I have a book I’d like to tell you about: A Change of Pastors, by Loren B. Mead of the Alban Institute, an organization which studies clergy and congregation life and offers them practical help. The title is telling, of course, and the reason I picked it up years ago, but the subtitle, And How It Affects Change in the Congregation, is more telling (and what the book is really about). It turns out that Mead means for this book to be both a practical help for congregations undergoing a change of pastor and an encouragement not to fear. Indeed, he expects congregations to flourish from it, even to be catalyzed by it, as a change in pastors opens them to other transformations in their life together.
Near the end of the book, Mead writes about change in congregations. He knows people care deeply about their congregations; they also, at the same time, have a gut feeling that things could be better than they are. He knows, too, that congregations resist any and almost all opportunities to change the ways things are. He says that there is good news and bad news in this state of affairs, both for congregations and for those who grow frustrated trying to bring about their things could be better than they are feeling to reality.
The good news is that when change does come, it is possible that it will stay around a long time. Congregations have a wealth of stability in them; they exist in an equilibrium which is hard to reset—they tend to stay put. He likens congregations to sailboats “with a deep and heavy keel that won’t flip over or turn around on a dime.” This isn’t a bad thing.
The bad news is “that congregations are heavily resistant to the very efforts people put into them to make them better—or at least better as those people define ‘better.’” To continue his nautical analogy, congregations are like barges, heavily loaded, which tend to go “relentlessly in one direction either until they hit something that sinks them or until they are grappled by a powerful tugboat that can wrestle them onto another course.”
When you think about it, too, you might realize that congregations are not unique in these characteristics. Other organizations act in much the same way.
Although we might like him to, he offers no easy answers, just a clue and strategy about change. The clue comes from the behavioral sciences: organizations are always stable because of a balance of forces which keeps things the way they are. They cannot change until that balance is somehow broken. The strategy is this:
- The frozen equilibrium (the stable way things are) must be unfrozen.
- The desired change must be installed.
- The organization has to be refrozen with the change in place.
Mead ties this in with the purpose of his book by saying that a change of pastors is one way to unfreeze the equilibrium a congregation has established. He encourages congregations to see a change of pastors as an opportunity for them to break apart their the way things are equilibrium as they install a new relationship with a new pastor. As this new relationship becomes established and choices for a shared future become the agenda for dialogue between clergy and a congregation, deeper conversations about other necessary changes in the life of the congregation may happen as well.
May God bless you in the change in pastors you all are about to undertake. May this be a rich time of dialogue and an opportunity for meaningful and healthful change.