The keys to lasting change

Learning Change by Jim Herrington and Trisha Taylor Kregel

Part 1 of an interview with Jim Herrington and Trisha Taylor,

Authors of Learning Change

Change is seldom easy for an individual, much less an entire group of people such as a church congregation. In Learning Change: Congregational Transformation Fueled by Personal Renewal (Kregel Ministry/May 27, 2017), authors Jim Herrington and Trisha Taylor share the stories of church leaders who were able to transform their congregations by first making changes in their own lives.

Q: Explain the learning process involved with making a change. How is the transformational learning model different from other methods or models of learning?

Traditional learning involved mastering information. If I’m trying to improve my marriage or learn to be a good deacon, I go to this class, read this book or listen to this podcast. I get information. The transformational learning model involves three movements: gathering information, putting it into practice and then reflecting on the results. This is an ongoing process that increases one’s mastery throughout time. For us, learning has not occurred when you master the information. It has only occurred when you master the practice. In other words, it’s not enough to know different until you can actually do different. Because we believe in the power of the learning community, we believe this happens most effectively when we are engaging these three movements together with other people and sharing our learning.

Q: What are the keys required for real change?

First, the pain of not changing must be greater than the pain of changing. There must be an intrinsic motivation for learning because almost all learning involves loss: giving up some things to gain other things. Unless there is intrinsic motivation, you will rarely stay the course. Second, you need hope about a possible future that inspires you. Third, you need a good coach who can encourage you and hold you accountable to do the hard work.

Q: Why is dreaming such an integral part of change?

There is both a push and a pull to change. The push is the lack of results, the breakdowns, the awareness that what you are doing is not getting you the results you want. The pull is a vision of what is possible for you as a fully alive human being and what is possible for us in our families and communities. Without the pull, the push can’t be sustained throughout time.

The dream is the “hope about a possible future” mentioned above. We need to have a picture of what God can do that is increasingly clear and compelling. It’s crucial that this dream opens up new possibilities to us; without a clear and compelling dream, we will settle for doing more of the same, just a little bit differently. This is much of what the Bible offers us — stories, poems and word-pictures about God’s dream for us and for our world, what it will look like when the shalom of God is realized in our lives.

Q: How does a church leader take what he/she learns about change and the changes he/she makes personally and move the congregation to changing as a whole?

First, we don’t believe a leader can do this. It takes a leadership team committed to the journey of deep change throughout time. In our book we talk about 10 practices (four values, five skills sets and one end game) congregations can master to journey into the future effectively. A team of leaders who are at the center of the life of a congregation can begin by taking their own journey of mastery. Leaders need to learn together to embody the skills that empower effective change. Second, they need to help their congregation engage a posture of ongoing learning. They need to create systems and structures, experiences and processes that help more and more people in the congregation: (1) know what the practices are, and (2) have safe, shame-free learning environments where an increasing number of people are gaining greater mastery of the practices.

Leaders are most effective when they are learning to live differently and then sharing their learning with others. This is different from telling people how they should change. As leaders are taking on this learning in their own lives — and joining with others who are doing the same — they will also learn important skills to lead change (for example, the chapter on Generating and Sustaining Creative Tension) and to see the system as a whole and intervene effectively. They will be able to manage their own anxiety in the natural pushback of the system.

Q: What kind of leadership is required to move a congregation of many views and opinions through a process of change as one body?

There are several parts to this answer:

  • We see the power of loving, patient, persistent, long-term (10-15 years) leadership. There are no quick fixes to the deep challenges and changes that this new era demands.
  • We believe it’s a kind of leadership that grows increasingly comfortable with sustaining creative tension as missional experiments are conducted off the map.
  • It is leadership focused on managing ourselves in an anxious system, not on changing others.
  • It is able to tolerate the discomfort and even pain of leading change in a system that naturally resists change, as all systems do.
  • It is leadership that can let go of control and move toward dialogue, collaboration and partnership, especially across boundaries.
  • It’s leadership that is willing to let go of the posture of the expert and take on the posture of a learner.

Q: In what ways is the church losing its impact here in America? What does and doesn’t need to happen for the church to regain its ground?

There are a number of major studies documenting the deep and growing decline of the church, both in terms of constituencies and influence. The world is changing at the pace of a jet in flight, and the church is changing at the pace of a horse and buggy. What doesn’t need to happen is for congregations to double down and work harder at 20th-century strategies and ways of thinking. What does need to happen is nothing short of the transformation of congregations across the country. We hold this congregational transformation is not possible apart from a journey of personal transformation. Personal transformation is found in the lost art of spiritual formation. That lost art is recaptured in our work in the Faithwalking ministry.

Also, we are actually not interested in helping the church regain its ground or recover something it had in the past. We believe God is doing a new work in a new era, and we want to equip churches to join that work. History tells us the church might have to decrease in order to increase, that it may have to give up influence or power to engage the culture differently. The culture is changing more rapidly than we even fully understand. We can’t go back.

Q: Is there a destination churches should hope to arrive at after reading Learning Change?

There is not so much a destination as there is growing capacity to stay deeply and meaningfully engaged in an ongoing journey of joining God on God’s mission in a rapidly changing world. As that journey unfolds, congregations will have to reinvent themselves over and over. There is a lot of hope to be found when you have confidence you have the tools to change (reinvent yourself) as your context changes.

Learn more about Learning Change at https://ridder.westernsem.edu/learning-change/.

 

The Christian Post