Our lives, our churches, and our businesses are being influenced by an increasing number of complex political, social, and economic forces every day. The stakes are higher and how we navigate the changes associated with these complex forces is more important than ever.
There are many theories and practices of change leadership and management that can prove helpful in times of seemingly insurmountable challenges, but often when things become more complex we need to simplify. Change at its simplest and most basic level is either adaptive or creative. Let’s take a closer look at each.
Adaptive changes are changes we make in response to changes in our environment. Essentially, they are reactive in nature. Church leaders spend much of their “change capital” addressing adaptive change. Changes in laws, regulations, and the economy spawned by the COVID-19 pandemic are vivid examples that have put pressure on leaders to adapt and change services, systems, programs, and processes. Other environmental forces that might force us to adapt include the weather, technology, people’s preferences, and demographics. Adaptive changes may be good for society or a certain demographic, yet they may not contribute to the mission and vision of the organization. Even so, leaders must make the necessary adaptive changes for the organization to at times comply and at other times simply to survive.
Adaptive change, according to change theorist Ronald Heifetz, is “change that requires new learning for problem definition and solution implementation.” Heifetz goes on to say, “Adaptive challenges occur when our deeply held beliefs are challenged, when the values that made us successful become less relevant, and when legitimate yet competing perspectives emerge.” Heifetz could have had church challenges in mind when he wrote those words.
Creative change, on the other hand, is a more proactive approach to change. Here leaders make changes before they are required to respond to environmental change. Instead of waiting to have the environment act upon them, they act upon the environment by making it better or creating something entirely new.
Creative change leaders understand that the future is both unpredictable and uncontrollable, but still closely observe environmental patterns of thought and behavior in order to create the future they want for themselves, their families, and their churches. Creative change leaders are by nature aspirational and make a plan and begin to take action to move toward those aspirations, and when circumstances merit, a willingness to alter course.
The reality is that church and organizational leaders are required to make adaptive changes virtually every day. Yet, many leaders feel that adaptive change is their only option. It is if all you want to do is maintain the status quo. For, in its simplest terms leaders make adaptive changes to stay even and creative changes in order to move ahead.
Both adaptive and creative changes are difficult, agonizing, and often painful, yet ministry leaders must do both. The bottom line….in the midst of a complex, diverse and rapidly changing culture, churches must adapt to survive, but they must create to thrive.
Posted on October 20, 2020