fatigueDear Matriarchs,
I have an interesting situation. There has been a lot of change in our congregation over the past few years (some good, some painful), and I worry about change fatigue. I’d like to suggest that we just do what we’re doing for a little while, to settle in a bit. On the other hand, we have worked hard over the past year or so to really encourage lay leadership and participation in planning, and there are people and groups who have great new ideas they’d like to try…and I don’t want to be the one to discourage ideas and participation. It feels like a tightrope I might fall off at any moment, trying to figure out how to manage so much change (and its attendant grief) while also encouraging and empowering. Any suggestions for navigating this tension?
The Only Constant
Dear The Only Constant,Change is exhilarating and hard and threatening and inevitable. Have you thought about bringing together some of the people and groups with great news ideas to plan and strategize about the roll out of those ideas? Maybe they could help you gauge how much newness your congregation can embrace? I hope you have help in managing the change. That’s the best part—working in community with others so that all share in the challenge and the joy.

Best to you,
Jennifer at An Orientation of Heart

Dear Tightrope,
Bless you in your own fatigue. My own coach shared with me recently that – along with the grief that comes with change – there is anger, which may or may not be obvious. The rules have changed for your people and it’s so difficult. What if you planned something totally fun and unexpected? For example: I once asked church members to write down (on slips of paper in the church bulletin) the name and a few details about a person who was unappreciated but had done some kind act or sacrificial service. They were collected in the offering plates and after the offering, I chose one randomly, read the name, and declared that person “Saint of the Week.” They received a Starbucks card and we offered a prayer for the ministry of that particular person right then and there. People loved it. We only did this once (for All Saints’ Day) but you could do it quarterly or something.
Surprise a leader who’s been devoted doing a thankless job with a spontaneous party after worship. Bring chocolate croissants to the next Deacons’ meeting. Thank people with your words and facial expression.
And then go get a massage for yourself. 🙂

When things are lay led, I tend to err on the side of letting them go. My challenge comes in not rescuing it when one of my faithful attendees is hurt/frustrated that something isn’t going like it used to or isn’t being supported by the congregation. As for start-ups, follow the 3-5 people rule: if they can get 3-5 people involved in the idea/event/project then all systems go. Kathrynzj at Volume II 

Dear Only Constant,

How exciting that you have lay leaders who are enthusiastic about growing new ministries in the church! That level of enthusiasm is to be commended. I wonder if your lay leadership, and you, have taken the time to consider your mission. I realize mission is an overused word, but if you have a clear sense of the strengths of the congregation, discerned by a group of people who readily identify with those strengths, then they can be used to formulate a sense of mission. Have you organized this sense of mission into a simple statement “we are a _____church?”

If you have done that then the changes people wish to implement can be organized strategically into ideas that are just “seeds”, waiting to be planted; ideas that have already been “planted and need nourishing”; ideas that are well developed and “growing”; and ideas that need to “lay fallow” for a time; and lastly ideas that need to be let go of. You can literally create a chart with categories like these and make lists. Then you can develop a strategy for implementing one or two things a year.

All along the way you (all the leaders) need to say over and over what your mission is, who you are: “We are a ____ church.” And, here is how we are living into being a ____ church. Encourage the leadership to develop a strategy and to develop patience – it takes a lot longer for the congregation to adopt these ideas than it does the leadership.

Each idea, or two, may need at least a year of growing into and being presented over and over before the majority of the congregation will begin to recognize the idea and understand it.

By charting the ideas you won’t lose sight of them and the ideas can be developed over time instead of all at once. Hopefully the leadership is able to discern which ideas to do when and organize a strategy for developing them. Thus perhaps the enthusiasm can remain without too much change too soon.

Terri at Seeking Authentic Voice

Dear The Only Constant —

If I’m reading this correctly, it sounds like you personally are fatigued with change but some of your people have energy. If that is the case, I think you are handling this the right way by acknowledging your own grief and fatigue, while doing what you can to keep the reins slack for others. Is there a way you can refresh and regroup for a season while other leaders surge to the front? Then you can rejoin them when you are ready. Leading change doesn’t mean you have to lead every change. It does mean every now and then you have to pause and evaluate what’s happening. You can also invite others to do this reflection with you. I found this article helpful, which applies 4-step management theory to churches: Acting On Your Plans by Susan Beaumont. Whatever you do, I’m glad to know you’re paying attention to your own energy levels, and thinking of the church as a system larger than yourself. God bless you!
Ruth Everhart at Love the Work (do the work)Dear Constant,

It may be that your own anxiety about change is talking to you. Can you try to step back and think about that? My best guess is you’ll find that’s what is going on so I’ve answered based on that. I would encourage you to keep moving forward holding your own anxiety while keeping with the change. That is precisely what it means to be a “non-anxious presence” in all of the various terminology that gets thrown around. Non-anxious presence is about feeling very anxious and not feeding that anxiety back into the church or family or any other system of which we are apart. Keep moving with the change knowing it is the right thing for the church and it feels like too much. Congratulations! You’ve made it! Now keep going because if you stop you will derail the process to get over the next barrier. That pit in your stomach is just like a roller coaster but you don’t get the thrill without that feeling; they go together! So know that that feeling means you are on the right track.Sarah, The Vicar of Hogsmeade

Readers, what say you? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
Our queue of questions is short, so this is a good time to submit one. Please send an email to askthematriarch at gmail dot com.

2 thoughts on “Ask the Matriarch: Change Fatigue

  1. Hi Martha:

    The word I noticed in your post was “Manage”. Change is part of creation, which is a messy experience. You’ve named a lot of change, grief, and also, a lot of new ideas and enthusiasm. Re-creation is happening, perhaps? I experience creation in a “chaos theory” kind of way. Everything is happening all at one. New things emerge as old ones die. Joy and sorrow and fear and stress….., all at once. For me to “manage” creation or chaos is to come apart at the seams, myself.

    A few years back I found myself looking for a different understanding of what to do in my context, which sounds similar to where you are now. Things were way beyond being “managed”. The word I came up with then was “Surf”. I tried to surf the creative – chaos, steering from wave to wave, avoiding being drowned or overwhelmed by allowing the waves of energy coming from creative people in the congregation to lift me up. I couldn’t ‘control’ the waves, nor would I have wanted to. All that creative, positive energy which was clearing out cobwebs, negative energy and not requiring my initiative to “get things to move” was necessary to allow a new creation to emerge in our congregation. “Surfing” allowed me to be present in the places where something new was happening and to see the “danger spots” where I, or others, could be “flung on the rocks” or under water if we were not careful. When “dunking” occurred, the high points of the ride allowed me to have a bit more energy to deal with the pain of water up the nose/skinned knees…. “Surfing” was the metaphor which worked for me. I wonder which one will work for you….

    You also talk about “Grief”. I had a similar insight to “surfing” one year when I was overwhelmed with grief. I told my husband I couldn’t handle the grief. My father was dying, I was in a pastoral ministry, and I seemed to be coming apart at the seams. How was this happening? Surely I had the ability/gifts/faith to “Handle it.”? I could as easily have said “Surely I can manage this?” He said – “Why on earth would you think that you can handle this? Stop trying to handle it. Just live it.”

    20 years later, this seems like the obvious response to me for grief. But then, it was like a big heavy load rolled off me. I didn’t have to have the ‘right way’ to grieve. I didn’t have to know how to deal with so much that was happening, all at once. I just had to live it, as it unfolded in my life. So I did. And y’know, it was a lot like riding waves….. as they came.

    May you know life, renewal, and the thrill of the ride….. Karen.


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