Pragmatism in Practice
“It doesn’t matter if it’s right; it only matters if it works.” This motto for leading change dominates 21st century corporations. It’s pragmatism in practice.
Pick up any popular book on leading change. The odds are that you’ll find several underlying themes:
- Shareholder profit is paramount.
- Growth is deified.
- People are disposable.
- Speed is king.
- Decapitating opponents is part of the game.
- Ethics is expedient.
If these themes are not explicitly stated, then they’re just below the surface. And much of the recent literature on leading change targeted at church leaders borrows heavily from this thinking.
Leading Change in the Church
To be fair, much that comes from the corporate sector can be helpful for church leaders. However, the default mode for running a secular company is not predisposed to a biblical approach. Too often corporate views are being baptized among church leaders with bible verses and religious language. Careful scrutiny seems to be in short supply when addressing the topic of leading change in the church.
For example, Jack Welch – former head of GE – advocated lopping off the most unproductive 10% of the company workforce each year to compete in a changing world. This popularized rule of thumb is to get rid of the weak.
Conversely, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonian church: “Warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Thess. 5:4). Welch’s “rule of thumb” would have considered Paul’s instructions nonsensical.
Church leaders must manage change with its difficult challenges.
But this does not mean that we suspend the Christ-centered principles of how we are to lead. The shepherd’s calling is to lay down his life for the sheep. The Bible does not give license to church leaders in times of change – or anytime – to invert God’s order and expect the sheep to lay down their lives for the shepherd.
Even in change initiatives that are handled well, some sheep may be lost in transition. However, these losses are to be avoided if at all possible and mourned if they do happen. This is totally different from driving out those who don’t keep pace with the new direction. Or worse still, it is below the church leader’s calling to welcome the loss of troublesome sheep.
Leading change in the church is really about integrating spiritual life and faith into the change process itself.
Church leaders are preparing Christ’s Bride for a wedding feast. She is betrothed to Him, and should be handled with extreme care.