Sunday, March 25, 2007

what is Kingdom leadership in the midst of change?

Note: this post has been churning in my head for 18 months and has nothing to do with any current circumstances. It was helped by this comment on the Allelon site.

People respond to change in different ways. Most change theory draws a bell curve and notes that if you suggest a new idea, some love it, others hate it, while the majority adapt, but at varying rates.

Leadership tensions emerge when those who hate change start to dig in, actively resisting change. A common leadership response is to leave them behind. This can be done in a variety of ways: stop listening, manipulate, change leaders, change constitutions, play power games, etc.

Another common response is to simply give in to those who dig in. This means that a minority are dictating the future of the majority.

At our most recent AGM I told the story of taking my 2 children for a holiday walk to a nearby river. One child (no prizes for guessing which one) decided she was “the leader” and strode off ahead. The other dawdled behind, then hurt her knee trying to cross a fence. She decided she could no longer walk. Effectively, she was simply going to dig in.

This is exactly the situation many change processes find themselves in at some point or another. Should “the leaders” stride off, leaving some behind? Or should we let those who are “dug in” dictate the pace, meaning we are never likely to get back to camp?

The task of leadership demands getting both the strider and the dug in back to camp, because that is where healing is.

To achieve that required helping both sides to sit in each other’s shoes for a moment. The “strider” needed to listen to another’s pain, while the one in pain needed to see the big picture.

I am struck by how often simply the act of listening to people is followed by a shift in attitudes and understanding. Perhaps this is the real task of leadership in transitional churches, to remain aware that God can speak through any and all, to help people keep listening to each other, to keep articulating a shared reminder of the big picture.

Posted by steve at 10:06 PM


  1. I’m not sure this is very helpful but…

    I worked for a while (long ago) in an outdoor education centre and used to take kids up mountains. Like your kids some were striders and some were dawdlers. The rule of the hill is that you go at the pace of the slowest but I always found that a group that moved together moved faster than a group that was all spread out because the talked, laughed and encouraged each other. The dawdlers were distrated from whatever was holding them back and the leaders felt more valuable.

    Sometimes it is good to send scouts ahead to see how the land lies but for the most part if we wanted everyone to move then moving together seemed the best way to stop anyone getting lost or hurt along the way.

    That said, this only works if everyone is heading in the same direction and has agreed on the route.

    Comment by stewart — March 26, 2007 @ 6:23 am

  2. Great post Steve. Lot’s of wisdom. I’ve been thinking about the change process too. Listening is soooo important. Really listening to the other.

    You’ll have noticed it figures a lot in the current Anglican debates – debates which are dividing the Communion inwards from the polarised perspectives at both ends of the continuum.

    Sadly, in many cases “listening” is seen by the conservative end as a distracting “ploy” used by the revisionist/liberals to slow the process down and to ultimately getting there own way by means under cover of subterfuge – the call to “listen.”

    Comment by Paul Fromont — March 26, 2007 @ 8:04 am

  3. Hi Steve, let me add my thanks to the above for these thoughts.

    I have a question.

    I love the way you’ve put this, with the strider who bounds-off needing to stop and listen to the plight of the stickers – in my experience they are frustrated and opposed for all sorts of reasons, including the simple fact that change is difficult for some people psychologically – but I guess in the case you’re giving, we’re assuming that the striders are right about the direction they’re going in, just not in their approach to the stickers: they need to help them to see the bigger picture.

    What if that’s not so clear? Even in the above situation with the Anglican church, the more liberal of the poles might even seem to be the striders, because they’re the ones advocating and going ahead along a route of progress/change. But it’s not that simple because there’s a genuine disagreement, there’s a debate to be had, and probably as the above commenter hinted at, not just understanding to be reached on both sides, but possibly a movement to take place on the part of both camps, acknowledging that polarisation itself is unhelpful.

    Perhaps what I’m trying to ask is twofold. 1. ‘Progress’ in itself isn’t good, it depends what it is: how do we deal with that process? 2. How does leadership look when it’s about staying put, or even tracking back to catch the right route, rather than purely going forward?

    Thanks again!


    Comment by Mark Knight — March 26, 2007 @ 9:34 pm

  4. I agree with you, Steve, but perhaps you don’t go far enough . . .

    What if people kept in contact enough that they were always talking-and-listening? Seems to me there is a trend to get impersonal when the size of the group reaches certain densities.

    If leaders know that communication (listening as well as clear vision “casting”) is key, then why do they (me?!) not cultivate communication?!?

    I don’t mind following a friend of the leader (insert ‘social network models’ here). Seems like we’ve given up on the work it takes to be connected to many “followers.”

    My amorphous two cents,
    David Malouf
    Phoenix, Arizona, U.S.A.

    Comment by David Malouf — March 27, 2007 @ 11:33 am

  5. Mark and Paul,
    the type of listening I am talking back is a double-listening, to context and to Biblical text. i am an optimist. i believe the Spirit is present. i believe that if we listen long enough and hard enough, both parties will find a way forward.

    having said that, both parties need to adhere to, and to practise, the discipline/s. prejudging the other is not act of listening. talking only to people who think like you is not act of listening. rushing off to appoint gay clery is not, in my mind, an act of listening, but an act of provocation. it might be smart politics to force an agenda. but it is not listening,


    Comment by steve — March 27, 2007 @ 3:02 pm

  6. Thanks mate. Holding onto the fact that the Spirit goes ahead of us is a difficult, inconvenient but essential truth, and it gives the future a particular shape within which the church creates and innovates, and not a bald, bland, formless ‘progress’. Present context catches up with prophetic text, the church/world with God and not God with the church/world. Plenty of cause for optimism there!

    Comment by Mark Knight — March 27, 2007 @ 9:49 pm

  7. Thanks Steve for your thoughts…

    when Jesus talked about sheep i think he understood us. Sheep are usually heads down eating grass…and will eat in a field until they actually tear up the roots and destroy their own pasture.

    When threatened they break into two types …the flockers who all gather together and form defensive circles. They will not move until they feel safe.

    And then their are the scatterers who run all over the place by themselves. They will not return until they feel safe. The trouble is that the flockers will follow a scatterer without realizing who they are following and scatterers get afraid when they turn around and see this large group tearing after them. I wonder how much of our “movements” whether striding or digging are because we are simply sheep in His pasture?

    Comment by Rusty — March 28, 2007 @ 4:51 pm

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