Have you noticed that change is constant? Some changes are much bigger than others, more significant, but change is almost constant. I think that when we talk about change though, we’re more talking about significant ones that require recalibration or adjustment, or else we find ourselves in friction against a new path. The recalibration or adjustment that we have to do is transition. Change is external, transition is internal. Some people embrace change in a way of novelty and then they reject it or resist it later because they have not transitioned.
In Alan Roxburgh’s book, The Sky is Falling: Leaders Lost in Transition, he has a five phase model that describes the process of change:
Len Hjalmarson has a great review here of The Sky is falling, and these are Len’s words on Roxburgh’s five phases:
1. Systems seek stability. One of the ways they accomplish this is by forming traditions and standardizing roles. Change during stable phases of cultural life is marked by gradual and manageable change. The role of leadership in these phases is well understood.
2. When stable phases shade into instability, or discontinuity, patterns emerge that alter the way the world works. Leadership roles generally fail to change much, however, instead trying to respond to discontinuity with known skills, failing to question fundamental frameworks, leading inevitably to burnout as leaders try harder.
3. Discontinuity increases until the power of tradition can no longer withstand the forces of instability. Relational alliances shift; new networks grow up; power struggles and blame shifting ensue as the system breaks down. This disembedding is painful and necessary, both local and cultural. Roxburgh notes that it is in this phase that many break with the past, leading to further disorientation. Leaders in this phase often revert to old skills which cannot enable a meaningful engagement with the new context.
4. When stability, predictability and control are gone the transition phase has arrived. (Interesting that this transition is used in my wife’s profession to describe the fearful sense of loss of control moments before birth). One common response is pragmatic.. to search for what is working, here or elsewhere. At a similar point Israel wanted to return to Egypt.. but there is no going back. This is a painful and potentially creative time.
5. “Reformation happens as the church has negotiated the reinventing of its life through disembedding, discontinuity, and transition and begins to approach a new period of recreating transition and finding fresh stability.” (56) This requires a rediscovery and reframing of the church’s original story. “A new language, a new set of roles, and a new set of rules have emerged�”
Roxburgh argues that the shift from transition to reformation is still a long way ahead. Meanwhile, we will continue to cycle back and forth in the transition phase. Leadership in this time will require “living in the midst of the tension between reentering the stories and traditions of our past and experimenting in ways that discern the emergent forms of God’s activity.” (58)
I find this model helpful in understanding the internal “discombobulation” that we feel when we go through change and internal transition is called for. I think that number three, disembedding, is a very powerful concept. People that try to move forward with change, but who have embedded ways of doing and thinking are very unhappy people. The Exodus and wilderness time, followed by the conquest are such powerful metaphors for this. As Paul said, “these things happened as examples (models)”. (1. Cor. 10:6)