It is said that one of the most important functions of leadership is to bridge the gap between where we really are and where we say we want to be. Where we are — our current reality — reflects our lived values. Lived values are those that cause us to act, think, and speak in the ways we actually do. Where we say we want to be — our desired reality — reflects our articulated values. Articulated values are those that we wish were true, but at present are not. They describe our vision of who we want to be. Therefore, the critical function of leadership is to help people move from where they are to where they say they want to be. The problem is, many people don’t want to change — they don’t want to let go of their lived values in order to pursue and take hold of their articulated values.
Think in terms of dieting. Health, fitness, self-control, and good nutrition are articulated values of almost everyone who knows or believes he or she needs to diet. Yet comfort, hunger, flavor, and satisfaction are powerful drivers, and they prevent many from ever succeeding where diet is concerned. We know what we want to do, but fail to do it.
Paul wrestles with this very issue in Romans 7, where he complains that the very things he doesn’t want to do, he ends up doing, while the things he knows he should do, he fails to do. It is, apparently, a normal aspect of the human condition. And without outside intervention, it rarely changes.
Take The United Methodist Church, for example. Our articulated values are authentic discipleship, openness, inclusiveness, justice, spiritual discipline, and global transformation (hopefully for the better). However, our lived values reflect those of the dominant American culture: comfort, security, the preservation of the familiar, pleasure, and leisure. Our articulated values describe for us our Promised Land — our future flowing with milk and honey. But we are content to live in Egypt — captives to the dominant culture, but living in the illusion of safety, comfort and control. To move from Egypt to the Promised Land we need leaders. We need Moses and Aaron and Miriam and Jethro and Joshua and the Judges. We need those who will not allow us to settle for the status quo, but who are committed body, mind, soul, and spirit to obeying God’s Will.
And it is God’s Will that defines our articulated values — we aspire to be the people of God, the body of Christ, a witness to the power of God’s Holy Spirit at work in the world today. There is no way we can do that from the comforts of captivity. It is only in passing through the wild and desolate places that we can create a new future and journey to the Promised Land.
What does it take to move us from where we are to where God wants us to be? While there is no one prescriptive answer that is right for everyone, there are some important factors for leaders to keep in mind. Here are a few of them.
Motivate, Don’t Manipulate
The best description I have ever heard of the difference between motivation and manipulation is that motivation comes from inside, manipulation from outside. What motivates us is internal — it is what we want to do. Manipulation is getting someone else to do what you want them to. People are generally motivated to do good things, but they often need help finding viable ways to do so. In the church, we need to be careful not to confuse motivation and manipulation. One prime example of this is financial commitment. Often, we as leaders neglect what people truly care about in favor of what the church wants them to care about. We don’t motivate people to give, we manipulate them. We try to talk them into supporting what a few people have decided is important, instead of allowing them to support what matters most to them. Congregations that take the time to find out what people are motivated to support have far fewer financial woes than the churches that form a budget then try to get everyone “to do their fair share.” Conferences need to learn this lesson around apportionments. Punishment and reward systems are a clear indication of manipulation, not motivation.
Explain How Benefits Outweigh Costs
We live in a commodity-based culture: people will do almost anything when the benefits outweigh the costs. We tend to value most that which grants us the biggest benefit. When leaders call for change, most people immediately understand what it will cost them — in terms of personal loss of comfort, familiarity, or security. It takes time to help people understand how the changes will bring benefits. A new service, a change of worship styles, new members, a new program or mission — these things threaten the status quo. They make people worry about what they will lose. Change occurs most easily where people can see how the benefits of the change will provide greater value than what people will be required to give up. Where leaders can help people see how the benefits outweigh the costs, change will occur more smoothly.
Accentuate the Positive (Don’t Focus on the Negatives)
Running away from something bad is not nearly as appealing as running to something great. A land flowing with milk and honey is worth sacrificing for. The Hebrew people lived in captivity for years, and it wasn’t bad enough to make them run to the desert. Without a Promised Land to run to, captivity is never bad enough to run from. Too much of our conversation in our churches is about escaping pain — loss of members, lack of funds, absence of new blood, too few members. How many people are going to feel energized by this? The churches that turn the corner and begin doing amazing ministry are those who are so excited about their future that they don’t waste time worrying about what they don’t have. Where the atmosphere is positive and pushing for greater things, people change. Where the atmosphere is dreary and defeatist, nothing much good can happen.
Change is hard. People don’t resist because they are bad, but because they are comfortable, scared, or stuck. Kindness and compassion are the lubricants by which people move from what is comfortable and known to take risks and try new things. Acknowledge that people are making sacrifices. Celebrate the small victories. Talk to people who are resistant; don’t treat them like problems to be solved. Even the most recalcitrant can be won through kindness and real consideration.
Cultivate Values (Avoid Behavior Modification)
Don’t get distracted by behaviors. People act on values. Work to cultivate new, deep, loving values. Don’t focus on giving; focus on cultivating a generous spirit. Don’t focus on worship techniques and styles; focus on people’s desire to be close to God. Don’t define hospitality as being friendly or good at welcoming people; help people understand what it means to forge healthy relationships. Don’t define missions as a program of the church; define missions as the fundamental expression of everyone in relationship with Jesus Christ. Too much of what we do in the church is short-term, short-sighted behavior modification, not radical and long-lasting life transformation.
The work and purpose of the church is transformation — transformation of the individual to transform the congregation to transform the world. This requires work at the deepest level of the individual — at the level of values. We lead best when we help people bridge the gap between our lived and our articulated values. Change people’s behaviors you might change things a little; change their hearts and minds, you change their lives.