Introducing Change in Church (and other “Change Resistant” Environments)
Dr. Charles McNeil, Retired UM Clergy, Psychotherapist, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and Adjunct Instructor
In the Hebrew Scriptures, the LORD says, “Behold I am about to do a new thing” (Isaiah 43:19) and in the Book of Revelation, the one who was seated on the throne says, “See, I am making all things new.” (Rev. 21:5). Common knowledge understands both the fact that things cannot be made new without involving change, as well as the truism that “There’s nothing quite as sure as change.” Perhaps, however, when those changes take place (or are even suggested), you have heard the response, “We’ve never done it that way.” It pops up whenever and wherever people are gathered, from substituting a different detail in reading a very familiar children’s story; to top executives in corporate board rooms; to offices, schools, and social settings; and even in churches–all of which can be “change-resistant environments.”
Many ingredients make up this kind of context; for example, fear of change, not being consulted, poor communication, low trust, misunderstanding about the need for change, exhaustion/saturation, and comfort with the status quo (or a relative comfort with the discomfort of it). Frequently fear (of the unknown, of failure or success, of loss, of leaving a comfort zone) and anxiety are common reasons for resistance to change and often work together to become barriers to changes. Resistance can present itself in many different ways, from aggression and anger, to unusual flare-ups of emotion, active and/or passive attempts to disrupt the process, insensitive and disagreeable behavior, “parking lot meetings” and possibly people “voting with their feet” and leaving altogether.
In this class we will look at several different models for understanding the process of dealing with change and the accompanying resistance to it. Some practical applications will be offered with the awareness that resistance cannot be avoided, but it can be managed–assisting people in moving towards, and accepting, the vision for change. As King Whitney, Jr. said, “Change has a considerable psychological impact on the human mind. To the fearful, it is threatening because it means that things may get worse. To the hopeful, it is encouraging because things may get better. To the confident, it is inspiring because the challenge exists to make things better.” Perhaps a truer truism is “There’s nothing quite as sure as resistance to change” … even as we yearn for things to get better, which requires the process change, of “doing a new thing”, of “making all things new.”