By Andrew Sercombe
I love change. I hate change. Change creates opportunity. Change creates anxiety.
This was highlighted to me in a recent house move. There is something enjoyable about considering the possibilities when moving house. Looking for the ideal street in the perfect suburb, the perfect kitchen for hospitality or the ideal living area for relaxing. Of course, you rarely if ever get the dream (money always seems to be the problem!). We managed to find a place within walking distance to the school where our kids attend. We have new parks and coffee shops to explore. It has been a good change.
But it has been hard.
Moving is hard. It took 2 weeks for all the muscles I didn’t know I had to recover from all the heavy lifting. What I have found most difficult is finding new routines. There are the obvious things—new roads and streets to navigate, along with shops and parks. Then there are the simple things. Everything is stored in different ways. The lounge is a different shape. The light switch is in a different spot on the wall. And the coffee machine is in a different place—which is a big deal when it is the first thing you use in the morning and the brain is still in pre-caffeine mode. It might sound small, but all those little changes end up compounding to leave me mentally stressed and longing for familiarity.
As I said. I love change. I hate change.
The same principles apply to other areas of life—especially leadership. I have learned that when it comes to leadership, change is the norm; or as the saying goes, ‘constant change is here to stay’. Change is constant when you are a leader. Sometimes it is big change. Sometimes it is small change. But when you are leading, you are ultimately leading change because leading (at least effective leading), involves movement—moving people towards the vision that you are pursuing. Movement against the natural disposition of atrophy. Movement towards making things better. But movement means change. It means doing things differently depending on the circumstances and situations that you encounter on the way.
As part of a recent teaching series at the church where I serve, we have been looking at the character of Moses. Moses is a great example of someone grappling with change. Not only did he have to work through the impact of change in his own life but also leading change in others (like a million people!). In many ways, Moses was a reluctant leader. He didn’t feel he had the skills to take on the largest empire of the day and lead a whole nation through the desert. Can’t blame him. But in eventual obedience to God, he took on the gig. It was a forty-year process of painful pain management of leading the people of Israel out of Egypt and towards the promised land. It was painful because he was leading a group of ‘stiff-necked’ people who, for all the desire to find the land flowing with milk and honey, didn’t really fancy what change meant. They were so resistant to change, we read in Exodus that even God is done with them (Ex 33:3).
Change is hard. Change is exhausting.
We live in a modern culture where the pace and rate of change is highly accelerated. The speed of communication and access to information has meant that there are greater personal and psychological challenges in comparison to previous generations. Not only do we personally have to deal with these unparalleled circumstances, we also have to learn how to lead others who are grappling with the rapid rate of change. Change is now the constant. Change is something we have to learn to live with. So how do we live with the constant of change?
Going back to the Exodus, Moses shows us how to live and lead under the constant pressure of change. From the time that God speaks to Moses at the burning bush, we see Moses grow in his reliance on God and spending time in his presence. Moses is dependent on the presence of God. Without the constant presence and leading of God in Moses’ life, the change process would not have been possible. Time and time and again we see Moses spend time in communion with God. It is where he finds his strength, courage and peace. We see Moses’ desperation for the presence of God in Exodus 33—when God threatens to bail from the whole Israel-promised land project. Moses appeals to the Lord by saying:
The constant in the process of change for Moses had to be the presence of God. In an age of constant change, we need to find our constant. Finding time to regularly be in the presence of God will enable us to hear our thoughts, hear God’s voice and ultimately know his peace and rest. It is from that place that we will be able to both know where to go and what to do. Finding our constant in the change is what is vital for a leader. Our ability to lead change well will be dependent on the constants that are built into our life and our leadership.If we don’t, we will find ourselves drowning in a sea of anxiety, fear, frustration and disorientation. That is obviously no good for us. And it certainly is no good for anyone we are responsible for leading.
For me, I have learnt that spending the first moments of the day in stillness, prayer, Scripture and writing are critical to my ability to navigate change and leadership. Sometimes it is only a short time. Sometimes I have extra time to pause. But it needs to happen before I pick up my phone to scroll through social media or jump on my computer to check emails. It is the constant that helps me live through change. It is the constant enables me to know peace and joy in a culture of change. Find the place where you best connect with God and go there often. Practice the presence of God regularly. It will be critical for you to last the journey and finish loving God and loving others at the end!
Check out Ruth Haley Barton’s book, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry (2012) as she surveys the highs and lows of Moses’ life, modelling these rhythms of grace to lead through change.