Learning Change, Jim Herrington and Trisha Taylor. Grand Rapids: Kregel Ministry, 2017.
Summary: A biblically-rooted approach to congregational transformation that centers around personal transformation and that draws research on effective organizations and systems.
I’ve been there and perhaps you have as well. Gathering with a church leadership team. Writing vision and mission statements. Drafting core values. Identifying strategies and action plans. And then nothing changes. The plans sit on a shelf or in a file. And cynicism sets in that anything can really change.
This book takes a different approach to these things. It focuses on transformational learning that involves not only information but acting upon, and then reflecting upon, what is being learned that drives further change. Perhaps most radically, the authors propose that transformation starts with us, the only people we really can change, and to face the truth that we are the number one obstacle to change in our families, churches and communities. Until we start facing the work that needs to happen within ourselves, addressing our own way of being, we can’t truly look for other change.
The work begins with re-connecting with core values. The authors talk about four key core values. Integrity means living a life conformed to God’s design where we keep our word and do our word and own up when we don’t. Authenticity means to stop hiding our true selves and managing our images and taking the risk to reveal the real persons we are. Courage begins with these risks and grows as we pursue risky obedience as we move out in mission. Love commits to insuring that no one wins unless everyone wins, not just ourselves and the people we like.
The work continues by shifting our mental models. The first of these cultivates a model of discipleship that shifts from making church members to moving as authentic communities into mission. In a chapter I found particular illuminating, it means moving a fuzzy fusion of responsibility where we are responsible for everything and nothing to a mature responsibility for our selves and to others, but not for others and their transformation. A significant amount of church dysfunction occurs in this area. It moves from a status quo mentality to one of creative tension in moving toward God’s emerging future. It means moving from committees or static “teams” to high performance teams with clear goals, complementary skills, a common approach and accountability.
They also address some additional tools leaders need as they lead through learning change. One is they become aware of the “vows” arising from past wounds that block us, and making new vows rooted in truth. Another, which draws heavily on Peter Senge’s learning organizations is moving from discussion to dialogue–from a clash of ideas to conversations where we learn together. Finally, they talk about moving beyond good intentions to real accountability.
I appreciated the approach of this book, that suggests that real transformation comes through the hard, and long term work of becoming the change, personally and in teams, that we want to see. A perspective that sees congregations as systems and becomes aware of how each of us contribute to those systems reveals why many change efforts don’t work.
This book is based on the work of Ridder Church Renewal and each of the chapters is linked to related web resources. The writers, which include a number of pastors who have been through the renewal program, illustrate from their own ministries and churches. The book is set up so that individuals or groups can use the book, and the reflection exercises in each chapter. Better yet would be to use this book as part of a coached process, because good coaches can “lean in” with people to do the hard things that lead to change, that we often just excuse with each other. For groups who have created visions and strategies of what “they” will do that just sit on the shelf, this book will help them wrestle with “how will we become the change we want to see in our congregation?”
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.