There are a number of resources out there that folks in my business tend to go to for wisdom on a regular basis; websites, video blogs, conferences, twitter feeds, bloggers, etc. Basically, if you were to summarize their logic it would go something like this;
1. Things are falling apart.
2. We are saying this because we are not getting the results we desire or even what we used to get.
3. The answer to this is we need to be flexible, empower gen X’ers and put the vision above commitment to the organization.
Is this the best way forward? I wonder. It is interesting to think of organizations that were at the top of their game just a few years ago and are now becoming irrelevant. Blackberry maker Research in Motion comes to mind. Is the explanation for their decline because they didn’t do the things on the above list?
I just wonder. We are living in a time when the Christian world is changing very dramatically. I served on the board of a small Christian school for a number of years. I recently heard they closed. I am good friends with a guy who had to close his church. The statistics on church closures are frightening.
As pastors wrestle with the questions about what causes change in a person, I wrestle with what causes change in an organization? Can it really change and if so, what causes this? My very unscientific conclusions aren’t very encouraging, but I do think we need to grapple with them. Often people describe an organization as having a culture. As anyone who has studied foreign cultures knows, adjusting to a new culture is quite difficult. I was talking to someone who has been living in the US for over six years after moving here from Asia. It is still quite difficult for her. A friend who moved to Asia from the US describes the first year in the new culture as being the same as the year of mourning she had after her mother’s death. The advantage that these two people had was, they were forced to make this change due to a location change. Organizations don’t have this added benefit. The building, the people, the language… it all remains the same. The only thing different is that someone said we were going to do things differently.
My partner and I went through a strategic planning exercise with a church and thought we had developed some fairly specific guidelines for future missions support opportunities. I was shocked to hear their rationale for another cause they decided to support that met none of these guidelines. Yes, culture does not change easily. So, what do we do? (You are not going to like this)
1. Start with the idea that it is best that we just let the thing die. I am not kidding about this. Sometimes the best thing to do is stop and hope that something better rises from the ashes.
2. OK, now we have everyone’s attention. So is there enough desire in the room to make the changes necessary to make the organization successful in the future? Are we willing to start with a blank piece of paper with very few non-negotiables. In other words, are we all willing to resign?
3. Enter a time of prayer and discernment, as a community to see what the next direction may be. It could be that the best thing is to keep things as they are and let the slow process of decline continue but manage it in a way that honors God. I really mean that. Move to smaller offices. Let people go. Try and focus on a few things to do well rather than doing a lot. etc.
4. If the decision is made to continue, be willing to be ruthless and experience the same dissonance that my two friends did when they entered new cultures. Think about the vision in the morning when you wake up, when you eat your lunch, when you plan your day, when you go out for coffee, when you go to bed, when you get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. Keep it on the forefront of your mind. Check out now and then, of course, but my point here is to make sure your daily activities (all of them) feed the vision.
Now, having said all of this, let me make one last comment that will completely undo, at least in some people’s minds, what I have written above. Realize that, over the course of history, God has done some rather surprising things for reasons that He alone is aware of. He has allowed perfectly good ministries to fail. He has allowed cultures that, at least on the outside, seemed to reflect the kingdom of God, to slide into sin to the point that they entered a period of exile. Is this where we are right now? I don’t think so, but it is possible. The steps I mentioned above had to do, mainly, with what we could do. But realize God is going to do what He is going to do. The best thing we can do is believe this, live this and, as Job says, “though He slay me, yet I will hope in Him.” Like Job, we may be surprised by the ultimate outcome.
Tell me if I am crazy here!