life as church; the link between evangelism, agencies and fresh expressions; the role of Synod in change processes

Reporting back from the floor (27 minutes assuming 1 minute per table group) – Each table group were invited to present their proposal. After each sharing, the Moderator “tested” each proposal. If people were ‘warm’ they would raise an orange card, if people were “cold” they could raise a blue card. The 3 or 4 proposals that had the least blue cards, would be taken away, in preparation to bring them back as proposals the next time (November) the Presbytery and Synod gathered.

Summary (5 minute) – Thanks for participating, a reminder that the work would become proposals to “vote” on at November Presbytery and Synod and a final 13th bright spot story, to encourage.


First, at Pentecost, the promise is that the Spirit would be poured out on all people; Your sons and daughters would prophesy; younger people will see visions; older people will dream dreams. I actually believe that. I wondered if, in 15 minutes, we as a Synod might experience that Pentecost Spirit.

Second, we as a Presbytery and Synod have some significant challenges. It just might be that some part of our future, a next step, is actually tucked up in someone’s imagination, among the gathered people of God.

Thirdly, my experience is that processes in which humans are involved are more likely to last longer. So why not keep engaging people in the processes.


First, time – 60 minutes is a significant block of time in which to expect a large group to engage. Would it be worth it? What if there were no ideas?

Second, and related the process – Would people engage? What if nothing happened? What type of ideas would emerge?

So that was the process. Next time, I’ll reflect on the person who had the courage afterward to complain, and what it signals about where systems look for leadership and change.

Posted by steve at 08:15 PM


  1. Were there positive comments afterwards, too, Steve? Sometimes it’s not brave to complain. It can be a habit or a resistance, reaction to the possibility of change. It’s also easy to give much more weight to the negative, and fail to recognise the positive responses. I was reminded today of a wonderful person who has brought her children up to offer five (5) positive comments before offering a negative comment – one, because it’s actually hard to be clear about the positives, and two, it helps turn the negative into something actually useful and constructive.
    I’m not part of the SA synod/presbytery, so am not sure how much time was spent at the previous occasion. I know people are to take responsibility for being informed about what’s on the agenda, but don’t always do that. I can’t see anything particularly problematic with what you’ve described above.
    Did you make the process clear before setting the task?
    Was the comment really a failure to recognise the leadership you gave? Did you ask what type of leadership they would find helpful?
    How have you reflected on other more affirming comments that have been made?

    Comment by Rosemary C — June 22, 2014 @ 11:52 pm

  2. Rosemary,

    Your critics are a gift. They keep you thinking about who, what and why; they encourage reflection on action,


    Comment by steve — June 23, 2014 @ 11:11 am

  3. Yes, Steve, they can be. That wasn’t the point of my comment. I was wondering whether there were other comments, and how you exercised your leadership. I think it’s easy to think we’ve been clear when we haven’t. Anyway, others may have more helpful reflections for you than I have.

    Comment by Rosemary C — June 23, 2014 @ 10:37 pm

  4. Hi Steve – 27 groups at one minute each – sounds like heaps of people……………what is missing for me in this is the whole “group” thing – and building on work that has been done on groups and how groups of people work……did a session once in Alice Springs with some guy who was the son of one of the pioneering minister types in A/S, can’t remember his name and it was very helpful on processes to use with groups…..

    Comment by Jenny B — June 24, 2014 @ 8:43 pm

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