As the pandemic trudges into its third year, many leaders are thinking about what needs to change. The paradox, however, is that a leader’s success is often judged by longevity and continuity. Innovation is not always appreciated in real time. The longer a program lasts without change or interruption, the more we celebrate our efforts. The more years someone serves in a singular role, the more we cheer them on.
This kind of thinking is not without some merit. Institutions are deemed viable by virtue of their sustainability. But the path to sustainability is seldom a straight line – and keep in mind that longevity and sustainability are not exactly the same.
Longevity is a measure of time. Sustainability is a measure of strength over time. When we prioritize longevity as the key metric of success, which often happens in congregations, it inevitably leads us to put ailing objectives on life-support. Changing or eliminating programs looks like failure.
But since we are resurrection people, death does not need to end in death. After death comes new life.
In 2016, when the congregation of Grace Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina was dwindling, and its youngest members were in their 70s, the church took a courageous step forward. They donated their building to Durham Nativity School, which serves middle-school boys. Today, the school is a thriving center of hope and transformation for these boys and their families.
Providing leadership is more difficult when the need for a reset is not so obvious. Everything looks fine until you ask probing questions: “What specific impact do our efforts and investments make? Is the investment associated with this program sustainable long-term? In the current environment, is our approach still the best way to accomplish our objectives?” Asking generative questions like these helps people discover whether it’s time to reset.
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Before you go…
Knowing when to pivot the congregation toward something new is an essential leadership competency. We are called to navigate shifts with courage, prayer and transparent communication among all stakeholders.
Wise leaders do not go down this path alone. Follow the advice of leadership professor John Kotter and develop a “guiding coalition.” If you’re going to reset, you’ll definitely need someone to go with you on the journey.
As always, you can reach me and the Alban Weekly team at firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep leading courageously!
Editor, Alban at Duke Divinity