I’m sure you’ve had unexpected changes that came into your life over the years, some which were good, while others were not so good. As you face these changes, some of which may have felt forced upon you, you’re left with the process of adjusting to each of these new changes. And if you’re a leader, you face the task of helping those you lead adjust to their new circumstances—some of which may be very different than what they had hoped.
Change is nothing new, and something that is an ongoing part of our lives. Scripture records in Exodus 1 a story of how the nation of Israel faced some very unexpected and negative changes. The Pharaoh who had known Joseph and had been kind to his people was now dead, and a new ruler had been installed. This new ruler felt no obligation to Joseph or his people and chose to treat the Israelites cruelly as slaves for his nation.
Like the nation of Israel, you may have faced some unexpected or negative changes in some area of your life. Perhaps your situation was exactly the same—with a new leader installed who didn’t know your past contributions or care about your welfare or future. This very situation happens all too often these days with corporate mergers, church reorganizations, and subsequent family impacts brought about by these changes.
As I reflected on this challenge you’ll face, I wanted to share principles that have been helpful to me over the years related to leading and managing through change with grace and some keys to victory to help you begin or continue to do this.
1. With every change, you’ll go through a grieving process.
You’ll recognize that with every change, you’re entering into a new season of your life. Perhaps you’re marrying at a later age, becoming a parent, moving to a new location, going back to school, becoming an empty-nester, or retiring. Each of these life events brings tremendous lifestyle changes—which are often positive, yet simultaneously difficult.
Particularly when changes are positive, it seems odd to say that you would grieve over changes. Yet even with positive changes, you’re often leaving many things—you may be leaving relationships, a job you enjoyed, a dream behind, the single life of freedom for a married life of commitment—are all examples of this leaving process.
And when changes are negative, it goes without saying that you will be struggling to adjust to the losses entailed in the change and grief you experience.
It’s important to recognize that there are stages of grief, including shock/denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and finally, forgiveness and acceptance. Give yourself room and time to process the changes you face. Go through each of these stages until you are fully able to “let go of the old, and embrace the new.”
2. The timing of a change can feel forced or can happen so fast that you don’t have time to adjust.
This phenomenon can happen often to us—perhaps it’s an organizational or leadership change we weren’t expecting that impacts us negatively (this was the illustration that happened to the nation of Israel above and still happens to countless employees of corporations daily), it may be a job loss, or a move, or an illness, or even the joy of an unplanned-for child. Each of these circumstances brings great change, for which you’ll need to adjust your entire lifestyle to manage in a healthy way.
Yet part of finding this balance and making the needed adjustments to the changes includes having the correct perspective on change. And what is that perspective?
3. God is sovereign and promises to work even difficult events for your good if you love Him and are called according to His purpose.
Proverbs 16 has several passages which reminds you and me that it is truly God who is in charge, not us. Verse 9 states, “in his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps,” and verse 33 adds, “the lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” This passage refers to the ancient custom of casting lots to determine God’s will—similar to a coin toss today. However, Scripture is revealing that even something that seems left up to chance is not apart from God’s sovereign will and intervention. And verse 1 adds, “to man belongs the plans of the heart, but from the LORD comes the reply of the tongue,” revealing that the Lord even can control how you or others respond in order to bring about His sovereign will.
If you’re a “Type A” who needs to be in control of his or her life (and others’ lives, too!), these can feel like threatening insights. Yet in Romans 8:28, God assures you of His love, reminding you of His special promise to take all of the difficult circumstances of your life and work them together for your good.
Now this promise is given specifically to those who know and love God, and are called according to His purpose as His children. It is not for everyone. But if you fall into this category, you’ll be assured there really are no second causes, as God is either bringing about or allowing this particular event to happen to you for His own purposes, albeit unknown to you.
As you recognize this truth, you can be freed up to grow and mature from the changes you’re experiencing—as you receive the new opportunities and new challenges that the changes will bring to you. And you can await in faith to see what good God will unfold from the experiences you’ve faced, especially those which have been extremely painful or difficult for you.
4. As a leader, be sensitive to the pace of change you impose upon those you lead and to communication regarding those changes.
One of the greatest difficulties you may face as a leader is leading change in a timeframe and process those you lead can handle. Leaders often make quick decisions, being “Type-A,” “make-it-happen,” or high-control personalities. Yet in doing so, they often fail to to consider the impact those decisions will have upon those they lead. Almost always, proactive communication and collaborative decision-making will make transitions much smoother for everyone involved and allow the team to feel a part of and ownership in the new decisions.
5. Don’t give up on your dreams if you are in a “pause” scenario for a season.
Ecclesiastes 3:1 reminds you of the truth that there are seasons of our lives, “there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” It’s easy to feel you’ve lost out on the opportunity for a relationship, or a dream, or something for which you’ve longed that never seemed to come to fruition or to blossom in full.
I recently saw the movie, “Mr. Holland’s Opus.” In the story, Mr. Holland felt he’d given up his dream of writing a symphony to work second jobs over the years to care for his deaf son’s special needs. At the end of the movie, Mr. Holland discovers his dream was realized after all; in the process, he had led a wonderful life, impacting hundreds of students over the years.
Often the Lord spreads out His opportunities and dreams for you over a lifetime, allowing you to experience each of them in its own appropriate season. Philippians 1:6 speaks of how “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” While Paul was referring here to the sanctification of the believers in their spiritual growth, the principle holds that God will complete in you whatever work He began, using the specific spiritual gifts He has given you for His unique and special purpose for your life.
The January 20 entry from Streams in the Desert, by Mrs. Charles E. Cowman, gives a hopeful perspective, particularly about sorrowful changes and circumstances you may encounter:
When sorrow comes under the power of divine grace, it works out a manifold ministry in our lives … Sorrow makes us go slower and more considerately, and introspect our motives and dispositions. It is sorrow that opens up within us the capacities of the heavenly life, and it is sorrow that makes us willing to launch our capacities on a boundless sea of service for God and our fellows …
God never uses anybody to a large degree, until after He breaks that one all to pieces. Joseph had more sorrow than all the other sons of Jacob, and it led him out into a ministry of bread for all nations. For this reason, the Holy Spirit said of him, ‘Joseph is a fruitful bough … by a well, whose branches run over the wall’ (Gen. 49:22). It takes sorrow to widen the soul.”