I’ve always loved change. A student in our former campus ministry once observed, “You know, Bill, we don’t have to do something different each semester. We can repeat ourselves!” Why repeat yourself when you can try something new?
As a leader, I’ve extolled change as a natural part of life and leadership. Change has usually been easy because as the leader I typically initiated the change. I assumed that if people didn’t get on board with the change, the problem was with them. After all, accepting change marked one as a “team player.” But, I’m changing my mind about change after reading Peter Scazzaro.
Peter Scazzero is the popular author of several books on emotionally healthy spirituality. He addresses the “touchy-feely” stuff that I’m uncomfortable with. I could fill several pages with the power of his insights but one insight in particular has shaped how I think and plan for change. That insight is the emotion of grief.
Grieving means paying attention to and embracing the pain of loss or ending. Scazzero writes that “we [too often] deny and avoid the difficulties and losses of life, the rejections and frustrations.” If I do not feel and recognize the pain of grief then I’m not opening myself up to new beginnings. It’s easy to cover over grief rather than letting the emotion “enlarge my soul and mature me.”
The Lord helped me to connect Scazzero’s insights on grieving with change. Over the years I’ve orchestrated ministry changes never once thinking how change can cause grief in someone’s life. Scazzero’s description of how some church leaders addressed the resistance to a location change typified my thinking about helping people deal with change.
In actuality, however, they needed time and an opportunity to grieve leaving a place where God had done many wonderful works. Instead of going room by room in the old building, remembering the youth who had experiences with God in the [youth area], the babies dedicated . . . their feelings are seen as
rebellion or a lack of willingness to participate in this next “move of God.” In fact, what they need is the opportunity to pray, to express thanks to God for all the good things he has done, and to say “goodbye.” Did you catch the leader’s attitudes as they reacted to people in the change process? When leaders who are not in touch with people’s emotions, a response to change is considered“rebellion or a lack of willingness to participate in this next ‘move of God.’” Sadly, this attitude has often marked my leadership.
Instead of helping people grieve, I resented their reluctance or unwillingness to embrace a new direction. Scazzero’s remedy is to lead people through the grieving process — praying, thanking God for what He had done in the past, saying “goodbye” to what once was, and welcoming the new. Scazzero calls this “allowing the old to birth the new,” to embrace a new beginning from an ending.
Life is filled with “endings.” The neighbors we loved have moved away, the ministry team we enjoyed has dissolved, the leaders we cherished have taken new responsibilities, or our small group’s closeness has dissolved since new members joined. In each of these cases, we’ve faced an ending: neighbors have left, the team has dissolved, leaders have changed, the group’s closeness is lost. I need time to grieve — and I must give people time to grieve — and then embrace how something new emerges from an ending. “The failure to identify and prepare for endings and the accompanying loss is perhaps the biggest obstacle that prevents so many of us from moving on to something new,” writes Scazzero.
I wish I had understood the relationship between grieving, endings, and new beginnings earlier in my leadership. I would have been more compassionate about leading people through change. I would have prepared them for endings, helping them to grieve and be grateful for what was coming to a close. I would have helped people say “hello” to the new that God was doing. I would have recognized that people, and myself, are complex emotional creatures whose emotions need to be considered in how we lead.
Sometimes people’s reluctance to embrace change is not their fault but the failure of my leadership. I’ve failed in helping them face an ending and welcome a new beginning. I’ve changed my mind about change.