The Truth About Disruptive Change

My sense is that leadership these days is more often than not about change. Whether you’re a leader in business, at home, in a volunteer agency, school, or church, the world has changed significantly enough – and doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon – that organizations inevitably need to change, often continually, to adapt to both the challenges and opportunities ahead.

And change is hard. Why? Because change is disruptive, and we tend greatly to prefer stability to change because, quite frankly, stability promotes growth. So the idea of changing direction, changing practices, and perhaps above all else changing personnel, is daunting because we want to avoid the disruption – and along with disruption the emotional fallout – that significant change brings.

But here’s the thing: not changing in the kind of world in which we live is also disruptive. It’s just that the disruption is slower, and therefore more palatable, until we’re able to retire or move on, hopefully before our institutions decay significantly or die.

I know the world of the church and seminary education best. And change in these environments is incredibly hard. Not only do we prefer stability, but we also love tradition and care deeply about people’s feelings (both of which I value!). And so we avoid significant change, tweaking past practices, retaining people who resist change, and trying desperately to do what we’ve always done just a little bit better.

But it’s not working. Look around. Denominations, congregations, seminaries are declining in membership and influence. And we suffer this long, slow, but also devastating disruption because we fear the immediate disruption of radical change.

And that’s the truth about change: it will be disruptive – always. The choice is whether it’s the significant disruption of major change in the short run for the sake of health or the long, slow but ultimately devastating disruption of irreparable decay over the long haul.