Saturday, November 27, 2010

Anticipating Paradigm Shifts


The demand has shifted from change in our churches being minor and seldom to being a constant issue on our agenda. Since all change is seen as loss and all loss is faced with a certain amount of grief and sometimes anger, leaders who successfully lead their churches in the world today will understand not only their current paradigm but will be paradigm pioneers who lead the church to the future God has planned and intended for it.

A church’s “paradigm” defines what the church is and how it operates at any given point in time. That paradigm - a set of habits, attitudes, approaches and boundaries  include:
·      The definition of a good leader
·      The role of the church board or council
·      The decision-making process
·      What constitutes a worship service
·      The definition of adequate facilities
·      The definition of paid staff and how it relates to other church leaders
·      How membership is defined and maintained

Recognizing when a church’s paradigm (s) should change, then determining how to change it, are keys to the churches continuing vitality and success. Churches that grow quite large find they need different staff and activity models than they had as smaller congregations. An all-white city church may lose its relevancy as the neighborhood fills with minorities or immigrants. Churches with aging members may need to provide new kinds of support. Rural churches faced with an influx of people seeking to escape the rapid pace of city life may demand of new style of outreach. These are just examples how the way of doing things may not always be the best way of doing things.

George Bullard
George Bullard in a consultation with the South Costal Association commented that church paradigms and structures need planned obsolescence or the church will become ingrown and ineffective in its task of reaching the lost. He encouraged us to think about our style of ministry not as a box but a cloud.

Because it can take three to four years for a church to change paradigms, leaders who can anticipate the future will help their congregations to stay vibrant and effective. Deliberate paradigm management can allow a church to respond to change without being jarred from completing its mission.

How To Change A Church’s Paradigm

1.Affirm the past and show continuity. Find out which paradigms are most important to the congregation. It is neither possible nor desirable to change the essential heart of a church. Rather than replace one paradigm with a radically different one, identify stepping-stones toward the future.  For example, it may be easier for an all-white church to reach out to minorities if leaders emphasize its origins as a mission church.

Key Question: Are we living in the past or building on the past?

2. Nurture enthusiasm. Leaders with an obvious sense of adventure are healthy in times of change, while maintenance leaders who hold rigidly to past structures aren’t helpful. A more adventurous leadership team will create enthusiasm in others.

Key Question: Am I more comfortable with keeping things as they are or being a leader who risks to see a better tomorrow realized?

3. Seek models. Find another church that already has gone through the change you anticipate, and study what it did.  Simply being exposed to other paradigms and methods - even if you don’t adopt them - can enhance the repertoire of your congregation.

Key Question: What ideas have you seen elsewhere that would help us as a church achieve our full potential?

4. Spot paradigm tension points. Innovation is frequently threatened by the tension between groups. For example, cost-cutting attitudes conflict with extravagant spenders, baby boomers can conflict with seniors, and seekers see things differently from long-time members.

Key Question: As we move into the future what are the tension points you see?

5. Communicate with the members. Baby boomers, particularly, don’t want a mandate from the mountaintop; they want to participate in the process of discovery, through questionnaires, small-group discussions, and other dialogue.  People increasingly expect sophisticated, competently produced printed material. The message will need to be repeated many times and many ways.

Key Question: How can we as leaders better communicate the vision dreams and plans we have?

6. Clearly define new roles. Ministers, paid staff, and key volunteers need new definitions of how they fit into the new paradigm. If a clear definition isn’t given, the members will supply dozens of paradigms of their own about what they expect from their leaders, and will be disappointed when their expectations aren’t met.

Key Question: What Roles need to be clarified or redefined if we are to be more effective as leaders? In your role what one thing would you need to change to increase your effectiveness?

Looking at your church and honestly asking the question of what is currently not working will give a clue as to the paradigms which are ineffective and in need of change. The leader who knows what is and is able to create an optimistic view of the future through change will guide the church to become all God has created it to be.

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