Embracing the Challenge of Change

by Len Hjalmarson

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
and sorry I could not travel both
and be one traveller, long I stood
and looked down one as far as I could
to where it bent in the undergrowth.

   The two roads are the familiar, and the unfamiliar. Which would you choose? Many of us THINK we would choose the unfamiliar road, but we don't realize the psychological, spiritual, and emotional challenge of risk and change. We like to think of ourselves as "cutting edge" and "innovative" and "creative." We watch movies where brave adventurers go "where no man has gone before." We live in a culture that idolizes "the rebel" without any real understanding of what choosing the lonely road requires.

Perhaps some of the recent adventures like "The Matrix" and "The Fellowship of the Ring," give us a greater sense of the cost of adventure and conviction. Neo and Frodo risk their lives for the sake of a larger purpose. They are essentially servants, who choose to move forward into the unknown for the sake of others. Kouzes and Posner, in their book "The Leadership Challenge," remark that the difference between the leader and the bureaucrat is that leaders put themselves and others at risk by venturing into unexplored territory.

One of the first risks leaders face is the risk of making mistakes and even of failure. Failure is costly; it can mean the end of a career, the loss of a job, loss of personal assets, loss of friendship and sometimes even personal injury. Yet interviews with hundreds of people with incredible stories of success inevitably tell of long periods of failure and obscurity.

Failure plays a major role in success. Who has even learned a new sport without experiencing many failures? Babe Ruth struck out over 1330 times, yet is remembered as a success for his 714 home runs. Abraham Lincoln failed at every attempt for a political position until he was finally elected as President of the United States. Sir Winston Churchill spent most of his life in obscurity.

So what is the difference between repeated failures and a losing attitude? The ability to LEARN from our mistakes. A famous skier, when taking his first lessons, was doing unusually well. Finally his instructor approached him and remarked that he wished he would have a better day tomorrow. "What do you mean? I didn't fall once!" Came the reply, "If you aren't falling, you aren't learning."

One of the primary sources of learning growth is experimentation. How will we make the leap to new and more successful ways of doing and being without a willingness to step into the unknown?

Jean Vanier, talking about the form of the church in our century, commented that "we must be willing to let that come into being which might fail." He understood that life is dynamic, yet there is a force that pushes us to conserve what we know. That force and those fears can hold us back from moving on with God.

When Joshua entered into the promised land leading the people of Israel, he had to cross the Jordan, and he had to leave Moses behind. There are many lessons to be learned from Joshua's experience at the river.

Leaving Moses behind means leaving behind traditional ways in order to walk in the new thing that God wants to do. God is the God of "today." Moses led Israel in circles for 40 years. Sometimes the church has fallen into churning out the same product week after week, and while boredom isn't a sin, it can lead to disillusionment which can lead into sin. What are some of the challenges the church faces that were not present thirty years ago?

One is the challenge of moving beyond our own doors. Denominational walls are breaking down. While its good for leaders to support their own distinctives, its time to realize our unity in the Spirit. The protectiveness that once served the church now produces an inwardness that can be destructive. We need each other.

Another is the challenge of releasing ministry. While we must recognize the need for leadership and authority we must remember that the purpose of leadership is to work itself out of a job. Leaders need to raise up other leaders, equip them, and release them.

Yet another is seeking the mind of Christ for what he is doing today. The manna of yesterday was good; but when we save it, it rots. Every community forms its own inertia, no matter how young and fresh. If we are doing exactly the same thing this week as last week, are we really listening for Gods voice? Are we really willing to leave Moses behind? After all, we've been together for forty years!

Venturing into uncharted territory is always scary. There be "giants in the land!" But God promises His presence to the people that will go forward to cross rivers, take cities, and conquer giants. God is the God of today!

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I,
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference!

   Robert Frost

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• © 1999-2002 Len Hjalmarson.• Last Updated on May 31, 2001