[re-posted from the Wycliffe Canada President’s Blog]

We all know everyone responds differently to change. Some embrace it. Some lead it. Some react negatively at first but eventually come around. And some will never go along with it. Many have written on these various responses, and I have little to add.

The question I want to unpack is how we as leaders and colleagues respond to those responses. In other words, do we recognize accurately where our brothers and sisters are in their journey through a major change so that we have a tailored response rather than a one-size-fits-all approach? That’s not natural for managers to do, and it takes a lot of work, but it’s absolutely critical to the success of a change initiative.

Tuesday in our Leadership Team meeting, we took a look at Paul’s closing words in 1 Thessalonians. Among them was one verse my pastor in Orlando used often for training community group leaders:

And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle [or unruly], encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. (1 Thess 5:14 ESV)

I want to apply his words today to the context of change.

What happens when you misdiagnose someone’s condition and apply the wrong medicine? For instance, what happens if you encourage or help the unruly and disruptive? Or you admonish the fainthearted or weak? Obviously, the results of both could be disastrous. In the one case, you’d be enabling. In the other, you could crush their spirits. Like Jesus, we need to be leaders of whom it could be said,

a bruised reed he will not break,
and a faintly burning wick he will not quench. (Isaiah 42:3 ESV)

But the distinctions between the needs of the weak and the fainthearted are slightly less obvious. To encourage the weak is like telling the cold and hungry, “be warmed, be fed,” and then walking away (James 2:16). To help the fainthearted is like my ham-handed attempts to solve my wife’s problems when she simply wants a listening ear. How often do we jump to the wrong medicine, based on a cursory diagnosis on our brother’s or sister’s condition?

In contrast, what incredible good can result when a manager knows where each of his staff members is on their journey through change and responds with just the right touch! Those who threaten to disrupt or sabotage the process are rebuked. Those practicing passive-aggressive resistance are admonished. Those who are weary of change are encouraged and motivated. Those who have lost their vision are re-inspired. And those who need strength — who don’t know what to do — get the help they need.

That’s the result we want, but I hope you can appreciate how difficult it is for managers to assess their staff members well. So let’s not put this solely on the managers. How can we do this for each other as well? If you’re together with someone else at the same spot in the journey, don’t let your conversations turn into gripe sessions. Encourage, admonish and help each other. If you’re ahead in the journey, find ways to use your own journey to bring your brothers and sisters along.

We’re not going to get it right every time. That’s why Paul’s last thought is so important: “be patient with them all.”

As Wycliffe Canada embarks on a change process and a restructure, we can’t face the future in isolation. We need each other. I believe God has placed the people around us who have just what we need to get through the changes ahead. That’s what community is all about.