It is now nearly 30 years since I attended my first Change Management Workshop. I was invited because I was working in a troubled prison for young offenders. We had been appointed a change management consultant as a result of national concerns and the management team and trade union representatives went away and for 2 weeks worked through the challenges with the consultant.
The process was very stimulating and I confess to immediately enjoying it. I returned from that workshop and was appointed the Change Manager. So began several years of leading workshops for prison staff. Little did I know that it would be a theme for the remainder of my life both in prison, the church and the wider expression of bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth.
Change has not always been well received in the church world. ‘We’ve always done it this way,’ is a phrase which I have heard more than once and at times justified by pointing to scripture that says that God is the same yesterday, today and forever. Yes he is I usually reply but we are to be changed to be like him and at the same time to bring heaven to earth.
Rather than change being seen as something of an enemy it is actually our mandate. Our initiation into the family of followers of Jesus began with us being changed and should continue with us bringing change to the people in the world and the world in which we live. It is to be embraced and we can find so much to help us in the language of the bible. Redeem, return, rebuild, repent, recover, reconcile and so on. Change is the believers job description.
As we have consistently seen the apostolic assignment is heaven on earth and we are to expand the influence of King Jesus throughout the earth. Rather than being an enemy or an interference, change is our assignment, our DNA, our modus operandi, and our raison d’être. It is our great privilege to be the ‘ambassadors of Jesus Christ’ at a time when a world in constant change needs heaven on earth more than perhaps ever.
As I reflect back on that first excursion into change management I remember returning and talking to my pastor. I talked of the need in the church to have clarity of purpose and vision. I knew instinctively and intellectually that change belongs to us. The principles I was taught contained biblical principles although the methodology would need aligning. I was not as well received as I had hoped perhaps I was a little ahead of myself?
Every organisation on earth is in some stage of change. Four pillars which I use are, visional transition, missional transition, structural transition and cultural transition.
This of course applies to the church in a world where there is so much change. Perhaps the two greatest transitions of the church are related to shifting from gathering first to sending first and from church first to kingdom first. Don’t worry we will still be gathering and have church but the emphasis needs to change. Both of those would fall into visional/missional transition and interestingly will affect the other 2 pillars of structure and culture.
As I have developed methods of leading change and strategic management I have drawn on biblical principles to lead people and teams. Perhaps for me the most important is the overall perspective. Much of what I learned in the early days was to discover what was wrong and try to fix it with a strategy. It is a method which focuses too much on failure and weakness first. My preferred approach is to look at what is right and help the organisation to do it again. “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Revelation 19:11. We have been changed (our testimony) to bring change (prophecy). Starting a change journey with the desire of heaven to see the testimonies repeated is a powerful starting point.
As I teach change management I know that it is something which christians should be the masters of. We are after all ‘the sent ones’, sent to bring heaven to heaven and what greater change can there possibly be. It is the nature of the apostolic.
By now you may be thinking that I could add the word apostolic to the front of any sentence and make it fit. That may very well be closer to the truth than I dare think but when it comes to the theme of change there is no doubt in my mind whatsoever, it is our apostolic assignment.
Defining the apostolic as bringing heaven to earth and transforming earth to look, feel and behave more like heaven is a change strategy.
We live in days of the greatest change and challenges. Change is everywhere. In fact our view of change has I believe radically altered over the past 50 years especially.
The church has responded and words like revival, reformation, transformation, awakening and renaissance are more and more common.
In fact the nature of change is apostolic. Firstly change is here to stay. That is the nature of Jesus, he came and he is here to stay. His effect on this world doesn’t stop. The calendar was reset for much of the world and the clock ticks forward to his great return.
Change is also irreversible. It is impossible to think of turning the clock back on some of the great changes we have experienced during these recent years. Life without a smart phone is almost unimaginable, communications in this age has become something we rely on. Likewise I would say that the advancement of kingdom influence is irreversible.
Also change has an appetite for more. This is one of my favourite Kingdom characteristics. Two verses in the bible illustrate this beautifully. After all that Moses had seen by the time we get to Exodus 33:18, he asks God to show him his glory. It was a cry for more. One of the most apostolic characters in the old testament who was assigned in a mountain top experience of the presence of God, brought the plans for a house for God down to the plains of the wilderness was able to access the legality of asking for more.
And the first apostle himself, Jesus, taught the disciples that were was more. Again the disciples had seen so many miracles and yet Jesus , recorded in John 14: 12 Jesus would declare that they and us would see greater works.
Moses and the disciples saw dramatic changes, but the greatest lesson for both was that there is more.
There are also apostolic or kingdom parallels in the life cycle of change. Change often begins by being ridiculed, laughed at or mocked in some way. We see this with the story of Jesus where people hearing of his exploits merely said that it was just Jesus, don’t take too much notice. The outpouring in Toronto in 1994 was similarly laughed at in newspapers around the world, as people focussed on unusual manifestations. But that outpouring would soon move to the next phase of the change cycle and become a threat to many in various churches. Manifestations were shut down and leaders distanced themselves form these strange happenings. This was true of Jesus to as he was seen to threaten the religious norms of the day as he healed on the sabbath and cries of kill him began to rise up. But the subject off ridicule moves through the stage of threat and becomes the stage of the obvious as is portrayed at the cross when the centurion observed how the son of breathed his last and declared, surely this is the son of God. Toronto too has left us with a more obvious experience as we expect to see and experience God in diverse ways.
And so here we are. Change is our assignment and it needs to be intentional. Change has a destination, arises out of passion, and requires courage to navigate through the life cycle. But we have everything we need as sons and daughters of our heavenly father who made us in His image, gives us the mind of Christ, fills us with the Spirit, including boldness and truth, and puts Christ the hope of Glory, (the expression of God) within us.
We were born and born again to bring change, heaven on earth and christlikeness are two of our greatest assignments.