Requirement number five is:
Effective Change Requires Time, Patience, and Commitment.
It seems to be a part of human nature to resist change. I have heard it said, “The only person who loves a change is a baby with a dirty diaper!” I clearly recall resisting the mobile phone and the personal computer. It took a few years after their invention before I “bought in.” Today, I can’t imagine life without either. As a leader, it’s likely taken you months, or even years to clearly see and embrace the change you are trying to implement. It’s going to take some time for your team too, before it feels like normal life.
The emotional process of change is powerful, and according to William Bridges, the process flows through three stages; regardless of the type of change we face. My experience tells me he is correct.
The First Stage is: The End. Emotionally, people must let go of the way things used to be before they can embrace the way things are going to be. The old must end before the new can begin. If not, followers continue wanting to go back to the way things used to be, refusing to accept the new reality. The Hebrew people struggled with this when coming out of Egypt to go to the Promised Land. They wanted a change. They even prayed for it; but once they got away from Egypt, their new world felt too strange. Once they got in the wilderness they considered their time in Egypt as “the good ole’ days,” and they wanted to go back. “Letting go” of the past takes time, and it feels like grief, sorrow, and sadness as a result of death! As leaders, we can often help by building on the past. Commemorating and cherishing the accomplishments and people of the past as we move forward is important.
The Second Stage is: The Wilderness. It is that time period when nothing feels right, and we question if it ever will! We would like to go back to the way things used to be, but we realize we can’t. We’ve come too far. Even if we tried, the “Red Sea” would prevent us from doing so. We’ve not only come too far to turn back, but we’re a long way from where we dream of going! The wilderness feels like chaos and frustration.
This emotional stage of change tests the true character of everyone on the journey. It is here that our imagination often exaggerates the change; leading people to believe life will never be good again. It’s at this stage that many who don’t like the change come together to form coalitions to oppose it, and some weaker leaders will often join them. Others often resign and quit the journey, running from the awful feeling of chaos and frustration. It’s important to press on at this point, reminding yourself, your leadership team, and the followers of the vision just how wonderful it’s going to be to reach it. We can often help by staying close to the other leaders on the team to reinforce the change and encourage them, because they will be getting lots of questions and negative comments from the people who are struggling most. At some point we begin to see light at the end of the dark tunnel as our emotions are stretched and adjust to a new way of living, allowing us to begin to see the future and embrace it.
The Third Stage is: The New Beginning. The New Beginning feels wonderful, but it requires focus. This stage feels like an adventure as leaders and followers begin to dream about what lies ahead. Leaders are tempted, at this point, to think that because things feel better they can relax; but that’s a big mistake! The change process is not over! This stage is when the change is finally altering the DNA of the church’s culture. Now the leaders can help establish a new culture and new behaviors as a new “normal.” The people are beginning to see that the change is not going away, and it’s occurring to more and more of them that it’s something they can tolerate. Leaders should be careful to manage every action with intentionality and purpose, to shape the culture in a way to accomplish the vision. We can help by celebrating the “wins” as progress is made, always tying them to the vision.