When Change is a Bad Word

Change!

Have you ever thought about the word “change”? What came to your mind when you first read the exclamation above? It is one of those simple words in our English language that can evoke emotions and trigger images in our brains.

“Change!” Like when you find a dozen quarters under the couch’s cushions.

“Change!” The command you give to someone who has the remote control for the television and you want to watch something else.

“Change!” What is necessary when you have a toddler with a dirty diaper.

We could make a game out of this to see how long we could go thinking up contexts in which the word is used. Let’s not. Instead, let us focus on change as in making something different or transforming something or someone.

For many people the idea of change is difficult to handle. For many the process of change in an institution is very challenging. It is so hard at times that even the very word becomes repugnant. So much so that many contemporary leadership books strongly advise against using the word at all. These books often provide a list of less threatening synonyms! Why is that?

I once had a curious conversation with a woman about this very thing. She was a long time member of a church I was called to pastor. She was a sweet woman, the same age as I, who had come to faith in Christ in her twenties. It was after an evening worship service that in tears, she approached my wife and me. It was hard to tell if her look was one of anguish or anger. I gave her a hug for comfort. She said, “I’m leaving this church!”

“But why?” came the response.

“I’m so angry at the elders. In all these years I never heard preaching about grace!”

“That’s the whole point of the sermon series we’re going through now, isn’t it?” I inquired.

“Oh it IS!” she declared. “That’s the problem! Why haven’t we heard this before? It’s changing my life. It’s been very refreshing.”

“What am I missing? If it’s that helpful then why leave?” I asked.

“Well, because I’m angry that all this time we’ve been with this church I’ve been robbed of knowing grace and getting to know Jesus this way. I’m also angry that things are changing, and I can’t handle that.”

“Are the changes bad?”

“Oh no. They’re good and it’s about time they’ happen. This should have taken place a long time ago. I just can’t take it any more and it is very upsetting to me.”

To say that I was confused would be a major understatement. We stood there silently as she softly wept. I broke the silence when I said, “We can help you work through your anger and disappointment; but I want you to consider this – if you leave this church you will be making an even bigger change. You’ll leave long time friends, many family members, it’ll be a change going to a different church with different people, with a different form of worship, maybe at a different time, driving a different way… Everything will be a greater change than leaving.”

She thought about it for a bit and then said, “You’re right. But I don’t think I can change how I feel about the elders and former pastors. I feel betrayed.”

Our friend remained in the church for another year, but eventually left. What she was saying was that it was easier to change everything else than to change her heart. That is quite understandable. Nevertheless, no matter what, change was happening all the way around. The status quo was losing its grip. For her it was both good and disturbing.

That is what makes change a bad word – it has a tendency to upset our hearts. But why? Here are some reasons:

Change Affects the Status Quo

1. The existing status quo began as a challenge to the previous status quo. Everything in place now

* Was once considered a good idea because it intended to meet the problems and circumstances of the day;
* Was once viewed as a challenge or as revolutionary to what existed then.

2. The status quo can be a good thing.

* It offers order in lieu of chaos.
* It brings a level of needed stability.
* It provides valued traditions that can be transmitted from generation to generation.
* It defines and protects the present culture.

3. However, there are some problems with status quo:

* It can give a false sense of security.
* It can turn into complacency and at times encourage apathy. Both of these things God hates.
* It can become an obstacle to needed, genuine transformation, and this can lead to the death of an organization or church.

4. There are always guardians of the status quo

* Studies indicate that in most organizations there is between 6-10% of the people who never accept change. About 8% of them become the self-appointed and active guardians of the old way.

* Some familiar “arguments” or objections used to reject transformation in favor of maintaining the status quo are:

* “We’ve always done it that way.”
* “We’ve never done that before.”
* “It won’t work.”
* “It cannot be done that way.”
* “You shouldn’t rock the boat.”
* “If it ain’t broke-don’t fix it!”

If change affects the status quo, it is because the status quo provides a sense of security. Therefore,

Change Brings about Insecurity

Of course, this is not necessarily the case for everyone. Change often does not bring about a sense of insecurity

* With those who are suggesting the change.
* With the leadership who are in favor of change.
* For people entering the group during change.
* When the pain of staying in the status quo becomes worse than the pain of change.
* For people who are secure in themselves and in the Lord.

We feel secure with the familiar, the routine, and what feels safe. A sense of security tends to root us in a comfort zone. Change disturbs the comfort zone. This is often due to the fact that people are satisfied with the way things are and don’t like changing the way things are. Change disrupts our routine and makes things unfamiliar. In a sense it seems to bring chaos out of order.

This reminds me of another person whom my family and I knew years ago. She was a highly intelligent (has a masters degree), single mother who seemed to share the life of Job. She had a hard time earning enough money to care for her children, was perpetually overwhelmed with one challenge after another, and suffered from chronically bad health. The elders of that church decided to take action and find ways to help her. They encouraged her to learn how to be a medical transcriptionist, which was her idea. They also urged her to move to the town where most of the church folks lived so we could be of greater service to her. Then, they offered to pay her way to see a medical specialist at a unique clinic located six hours away. They found a place for her to stay, gave her money to rent a car and purchase food, provided someone to care for her children for three days, and were prepared to pay the medical bills.

She rejected every one of the suggestions offered to her. She had an excuse, which in her mind were perfect alibis for not taking their advice. Why? Because she was more secure with her familiar but miserable situation than she was willing to risk change. At least she knew what she was in. She did not know if any of the suggestions would improve her state.

Eventually, she did go to the doctor; but she refused to follow through with the recommendations to improve her health. Why? Because she did not want to change her diet and her routine. She never did move from her inconvenient, old and moldy house. However, years later she got up the courage to become a medical transcriptionist, mainly because her health no longer allowed her to do the physical kind of labor she had been doing.

For whatever is at the root of insecurity we do know that to the degree one struggles with personal insecurity to the same degree one will reject or resent the change.

If change is rejected because of insecurity, insecurity is rooted in fear and

Change Provokes Fear

About what would we be afraid? Fear of the unknown. Fear of the loss of control (there’s that insecurity again). Fear of losing after taking the risk of initial change. Fear of failure. Fear of personal loss, such as the loss of power, the loss of status, or the loss of things. Fear that comes from a lack of understanding the purpose of the change.

Finally,

Change Challenges Pride

In several of his books and seminars, Dr. John Maxwell makes the ironic point that the ones who tend to have the hardest time with change are leaders who have not come up with the ideas for that new thing, or who were the instigators and implementors of the previous change. Their pride was challenged.

Pride tends to attach itself with things it says, does, or has. It thinks, “This department at work was successful because of me. To make things different means I’m not successful.” Or, “This was my idea to landscape our building this way and my money and hard work went into it. To alter the landscape shows disrespect for my time, money and work!” Or, “My family and I were the originals at this church. We founded it, kept it running and protected it all these years. To change this church would be a slap in our faces, the ultimate disrespect!”

Change can be a problem and can certainly stir up the proverbial hive.

We’ve looked at some reasons by change is considered as something negative. Even the term “change” can be a bad word because change itself

* Affects the status quo,
* Brings about insecurity,
* Provokes fear,
* Challenges pride.

What’s the Point?

Let me wrap up this article with these thoughts:

1. Helping to understand our own negative perspective about change may cause us to consider where our own hearts are in terms of the status quo, our own insecurities, fears and pride.

2. Helping to understand our own negative perspective about change might allow for growth, strengthen our security, reduce our fear and diminish our pride.

3. Helping to understand our negative perspective about change may allow us to accept the risk and even embrace the things that are changing in our lives, including life in our church.

4. Helping to understand our negative perspective about change could be the impetus for seeing positive reform in our own hearts and lives. Not all change is improvement, but without change there can be no improvement. And God wants improvement (it’s called spiritual growth and sanctification).

 

Well that’s my two cents worth. By the way, I only take exact change.

Here’s to changing into Christ’s likeness;

Don