Leaders or Changemongers?

Leaders who won’t receive change should step down.

If leaders could accept a fraction of the change that they require from others, their teams could achieve what now seems impossible.

Change is disorienting when it happens to us. A “stranger” walked toward me a couple weeks ago with a big smile on her face. “Hi, Ben!” she said. She spread her arms to hug me. My mind raced, Who are you? The answer would not come. So I asked her.

She laughed, told me her name, and said, “Yeah, I get that a lot. I lost 150 pounds.” She is healthier than she’s been in years. Positive change for her! A moment of discomfort for me. One piece of information and I adapted.

Leaders claim to love change! One pastor declared, “Change is hard for nearly everyone, except for a few of us crazy people who see change like chocolate—delicious!”

Why does he love change? Because he is the one deciding on the changes for everyone else in his organization! Many change-happy leaders would be less enthusiastic about constant change if they were the ones adapting to change rather than creating change.

Guiding and managing change is one of the most important tasks of leaders. Leaders promote their vision of change as a step forward. Leaders know where they are steering their organizations. They know where their organizations have been. They know what their major successes and problems have been. They see the path forward. And they are often wrong.

Leaders are not wrong about everything. They may successfully realize part of their vision. However, if they will accept a fraction of the change that they require from their people, their teams could achieve what now seems impossible.

But leaders value control. Accepting change is like accepting a package in the mail without a return address. You don’t know if it’s a bomb or a bundle of cash.

Pastors can be the worst changemongers because they can play the God card. Schedule conflict? Staff overload? Cash flow issue? Resources already promised elsewhere? “None of these things are important because God said to do it my way. We want to stay in the will of God, don’t we?” And the angels weep.

This summer I visited Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta, Georgia. When I walked in the door, I saw something foreign to my Lutheran/evangelical experience. Off to the side was an array of votive candles.

I wondered why the church had this silly set-up. If they are not Catholics, why do something Catholic? Where I grew up in the Midwest there were two kinds of churches—Lutheran and Roman Catholic. Whatever it meant to be a Lutheran was the opposite of being a Catholic. Votive candles? Definitely Catholic.

I looked again. A woman knelt there, praying. Hmmm, pray before entering a worship service? That seems good. But it feels Catholic! I’m not Catholic.

The woman got up, and I took her place. I lifted a thin candle-lighting stick from some sand and lit it from a candle. I lit another candle and began to pray. I was overwhelmed as I poured out my heart to God in thanks and in petition. I smiled, I sobbed, I wept. I rejoiced, and I pleaded with Jesus.

I stood and walked to the sanctuary to join the congregation . . . not to begin worship but to continue what God had begun in me while kneeling at the candles.

I was changed in how I approach worship.

I was reminded that if I am to be an agent of change for others, I need to leave open the door to change for myself.


About Ben Unseth

Executive Director at Project Understanding (2014-2017), social service agency in Ventura, CA
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