Scott Benhase: Teaching dissatisfaction

Sometimes leaders have to help people learn to be dissatisfied with how things are.

Leaders in the church can get frustrated when trying to change a particular mission direction in a congregation. It may be a new direction for the church school, or maybe the needs of the community have indicated a new focus for outreach, or it could be that the music ministry might need a new vision. Whatever new direction we might wish to engage, it won’t succeed unless we pay attention to the human dynamics in the process.

What is often called Gleicher’s Formula for Change states it this way: Change will only happen when there is enough dissatisfaction with the status quo as well as a compelling new vision for how things might be. But that’s still not sufficient. People also have to see some concrete first steps toward the new vision. And then all that combined (dissatisfaction, vision and first steps) needs to be greater than the resistance expected by the change. The formula looks like this: C = D x V x Fs > R.

Church leaders sometimes fail in leading in a new direction because they don’t give attention to all parts of the process. For example, they have a compelling vision for how things might be for a new church school ministry. So, they focus on stating the vision consistently, but then get discouraged because children and parents do not embrace this new ministry. The vision for the new ministry may be solid and holy, but the leader did not first gauge the level of dissatisfaction with the current church school ministry. If people are content with the status quo, then a new vision alone may not be enough.

Sometimes leaders have to help people learn to be dissatisfied with how things are. An alternative vision for how things could be is a good start toward that, but until a critical mass of people are dissatisfied with the status quo, leaders waste a lot of energy. That’s where discouragement sets in and leaders can begin to blame people for being “stuck” or “rigid” or “not open-minded.” That could then create a sense of resentment that can give way to spiritual withdrawal. “Why can’t these people just follow my lead on this?” is what’s often said in frustration. Likewise, when leaders fail to gauge the level of resistance they might face in introducing a new direction, they imperil the success of the change. Resistance can be lessened by raising people’s level of dissatisfaction and by offering a compelling vision for how things might be. Leaders need to give focused attention to all parts of the change process (D, V, Fs, R).

This is how St. Paul led. One could argue that his entire letter to the Romans did just that. Chapters 1-4 lays out “all have sinned and fallen short,” which addresses the dissatisfaction for the way things are. Chapters 5-11 present a new vision for how we are to live by grace through faith in Jesus. Chapters 12-15 outline the first steps to that vision of new life in Christ: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God.”

We should not be discouraged as we try to bring change to our congregations. We won’t be if we do the hard work and pay attention to all the needed parts of the process.

Scott Benhase is the Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Georgia.