By Andre M. Wang … In May 2014, North American Division President Dan Jackson summoned church administrators and leaders in the United States and Canada to convene in Dulles, Virginia. The main topic on the agenda: CHANGE. A sort of reformation, if you will.
The issue was not about the church’s beliefs or values, but about sustainability. Can the church continue, much less thrive, under the current mode of operation? The premise of the meetings was that the current model the North American Division uses to execute its mission was cumbersome, inefficient and redundant. Dan Jackson asserted, “Good stewardship requires us to explore a better way to do things.” He then asked the gathering of leaders if they supported the idea of structural change, even if it meant the elimination of their own positions and territories. Every hand went up in affirmation.
An action was taken to establish three committees to examine and propose reforms in the areas of education, mission and governance. As fortune would have it, being an unrepentant policy nerd, I received an invitation to serve on the committee on church governance, or as I called it, the Committee on Committees to Study Reducing Committees Committee.
The work of the governance committee was fascinating. As a lifelong Adventist, I was shocked to learn and discover how much I didn’t know about how the church operates, how it’s financed and how decision-making flows. We critically examined everything from church structure to tithe distribution. We turned over every proverbial rock looking for a better way the church could do business.
The three committees ultimately presented their findings and proposals at the 2015 NAD Year-end Meeting. After the reports were presented, Jackson announced that they be examined by NAD administrators for action.
The desire for change directly implies that the status quo is not working and that there must be a better way to do things. But there is always a natural resistance to change because it’s a journey into the unknown. While serving on the NAD governance committee, I heard many “resistance responses” around the table and this is how I interpreted them:
It’s always been like this. Interpretation: the need for change is much older than we originally thought. This is an argument that change should have happened a long time ago.
It’s this way everywhere. Interpretation: the need and scope for change is bigger and more widespread than we anticipated. Change should not just happen locally, but globally.
It’s not in the budget. Interpretation: money is not being allocated (read, “spent”) in the proper places.
It’s too political. Interpretation: let’s not hurt anyone’s feelings but avoid critical self-examination and the asking of tough questions about the organization.
It’s tradition! Interpretation: the organization has no clue what they do and why they are doing it.
Below are seven lessons I learned about change from serving on a committee about change:
1.Fear and emotion are part of the process.
This is only natural as we are sentient, thinking human beings who care deeply about things that affect us. It is helpful to write out a list of the negative factors, interesting factors, and positive factors toward adopting change in order to bring our deepest fears to the surface where we audit how we feel about a particular issue and stimulate our creative side. The “interesting factor” list is where the creativity takes place and ideas for change develop that lead to a positive outlook.
2.It’s not the change that is scary; it’s the journey to change.
Change is never as simple as dropping everything you know and doing it differently. The status quo is a comfortable place that is known, structured, proven, certain and reassuring. Conversely, change is unknown, unstructured, unproven, uncertain and unsettling. The area between the status quo and change is predictable and foreseeable—risk, fear, anxiety, confusion, blame, etc. This is why pilots get on the loudspeaker to advise nervous passengers what to expect on the flight, and why doctors update anxious families on the status of their loved one’s surgery. The journey to change should be open and transparent.
3. Don’t be afraid of the scope of change.
At the outset, there must be a basic understanding what will change and what will not. Before embarking on a journey to change, take inventory of the things that will remain the same, make a list of things that cannot be done now and still cannot be done after the change; list things that are being done now, but will no longer be able to be done after the change and list the things that cannot be done now, but can be accomplished with the change. This puts the change (and the journey to change) in context and hones the focus on the ultimate prize.
4. It’s not ownership, but authorship.
In an organization, change cannot be imposed by fiat or executive declaration. No one person or committee owns the change. It must be organic, with meaningful thought and input from everyone involved. A leader gives the group authorship of the change, empowering them to design and make the change for themselves. Thus, people are not responding to change, but have essentially taken control of it.
5. Create a change checklist.
Imagine you are cleaning out your closet. You must decide: (1) What to keep?; (2) What to toss?; (3) What to change?; and (4) What to add? An organization needs to go through the same closet-cleaning analysis. This is where the design for change takes place.
6.People want change.
Every product in the history of business is based on change. The number of people who desire change is always greater than we think. But change must be offered, not foisted.
7. Cultural change must come before structural change.
Change just to do something different is fake change. Structural change is rather easy to design on paper—revise the organizational chart, the flow of capital and the methods of decision-making. But has really anything changed? In order to be real, it must start with cultural change, changing the mindset while upholding morale. Until the culture of the organization is changed, no other change is possible.
I implore everyone who desires change to keep an open mind. A closed mind is a de facto vote for the status quo. An open mind explores the opportunities and possibilities. Yes, it runs the risk of disappointment and failure, but it’s a chance to make a difference.
Although it is now six years since the NAD ad hoc governance committee completed its work, I remain hopeful that the ideas we presented and the analysis that brought us there are still valuable and capable of bringing change to the church that I love and want to see thrive into the future.
We can keep things the same or we can make a difference. We cannot do both.
–Andre Wang serves as general counsel and director of public affairs and religious liberty for the North Pacific Union Conference. He writes from Portland, Oregon. Email him at: [email protected]