Years ago we got a new sofa for our family room. The country blue sofa we had for years before the kids came along was comfy, familiar and the kids loved it. Our two girls fit perfectly on it – one on each end. But, it had seen better days. Our church was collecting old furniture for refugees relocating to the area and we decided the time was right to donate the old and bring in the new.
Our oldest daughter was about five or six at the time. When we told her we would be shopping for a new sofa and donating our old one to some people who didn’t have one she burst into tears. “I don’t want a different sofa!” “I like our family room the way it is!” “Give the poor people a new sofa and let us keep this one!” (Okay, that idea did have some merit).
You would have thought we were asking her to donate her right foot!
At the time we were stunned by her reaction. After we calmed her down I think my husband whispered something like, “I didn’t see that coming.” Me either. We thought she would be as excited as we were to go shopping and pick out a new sofa for our family room.
But the truth is, any one of us can struggle with change. Not everyone struggles with changing the furniture, but if we are honest it’s likely that each one of us has something in our environment that we would prefer to stay the same.
The rhythm of Saturday morning coffee and devotions before the kids are up, the routine of going to the gym at the same time each morning, date night at “our” restaurant, sitting in the same place at church each week, singing along to a particular song or hymn, listening and learning at the feet of a long-term pastor. Each of these can feel a bit like putting on a cozy, well-worn sweatshirt, or eating a home cooked meal of comfort food favorites.
Change is dynamic and it impacts us differently. At times it can hit someone like a ton of bricks while it barely makes an impact on someone else.
During seasons of leadership change in churches, it isn’t unusual to see people struggle like my daughter did. “I don’t want a different pastor!” “I like our church the way it is!” Panic. Fear. Grief. Loss. Excitement. Anticipation. Hope.
My colleague and mentor Russ Crabtree has suggested ways leaders (or parents) can help to manage change. I call them the Seven Principles of Managing Change.
- Perception. Realize that people will have a perception of what this change means to them. It may be different from your perception. It will be shaped by their personality and it may be perceived as positive or negative depending upon their previous experiences.
- Purpose. Those who are leading the change must affirm and communicate the purpose for the change clearly, often and in positive terms that help those being impacted to understand the rationale. Whether they agree with the rationale or decision is another thing.
- Picture. Paint a picture of the future in positive terms so that those impacted by the change can envision the continuation of circumstance, relationship or ministry beyond the season of change.
- Plan. Some people need time to “process” change, so it is helpful to communicate the plan in advance. Even if every detail of the plan has not been firmed up, communicating a general plan helps people to digest the impending reality and to develop trust that leadership is thinking ahead. It also allows people to rest in the knowledge that those in charge know the way forward and will serve as a guide.
- Process. Describe and clarify the process and timeline so that others understand how the plan will be accomplished. Take time for meaningful dialogue including opportunities for questions and clarifications.
- Participation. Invite participation when possible. Give people the opportunity to participate in the process of change. This can be as simple as providing a forum to listen to thoughts and feelings, or it may be an opportunity for active participation. People are generally more accepting of an outcome when they have invested or participated in the process.
- Psychology. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone dealt with change the way we deal with change? It is important for leaders to understand there is a psychology that accompanies change for people of all ages and stages of life. Some people feel very little impact and others feel it intensely. Just because you are excited by the idea of a new sofa doesn’t mean the challenging emotions your child is experiencing aren’t just as valid (i.e., lesson learned).
Whether parents or pastors, leaders need to respond with sensitivity and be prepared to guide people through the dynamic of change.
As Paul Harvey used to say, “Now, the rest of the story.” Once we got over the shock of our daughter’s response, we were able to help her with the change. We took a picture of her beloved sofa and tacked it up on the bulletin board in her room so she could look at it anytime she felt lonely for it. It finally came down when we were packing up her room for college. We had a good laugh about it.
While she has grown into an independent, adventurous woman who actively takes on challenges and regularly stretches herself in new ways, every once in a while we see a glimpse of that sweet, tenderhearted five year old who loves our family “traditions” and longs to come home to the comfort and familiarity of our family room.
We wouldn’t have it any other way.