Part Two: “What Is” Is Pretty Special
In part one of this series I asked these questions: As a leader, should you lead change? Can you effectively lead change? Do you feel equipped or able to lead change? Do you see things that need to change?
Here are the answers I would personally give to those questions. Yes, I should lead change. I struggle with doubts that I can effectively do it. No way do I feel equipped or able. And a loud and resounding, YES, I see things that need to change—constantly.
So let’s begin here. If God has called you to lead, He has called you to lead change. The two are inseparable. No, you won’t ever feel adequate—which, in God’s economy is a good thing. Your weakness is what uniquely qualifies you to be useful to God with no chance of taking credit for what He does. Yes, you are equipped and able, because God never calls someone to do something without promising to empower and enable them to “do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:24 says, “Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.”
About that nagging tendency to notice things that need to change—it’s one of the greatest validations of God’s call to lead. He is opening your eyes to necessary change, and with it, He is giving you His burden and passion to see healthy change happen. It’s a gift. But it’s also a curse. Why?
As a change-agent, servant-leader, you will constantly be torn between your vision of “what could be” and your present reality of “what is.” Envisioning “what could be” is a great gift of leadership. Loving “what is” is the great heart of leadership.
This is the tension that every leader manages every day—the tension between “what is” and “what could be.”
“What is” is now. It’s reality. Present. It’s really all you have. There are no guarantees of tomorrow. “What is” in ministry right now in your life is pretty special. It may not be what you hope it will be. It may not be what you envision “someday.” But if it involves hearts—real people to love, to nurture, to disciple—then it’s amazing! It’s awesome, eternal, and significant!
“What is” should not be despised. It should be cherished. Luke 16:10 says “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.”
“What could be” is pretty special too, but it can also be distracting and even depressing. “What could be” can make you discontent and cause you to wrestle with “what is.” It can even cause you to resent “what is.” And that’s a problem—because if you ever intend to see “what could be” it will be because you fully engage, love, and appreciate “what is.”
So, quite counter intuitively, the path to healthy change begins with fully appreciating right now, right where you are, with “what is.”
If you don’t value and steward well “what is” then you will never realize “what could be.” If you despise “what is” then God will never entrust you with “what could be.”
Wise leaders effectively manage the tension—the emotional, soul tension—that appreciates “what is” while at the same time dreaming for “what could be.”
This tension is powerful and risky. Being pulled too far in the direction of “what could be” makes you agitated, rushed, and pushing for too much change, too quickly. It makes you too aggressive, too burdened, and too self-sufficient. It will cause you to steamroll over people and break them in the process. It will cause you to be perpetually dissatisfied and ungrateful, and you will miss the significance of today’s victories because you are panting for tomorrow’s too soon.
This is not servant leadership. It’s tyranny.
But being pulled too far in the direction of “what is” will make you lethargic, apathetic—even lazy. It will demotivate you and cause you to settle. It will enlarge the obstacles, making every challenge an impassible mountain. It will cause you to sit on your hands, do nothing, envision, nothing, and just wait for some change to fall out of the sky and hit you on the head. That will never happen. Accepting “what is” without also challenging it will lead you to slowly rot in complacency.
This is not servant leadership. It’s passivity.
Servant leadership holds the tension balance between appreciating and stewarding “what is” while also dreaming and visioneering “what could be.” This leadership embraces what is with a full heart of gratitude. It values every detail of “what is”—the people, the building, the history, the culture, the faith it took to get “here.” This leadership takes “what is” and determines to maximize it, to steward it well for God’s glory.
At EBC this was one of my earliest heart battles. God had to reorientate my heart from a large, thriving ministry to a smaller, struggling ministry. My first months, all I could see was “what could be.” In one way this was helpful, but in another way it was destructive. Why?
Because it was easy to miss “what is!” When I became too focused on “what could be” I lost sight of the massive blessings right in front of my face—namely a superbly wonderful Christian friends that God gave to me and my family. Providentially, God placed my life directly into the heart of a small, but fabulous church family—full of faith, eager to move forward, excited to welcome “the new guy.” Early on, God recalibrate my appreciation of “what is.”
Honestly, I came to the point where “what is” was so precious and valuable and enjoyable, that I knew I could love “what is” even if God never fully materialized the future vision. That was a pretty special moment. It was a major heart victory for God’s grace. It was the moment that I saw how amazing “what is” truly is.
I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but I truly believe that the path to “what could be” begins with loving, cherishing, thanking God for “what is.”
If you ever hope to lead any one toward healthy change, the journey starts here. Love “what is.” Love them where they are, how they are, for who they are. Love your church where it is, for what it is, and in all the ways it became what it is. Appreciate and honor what is.
Servant leadership and healthy change can only flow from the good soil of a heart that is operating in full contentment paired with balanced vision. Contentment will make you appreciative of now; vision will enlarge your heart for God’s preferred future—and the tension between the two will hold you in balance to God’s pace and God’s realization of the dream. This is a safe, healthy, and nurturing way forward.
If you steam-roll over “what is” on your way to “what could be”—I can almost guarantee you will NEVER see “what could have been.”
“… For I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” (Philippians 4:11)
Stay tuned for part 3!