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Two Things and One Hope

Congregations and pastors are facing daunting, sweeping changes.  The pillars of church are crumbling under great pressures of change. The landscape has shifted right under our feet.  Congregations, Presbyteries and the entire denomination are being thrust into reorganizing structures, realigning resources, and re-prioritizing focuses.  Disequilibrium seems to be the constant state, and “stressed-out” the new normal.

How does a leader navigate intense change? How does a leader deal with the swirling mass of energies?  How does a leader stay appropriately engaged with the issues at hand?

You must be able to do two things: (1) mange yourself in that environment and (2) help people tolerate the discomfort they are experiencing.  You need to live into the disequilibrium.  (from The Practice of Adaptive Leadership, by Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky, pg 29).

 Among the myriad things a leader must do, I have come back to these two things several times in my ministry.

First, managing yourself in that environment may seem counterintuitive.  Self-care is usually listed in the job description only as vacation and study leave.  How many of us (and I’m guilty of this) at the end of the year discover they have taken neither, or at least not all that was offered.  God took a day off, why do the rest of us church leaders need extra permission to do so?  Taking care of oneself IS leadership.  Taking care of oneself is part of the ministry we are called to do, part of the 40-50 hours in our work week.  It’s not something added on after we are already exhausted.   My colleague once remarked that one of most important things he does to serve his Presbytery is yoga.  He did not mean teaching a yoga class at a Presbytery meeting, but rather his own practice of self-care through yoga.  He is modeling one of the two things adaptive leader must do.

The second thing we must do is help people tolerate the discomfort they are experiencing.   This one feels like a special kind of pastoral care.  Some expressions of this help include: helping a team stay with the frustration long enough to get to the clarity of purpose, but not getting so frustrated they give up; making space that allows all the voices of the team to heard and valued, even if all the agenda items are not completed; grieving for the loss that comes with change and not becoming lost in the grief.  It’s helping people face the reality of change that is already here.  We are not the church, not the Presbytery, that we used to be.  There is no going back to a good ole day.  The adaptive leader helps people tolerate the discomfort because there is a new day ahead.  God’s newness is on the way.

These are two things a leader must do to help people in this time of disequilibrium.  As followers of Christ, we lead towards the one overriding hope of the gospel.  We lead with the assurance that the turbulence of change, the loss of what was, is the prelude for new life.  Jesus says in John 10:10 “I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.”

~Jeff Hutcheson



Heifetz, Ronald; Grashow, Alexander; Linsky, Marty; The Practice of Adaptive

Leadership:  Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World; Harvard Business Press, Boston, Massachusetts, 2009, pg 29.