Keep Moving Forward… on Purpose

Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious… and curiousity keeps leading us down new paths.

Walt Disney, quoted in Meet the Robinsons (2007), ending scene


If you’re going to turn a ship, there are going to be people who did things a certain way to get them into this mess. Some can make the change. Some can be retrained. But not everybody can make the turn.

Mark Rutland, Relaunch, 174


You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.

Bruce Lee

[Quick note: A quick shout out to my friend Caleb O’Hara who collaborates with me, and I with him, on a lot projects. His fervor for the mantra to #keepmovingforward stimulated this essay.]

Change is a funny thing. Most people I know hate change. I hate change. Not all change, just the uncomfortable kind that I know will make me a better person. Ironically, however, every person must be able to change and adapt in order to survive. Think about it. Even in the most regimented schedule, there are always variables that must be adapted to. The kick to dealing with change is an ability to find a new equilibrium and to find it fast enough to keep up with the change.

The thing is, we adapt to change without even thinking about it. But, change is hard when we chose to do it on purpose.

Changing on Purpose

When we think about change, over think about change, and obsess about change, change can become a burden. Especially, when we are accustomed to how we always do things. In times like these change is like giving birth — you know it needs to happen but the labor and reality are terrifying.

Perhaps one of the keys to change is understanding that it requires two particular factors: flexibility and reassessment. If the needed change occurs, it is because we are willing to be flexible with our behaviors, approaches, decisions, and methods. Such change also demands that we constantly reassess our behaviors, approaches, decisions, and methods.

These two basic principles are so basic we’ve assumed them into our subconscious. So when we bring them forward into the theater of our decision-making processes, I usually see that’s when we become clumsy or robotic to tackle the problem at hand or reach our goals. We fall into a pitfall of rigidity, forgetting that adjusting to change allows us to be flexible to reach our goals by constantly reassessing and adjusting to new situations.

It’s really the hardest thing to realize that adjusting to change is an ongoing process, and the ability to be flexible actually translates into our reaction time and success in an ever-changing world. This is true for the individual, an organization, a church, and the market. This requires a healthy measure of reassessment.

When I think of adjusting to change, I often think about the time when I was a member of an urban congregation in San Francisco, CA, and we made the move out of the city, due to some civic pressures, to the suburban environment of Pacifica, CA. This transition was paved with flexible adjustments to new needs in order to reach our goal of planting a new church. The season of this transition taught me many lessons about leadership and change, especially as I watched our leadership move forward to meet this challenge that was new to all of us.

We had to rent a meeting place while building a new meeting place. We had to re-envision a new ministry team while maintaining an existing ministry team. We had to face a new environment (new meeting times, new responsibilities, etc.) while desiring to maintain the congregational environment we had been used too (teaching, preaching, worship, eating together). So many things to balance.

There was no way this would be accomplished without flexibility and the vision to reassess behaviors, approaches, decisions, and methods. We were on the verge of a powerful transition for the congregation. We knew things were happening all around us, and in some measure —if not in whole— we were dreaming new dreams not knowing exactly how this would turn out.

Leadership

How you lead in times like this speaks volumes of your vision casting skill set in order to adjust to changes. When we moved to Pacifica our leadership did a great job helping us envision the benchmarks which needed to be met in order to make this transition a success. We would meet in a firehouse meeting building, we would meet on Sundays, but our mid-week Bible study times were either on a Tuesday night or a Thursday night. In order to keep the church together, we would need to bus members from San Francisco who did not have rides to church in Pacifica. We would also be reassessing our ministry team by adding a new ministry family. The leadership invited the church members into the process.

Creativity and Delegation

Creativity and delegation are powerful skills which provide a healthy environment for growth. When a group can think creatively and take ownership of its actions, then a powerful and healthy environment is created to facilitate growth. They have taken the challenge to change on purpose. Every Sunday in the firehouse in Pacifica was filled with the sort of energy aroused because we were being creative by solving problems and everyone had a unique role to fill. For example, the firehouse hall had no classrooms but in time canvass sheets were clamped to beams in the ceiling in order to create barriers for Bible classes. We were able to see what was not physically there and brought it into existence through creativity.

Everyone participated in the setting up and storing of the metal chairs we sat in during assembly. No one person did everything, no micro managers, we were a collective flexible group using our creativity to adjust to our new environment. When the congregation finally entered into the new building and was poised to use all that energy of collective flexibility to continue to be the church that could meet any challenge because it had become accustomed to change. Consequently, the goal was reached.

Ira North in his book, Balance, speaks to the potency of delegating responsibilities within a church context. When brethren in a local congregation have “responsibility” in their hands for specific “church-related” tasks, it alleviates the entire burden from being on a small group of people. More work can be accomplished, and it can be accomplished better by those with specialized skill sets whether it be practical or professional.

Read my Book Review on Balance “Why Balance Still Resonates”

The Challenge

I often think about the moment after we reach our goals. To reach a goal is usually the result of not just tackling the known challenges but also of being flexible enough to be able to reassess during the journey to adjust to new changes. Too many times we lose something after we reach our goals. Many times we think we have arrived and no longer need to drive towards reaching our goals.

Heraclitis is famous for saying, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” There is a tendency to stop being creative, to stop being flexible, and to reconsolidate power so that the energy that was so instrumental now begins to wane. Some believe the “success” of the good ole days (i.e., the past) is the key to “success” in the present; that it can be duplicated today by holding on to the past. But, I would argue that in doing so we quickly forgot that past successes are many times the result of the product or message itself and not the means (i.e., the strategy) on how we delivered it. They seem to never take into consideration that they were engaged in the touching points of their niche culture or times — things which always change.

An energized church or group becomes a stagnant, rigid, micromanaged place that no longer has the reaction time to adjust to the changes around them, or to dream another dream. Why? It’s not usually about the product or the message they share, it usually about failing to meet the challenge to change on purpose.

Concluding Thoughts

So, I’m chasing to end where I started. Change. It’s a funny thing. We do it all the time to great success, particularly when we do not give it much thought. Yet, the moment we change on purpose the temptation rises to over analyze and micromanage how to change. When we do this, we often lose the powerful elements which allow us to successfully adjust to change —our need to reassess our behaviors, approaches, decisions, and methods, and our need to be flexible in order to keep moving forward.

So if you have a goal to meet, let me encourage you with a word. Stop overthinking change! It’s healthy, it’s normal. Be flexible and willing to constantly reassess behaviors, approaches, decisions, and methods. If you can do that, you just might be the force you were meant to be.

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