People respond to change in three ways: love it, hate it, or follow whichever of the two is the most persuasive (read: “loudest”). Usually the first group is the smallest and the third group comprises the majority.
This post is aimed at those who love change. I number myself among you. While we may be the minority we are usually the ones trying to influence others, to bring about progress, to, well, change things. The world needs us, I say! But we need to realize a few things about change as well.
1. Change is not a cultural or personal value
In itself, change should be a bi-product of something bigger. It occurs when a decision is made or a vision is pursued. If we reach a place where change is a value then we become directionless. We tinker with things that need not be tinkered with. We become bored with and discard perfectly good ways of doing things. We fix what is not broken and in so doing we break it. Change cannot be our aim, it must be our means.
2. Change is only good if it pursues a good purpose
Seeing these words written out makes them seems terribly obvious, but that raises the question why so many of us pursue change without a purpose? Change for change’s sake is never more than accidentally helpful. It is an expression of boredom and discontent rather than purpose. For change to be meaningful, either personally or in an organization, it must have a target. It must be a course change to reach a different destination and the destination must be better than the one on the previous itinerary.
3. Change is always a loss
It’s not always a net loss, but in change we always lose something. Usually it is comfort, predictability, and ease. Change always means giving something up, and that is difficult for many people even if it is a thing they very well ought to give up. This is why change is so hard for so many people. They don’t fear change itself; they fear the loss it brings.
4. Change does not inspire people
It makes most people nervous. Leading a meeting with “We’re going to try something new” or “We’re going in a new direction” puts people on edge. Telling your spouse or kids about a new job or church does not excite them. These things are unsettling unless they have a reason. As Simon Sinek famously wrote, we need to star with the why – the purpose. People buy into reasons and direction and cause and purpose. People do not buy into the road taken to get there.
5. Change needs moderation
Refusal to change is stagnation and leads to atrophy of self or of an organization. We must adapt or die, literally and figuratively. Too much change, though, is disorienting and disillusioning. If you’re leading it people will stop believing you and trusting you. If you are attempting it for yourself you will fall into a patter of try, fail, try something else, fail, ad infinitum. Change must be directed and pursued with intentionality and within reason lest it becomes simply spinning circles.
Barnabas Piper serves on the leadership team at Lifeway, and is the author of several books, including The Pastor’s Kid, and Help My Unbelief.