As I near the conclusion of my second two-week sabbatical experience, I am beginning to see a common thread in the subject matter I’ve selected to study. In focusing on the writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (the first two-week session), I was unaware that he was trained as a paleontologist as well as a Jesuit priest. He brought those two areas of study together as he understood the work of God in creation and in the life of the church. He saw evolutionary progress as part of God’s cosmic design, that God is working through the natural evolutionary process as well as through the Holy Spirit to bring about the redemption of all creation.
During this second two-week series, I’m looking at adaptive challenges and how organizations must face such if they are to remain dynamic and alive in a changing environment. One of the primary proponents of this thought is Ronald Heifetz, who was first trained as a medical doctor before entering the world of business. He sees adaptive challenges as the way organizations adapt to the changes of the environment. And this adaptation is consistent with the evolutionary process of life.
I believe some of the former debates about evolution and the Bible have maligned both. That is not the focus of my study. And I’m not interested in rehashing those ideological battles.
What I am discovering is that there is a ring of truth to the reality that no one, whether it be a person or an organization, can remain the same. Life is a constant dynamic of movement and change. We all age. We live in an environment with changing weather patterns, changing demographics, and changing allegiances. We should not be surprised that the church must recognize these dynamics and find ways to faithfully respond to them.
One of the important insights I gained at the Alban Institute workshop on “Leading Adaptive Change” was that any adaptive challenge has within it a sense of loss. Any time an organization must change, something will be left behind. Some practice or program will not be carried forward. Grief is a natural part of the process of adapting to change. Denial, depression, bargaining, and anger (all parts of the grief process) are often at work within organizations when facing adaptive challenges.
We refuse to believe that this change affects us. We may even attribute our denial of it to our value of living counter-culturally. Or, we see the change as creating too great of a problem for us. Depressed, we are immobilized by a feeling of helplessness and inadequacy. If we can muster enough energy to confront the change, we may try bargaining, suggesting a new program, a new vision statement, or a new leader to solve our problem. When these approaches do not work, we angrily engage in vicious arguments or attempt to find a scapegoat upon which we can blame this problem.
The alternative is to acknowledge that things are changing. We have a timeless message of hope and redemption, but it may mean finding a new vessel into which we place this priceless and timeless message. Are we willing to experiment with new approaches/structures/practices, knowing that some will succeed but many will fail? The evolutionary process has many dead ends, but there are those successes that adapt to the new realities and provide a new initiative to carry forth existence. God is faithful. Can we find it within ourselves to be faithful to God’s call upon our lives, even when that call may be to adapt to new situations and circumstances? May it be so!