Sunday, February 03, 2008

Innovation and Change That Works

I was once asked by the Pastor and Board to stop teaching Sunday school at a local congregation. In fact, I was asked to leave the church. My sin? Karen and I started meeting with the College and Career Sunday school class in homes during the week as well as at the church house on Sunday morning.

This was a church in Cincinnati that held to the "Fundamentals of the Faith". However, starting a new thing was a real threat. Submission to authorities has never been a high priority of mine but in this case I rebelled without trying to.

I was Associate Dean at the University of Cincinnati at the time and taking some classes on the positive power of a group to mold the behavior of its members. I concluded that groups could be used to more thoroughly disciple Christians in knowing and doing the word of God.

I also learned from Inter Varsity how to do inductive Bible studies. An inductive process has the students read and discuss a passage without the teacher insisting on one interpretation. This process brought new and challenging issues to the fore and I loved the bright, intelligent discussions that resulted.

This was a threat. The young people seemed to like and appreciate the groups and they grew in size and enthusiasm. But, some of the parents were upset because their children were asking deeper questions about spiritual matters.

I was reported to the Board and they called me in to face them in a heresy trial. The entire proceedings were puzzling. One of the main points of contention focused on my beard. They concluded that I was a Quaker.

I did not handle the affair well. I was defensive, angry and unable to clarify what I was trying to do. The result was my resignation from the class, the church and the denomination my family was in for generations. It was extremely painful to Karen and me. I had never intended the home groups to be controversial and I never, ever thought I would leave the denomination my family identified with since the founding of America.

I had failed to see the truth of the parable of Jesus when He said: "You cannot pour new wine into old wineskins or they will burst." Well, it burst.

I focused some of my doctoral studies on Organizational Change. My failure at to bring a new way of teaching into the church without causing conflict motivated me to learn more about being a change agent. I never intended to get the Board upset. But I did cause trouble because I was unwise in how I brought the new ideas.

The process of a change is as important as the content of the new ideas. In fact, the way we do a new thing may be more important than what we do.
Any change is a threat. Any change brings stress and anxiety. When it is brought up in a clumsy manner it will very likely fail.
I wish I had known that when I was young.

Have you ever caused people to be upset with your new ideas? What were the ideas? What happened?

Were any of you ever burned at the stake?

How innovative is your church?

Gary Sweeten

Coach to Seasoned Believers

Consultant to Seasoned Leaders

No comments: