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People: A Leverage Point for Change


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By James Lewis, CCNL

Your ministry is aging. The internal culture has changed, and the external context is vastly different than what you started with twenty or even ten years ago. To adjust to these changes many start by reviewing their mission statement, which defines the organization as a whole.

However, my studies and experience have led me to conclude that organizations undergoing change must address their internal mission and values as much as, or more than, the external. We need to begin with a focus on how the organization will fulfill its mission in and through the efforts of people.

Using the six components of the “Integrated Model” as referenced in her Ph.D. dissertation Developing Persons in Christian Organizations, (a case study of OMF International, 2001) Dr. Shelley Trebesch’s research found that one can assess organizational development in six areas: Faith Assumptions, Values, Organizational Dynamics, Experiences, Individuals, and Leaders. She refers to discovering an effective “leverage point” for an organization integrating change in a systematic manner over the long-term, internal development of a ministry. The leverage point is an organizational factor that can be used to create the most potential for successful overall change.

This integrated model helps to discern key areas in which leaders can develop people in their organization. In this post, I will focus only on the first three — Faith Assumptions, Values, and Organizational Dynamics — as I feel they provide the strongest leverage for organizational life cycle change.

Faith Assumptions

Faith is the very foundation of what we believe, and the stimulus for our actions in ministry. The majority of ministries are ripe with evangelistic zeal; our purpose as a ministry is to see people overcome spiritual, emotional, physical, and environmental issues, and by faith become members of the kingdom of God.

Today, the heart of kingdom ministry is not only spiritual-reconciliation but also life-reconciliation. As people respond to the gospel, they are empowered to become transformed spiritually — as well as to be healed emotionally, mentally, and physically. Likewise, within ministries in which I have been involved, there has been an increasing expectation of the organization to provide spiritual development for staff.

When examining current faith assumptions I realize that even as staff have their personal and church-related spiritual involvements, our ministries must be part of their personal spiritual and organizational development.

Values

Staff members typically respond well to leaders who express and clarify organizational values. Hopefully, foremost among them is our value of serving others as we would serve Christ. We must ask ourselves whether our core values are based on our personal and corporate view of those we serve — and those who are serving — being made in the image of God? This needs to be the primary impetus for our efforts as we seek to express everything we are and do as imago Dei.

Historically, many ministries have focused on the number of conversions obtained (perhaps pressured for successful statistics for donors), thereby treating those served as targets. In discussing this issue with staff, one person questioned this view succinctly: “Are we reflecting the love of God when we make someone an object of charity?”

Changes in generational values factor into this as well. No institution has been left unaffected by generational changes in the workforce. The combination of a shift from the baby boom generation, and the rise of post-modernity, brings new issues most have to address. I have heard older missionaries comment that they now rarely see a commitment to a “self-denying, life-call” that many young people responded to in the 1950s — recalling the response of thousands following the martyrdom of five missionaries in Ecuador. Some older ministry leaders have observed an obvious decline in staff coming with a clear call to sacrificial ministry. Rather, they see more staff coming to a job with a strong value of life-work balance.

No institution has been left unaffected by generational changes in the workforce. The combination of a shift from the baby boom generation, and the rise of post-modernity, brings new issues most have to address. I have heard older missionaries comment that they now rarely see a commitment to a “self-denying, life-call” that many young people responded to in the 1950s — recalling the response of thousands following the martyrdom of five missionaries in Ecuador. Some older ministry leaders have observed an obvious decline in staff coming with a clear call to sacrificial ministry. Rather, they see more staff coming to a job with a strong value of life-work balance.

Organizational Dynamics

In my previous organizations this has been a weak area: founders and former leaders were seen as bureaucratic, lacking transparency, and averse to delegation. Ministries can do better in developing opportunities for staff through positive organizational dynamics. Leadership, once seen solely as the responsibility of the strong entrepreneur at the top, must appropriately transition into a team effort. As vision is communicated, staff will be enabled to carry it out through increased trust and flexibility.

Organizations in transition should restructure organizational leadership to empower staff to receive more communication and become more involved in creating vision, planning, and decision-making. Ultimately this will result in greater unity around mission and vision. This increased integration of team members will allow more cooperation and effectiveness, and will leverage organizational change.

Summary

Leading staff through organizational change will be a long-term process. Change tends to cause great anxiety, but it can also increase the staff’s capacity for vision and flexibility. In examining faith assumptions, values, and dynamics you will find that your people are your key leverage point. Growth and needed change will come as your staff — and their acceptance of policy and procedures — provides a space in which they can be empowered and successful. Ultimately, you should ask yourself:

  • What is our level of inward focus towards our staff and volunteers?
  • Are we expending as much effort into developing them as we do those we serve?
  • Shall we spend ourselves on the world and ignore the needs of those serving with us to lead and provide these efforts?

The ministry of changed lives starts with our own people.

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James Lewis, CCNL is a development officer for Mission Aviation Fellowship, president of CharisNP Consulting, and past president of the Long Beach Rescue Mission & Foundation. This post is an excerpt from the 2013  Fall edition of Outcomes Magazine.

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