Our summer vacation was an incredible trip through Washington’s Olympic National Park. In one park (albeit a huge one) you can see snow-capped mountains, countless waterfalls, a temperate rain forest, and spectacular seacoast. In the latter two environments, I was surprised at the number of dead trees that we encountered. Along the coast, we ran into a wall of huge driftwood logs that made it difficult to get to the beach. In the rain forest, new seedlings were springing to life from decaying trees.
One of the never-ending challenges in my work with churches is to create a climate where healthy change is possible. While there can be many different obstacles to change, the most common is the resistance of a group within the congregation. Typically this group has many years of experience – at the church and in life.
Those who are trying to lead a change process, or who are simply ready for change, tend to think of the older group like the driftwood that I encountered on my trip – obstacles that serve little purpose and that make it more difficult to get to the destination. But what if we treated them differently? What if they could offer the fertile conditions that would bring about new life and growth?
The downed trees in the rain forest are past their prime, but they are far from useless. They still have life in them and play a vital role in the forest’s future. The same can be true for the “resistors” in your church. They need to understand that they are in a different season, but that doesn’t mean casting them aside. They can offer their wisdom and experience while making room for new leaders to shape the future.
Interestingly, another term for the forest we visited in Washington is “old growth forest.” In leadership, we tend to think that “old” and “growth” don’t belong in the same sentence. Maybe we should change our thinking. If you’re the pastor or leader who is hungry for change but you’re struggling with resistors, you have an opportunity to create an ecosystem that looks more like a vibrant forest than a beach full of driftwood.
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