MAY, 28TH 2017


by Mae Elise Cannon

Mae Elise Cannon is the author of Social Justice Handbook: Small Steps for a Better World (IVP, 2009). Cannon is an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Covenant Church. She was formerly the executive pastor of Hillside Covenant Church located in Walnut Creek, California and also served as director of development and transformation for extension ministries at Willow Creek Community Church in Barrington, Illinois. Cannon holds an M.Div. From North Park Theological Seminary, an M.B.A. from North Park University’s School of Business and Nonprofit Management, and an M.A. in bioethics from Trinity International University. She is now a doctoral candidate in American History with the minor in Middle Eastern studies at the University of California – Davis focusing her dissertation on the tumultuous history of the American Protestant church in Israel and Palestine. Most recently, has served as consultant to the Middle East for child advocacy issues for Compassion International a Christian nonprofit committed to alleviating poverty around the world.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing, and perfect will. Romans 12:1–2

Transformation is the process of radical change. As Christians, we believe the process of personal transformation happens because of the presence of the Holy Spirit and the transforming power of God in our lives. Individuals must willingly submit and engage in this process of change as God performs the work of shaping, molding, and changing his followers more into his image and likeness. Change is an exciting and complex process. Personal change happens when someone makes an intentional decision to depend on God and to allow the transforming power of the Holy Spirit into one’s life. Change, however, does not only occur on a personal level. Every individual is a part of a community or larger system. One’s intimate community may begin with those in their immediate circle of family and close friends. When an individual experiences personal transformation and change, the entire system is affected. As one person changes their behaviors, thoughts, ideas, and actions, others who are in relationship with that individual also experience change. Family, friends, and the larger community must then choose how to respond to the changes they experience and observe in the transformed individual. Thus, as each of us pursues the on-going process of transformation into the likeness of Christ, we also have the ability to influence and provoke change within our immediate and extensive relationships in the larger community around us. What great hope this provides. God promised us to complete the work of transformation that he began in us that we might be confident “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). However, our personal transformation is not only for our own benefit . . . “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Phil. 2:13). We are transformed so that we might be better fulfill the purposes that God has ordained for us. It is a great privilege to know that not only does God desire for us to experience personal change; he also desires to use us to be agents of change in the world.

Personal Transformation and Individual Change

Personal change begins by the process of submitting oneself to God. This occurs most directly in a posture of repentance. When someone realizes the ways that he or she has not honored God and has failed to fulfill his creeds and commandments, there are many possible responses. The response that is desired by God is one of repentance; deep sorrow, contrition, and regret for sin and wrongdoing. Henry Cloud and John Townsend, two Christian psychologists say this: “Repentance, simply put, is a change in direction. It is a movement away from the destructive path back toward God’s ways.” As we enter into the process of repentance, we place ourselves in a position to be transformed by the Holy Spirit in order that our ways might be become more like the thoughts, beliefs, and actions that are desired by God. As we acknowledge and recognize the errors of our ways and submit to God in an attitude of repentance, individual change and personal transformation occurs.

One of my favorite books about the process of personal change is by Henry Cloud and John Townsend called: How People Grow: What the Bible Reveals about Personal Growth. Cloud and Townsend walk their readers through the process of spiritual growth and how personal transformation occurs. One of their reminders is the critical part that love plays in the process of change. Love compels change. Cloud and Townsend say this: “When we realize we are hurting someone we love, we change. Love and empathy change us. We treat others as we would want to be treated. Love constrains us.” When we know we are loved we feel safe and are more willing to be vulnerable. One of the first conditions to growth and change is to know that we are secure, both in our relationship with God and in our relationships with others.5 Knowing that we are loved provides this feeling of security that allows us to experience personal transformation and to better be able to love others.

Individual change and transformations in personal relationships are not the only type of change that is expected of the people of God. As individuals experience transformation, the larger community is affected. As the body of Christ, when an individual experiences personal transformation, the entire community is influenced as a result of this change. We are told in 1 Corinthians 12:24–26 that we are each a part of the body of Christ, “But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” When one person in the body experiences transformation and change, the entire body is affected. Just as when one person is celebrated, the entire body experiences joy. Similarly, if one part of the body suffers, the larger community suffers also. Personal transformation does not happen in isolation, but directly correlates with the direction and progression of one’s immediate community and larger society as a whole. In fact, Christians are called to intentionally play a part in bringing about societal change and transformation as a means of fulfilling the purposes of God for the world.

Sociocultural Transformation and Change in Society

Charles Kraft writes in Anthropology for Christian Witness: “All change in culture is initiated in the minds of the people who live in that culture.” This should be greatly encouraging news as it implies that individuals can provoke change and shape the future direction of their cultures and society. Kraft continues and suggests that “. . . all sociocultural change starts with changes in the minds of individuals. The starting point for change is a new perspective. We can thus change our habitual use of cultural structures to enable us to serve God, rather than the ends ordinarily recommended by the society of which we are a part.” In other words, following the example of Jesus, Christians have the opportunity to use cultural structures in a different way. Rather than “conforming to the patterns of this world” (Rom. 12:1–2), because of the transformation of our minds, we are given the opportunity to have a new perspective which allows us to engage with our society differently than we once had. As our paradigm and perspective of the way we view the world shifts and changes, we are then better equipped and able to be agents of change who use the systems and structures of society to better be able to serve God. Kraft asserts, “The Gospel always results in changes—changes in people who initially change the way they use their culture and may then go on to alter the structures themselves to become more adequate vehicles for God’s working.” It is a great privilege and responsibility to be able to bring about change in the world. It is important that this responsibility be taken seriously and that Christians passionately pursue righteousness, justice, and other societal attributes that are close to the heart of God.

God’s Desire for Community Change

Much could be said about the process of personal transformation and change which are critical components to personal discipleship and one’s growing relationship with Christ. However, the remainder of this chapter will focus on the process of bringing about societal change and transformation within community. Far too often the church focuses on the process of individual transformation and neglects to address God’s call upon his community to be agents of change within the world. As we continue to look more deeply at question of societal change, it is important to ask what God’s desire is in this regard. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus’ teaching addressed the question of what role people should play in their society. Jesus came to the earth so that the good news of the kingdom of God might be preached (Luke 16:16). The disciples were similarly instructed to go out, to heal the sick, and to preach the good news of the kingdom of God (Luke 9:2). Similarly, today, we are instructed to go into the world making disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19) and to respond to the needs of the least of these (Matt. 25:40). Believers are instructed to pursue personal righteousness and right relationship with God, while also being witnesses of the good news of the Gospel, sharing the message of salvation in Jesus Christ, and working to right the wrongs in society. How do these changes occur, what steps might be taken in pursuit of them, and what things might be barriers to effective change?

Barriers to Change

People do not like to change. Change is never easy and in order to embrace the experience of transformation, one must give up assumptions and ideas which may be held very dear. Kraft writes about his experience, “Worldview assumptions underlie all sociocultural behavior. These are the basic principles, the foundation for the rules and regulations from which social control techniques flow. Since people tend to be quite protective of their worldview assumptions, these provide the primary barriers to change.” Acknowledging that “people can be quite protective of their worldview assumptions” is an important place to start. Many times people do not even know what assumptions they posses. Thus, it can be important to invite people to discover their underlying assumptions and then to gently enter into the process of challenging them. Kraft reminds his readers that people are often the greatest inhibitor to effective change, “Worldview does not block change; it is the people following the guidelines of the worldview who throw up the barriers. It is people who will, emote, think, interpret, evaluate, make commitments, explain, relate, and adapt on the basis either of traditional assumptions or changed assumptions, and people tend to do this habitually, without thinking.” People are often deeply committed and connected to their worldview. They have strong feelings, ideas, interpretations, and meaning which they attribute to their assumptions. Because these worldview assumptions are often unconsciously held, the process of identifying them and bringing them to the surface can be difficult and conflict ridden. Nonetheless, if individuals and communities are going to change, the inherent assumptions about the world must be brought to the surface.

If people hold so tightly to their inherent assumptions of the world, then how does change occur? There are several common characteristics of individuals who help to facilitate change. Many change agents act out of a feeling of need because they have experienced some kind of deprivation, dissatisfaction, or disaffection. These individuals may not be experiencing the deprivation personally, but may have a personal and deep connection to other individuals or communities who are deprived. Individuals who provoke change often exhibit an openness to change by an expressed and overt interest, curiosity, or inclination to experiment. In addition, Kraft argues that freedom is a condition necessary in the pursuit of change. In environments of freedom, individuals experience more room to be creative and to dream about possibilities which contributes to the belief and idea that change can actually occur. Kraft argues that when freedom is inhibited, there is less room for people to invent and discover the necessity for change because “all one’s time and energy is expended in merely surviving [and] creativity tends to be squelched.” The belief in possibility and the advisability of change is necessary in order for people to have hope that change is possible. In addition, human motivations also inspire change as people desire for an increase in “personal standing” and are motivated by “meaningfulness, economic gain, prestige, and power, whether spiritual or social.” Thus, people are the greatest assets in initiating change as they are the ones who provoke it to happen; similarly, people are the greatest inhibition and barrier to change.                

Practical Inhibitors to Change

John Kotter wrote an excellent book, Leading Change, for Harvard Business School about how one can develop an action plan on how to bring about change within organizations. Many of Kotter’s principles relate directly to the process of change whether or not it occurs within the context of an organization. Kotter addresses eight specific reasons that change often fails.

The first inhibitor to change is that often too much complacency exists. When people are complacent, they are not motivated or inspired to do the work necessary for making change happen. To this point, someone once told me that people only want to change half as much as they say they do and often it is even less than that! In other words, change means that people will need to give up certain degrees of comfort. People are always more comfortable with what is known than what is unknown. Thus, the quest for change – and movement into new and known territory – must first be inspired by great deals of passion and urgency, overcoming the negative force of complacency.

The second reason, according to Kotter, that change often fails is the failure to create a powerful team to guide and implement change. Sometimes many individuals will agree that there is an urgent need for change and a problem that should be addressed. However, it is essential that there be clear leadership of a team of committed individuals who are willing to continually lead the process of change. A team can be anywhere from a few people to several dozen people. However, the larger the group, the increased need there will be for organizational clarity. As a powerful team is developed and honed, it will play the role of being the guiding force for implementing change.

The third challenge to change comes from “underestimating the power of vision.” The Bible says “without a vision, the people will perish” (Prov. 29:18). Often groups of people have a clear sense that there is a problem that needs to be addressed; however, they fail to have a vision of how things could be different. The need for vision applies both to individual and to corporate change. Cloud and Townsend say this: “If we are to deeply help people on the path to spiritual growth, we have to know where we come from, where we went from there, and where we are heading.” Vision provides direction so people know where they are going. Thus, vision is an essential component in bringing about effective change.

The fourth inhibition to change is the under-communication of the vision. A group, community, or organization can have the greatest vision in the world; but if no one knows what that vision is, people will not be inspired and encouraged to work toward it. Patrick Lencioni, the author of several books about leadership, encourages leaders over and over again to communicate, communicate, communicate. Kotter says that leaders have a tendency to under- communicate the vision by a factor of 10, or 100, or even 1,000. A leader or leadership team may think that the vision is clear, but until it becomes an internalized part of every person involved, it is necessary to continually over-communicate using creative and effective means of making the vision understood.

The fifth barrier to effective change is allowing obstacles to block the vision. Certainly there are barriers and obstacles that are real and need to be addressed. However, if they are not handled effectively, they will block the vision and become inhibiting factors to effective change. For example, Kraft mentioned above that “freedom” is a necessary component of allowing for creative space so that people might dream about ways that change can occur. I agree that freedom certainly makes change easier. However, the lack of freedom must not become a road- block to whether or not change occurs. Consider all of the social justice and reform movements around the world such as the Civil Rights Movement in the United States and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. In both of those situations, there were significant freedoms placed upon certain members of society. However, the vision for liberty, justice, and human rights was greater than the lack of political freedom that was experienced in those circumstances. Obstacles must not be allowed to block the vision.

Sixth, on any road and process toward change, groups and communities must stop to celebrate short-term wins. There will inevitably be many challenges and road-blocks on the road to effective change. As these often daily realities seek to discourage and immobilize, it is necessary to counterbalance them by celebrating small wins and short-term steps in the right direction. When the change that is sought demands huge transformation and adjustments short- term wins become all the more important. Often the desired change seems so overwhelming that it might feel unobtainable. Thus, it is necessary to step back and set reasonable short-term goals that will allow a group and community to feel that process is being made in the right direction. Small steps (even tiny steps) in the right direction are moving people closer to the desired goal and to the obtainment of the vision that has been set

Just as celebrating small scale victories is important, it is critical not to declare victory too soon. While celebrating small wins, maintain a realistic view of the vision and what true victory will look like. Often small victories, which are good accomplishments in the right direction, may be misinterpreted so that one thinks the goal has actually been accomplished. It is necessary for changes to be deeply ingrained within a culture, which can often take a few years to a decade, so that regression will not occur. According to Kotter, a “premature victory celebration stops all of the momentum.” Thus, it is important to celebrate small accomplishments on the way, but to stay focused and attentive in order to not declare victory too soon.

This leads to the eighth and final inhibition to lasting change, the neglect to anchor changes into one’s lifestyle and culture. As Kraft spoke about worldview and the paradigm of the way people see the world, truly affective change shifts people’s worldview and provides a different perspective about the way things are and should be. As change becomes anchored within a community and society, it is helpful for people to understand the way their changes in behavior and their actions have helped bring about the desired change. When true change occurs, there will be shifts in culture as the larger community personifies and takes on attributes of the desired change.

Process of Change

Change is an on-going process that is a lot of hard work. People will pursue change if they believe and have hope that things can be different. If individuals and communities are overcome with a sense of hopelessness, they will be less inspired to take intentional actions and will experience inhibitions, as discussed above, to bringing about change. As the above theological reflection suggests, God plays a significant part in the transformation process. We can take intentional actions to put ourselves in positions where change can occur, but God serves and functions as the change agent within us. Then, because of God’s work within us, humans are given the opportunity to be agents of change in the world. The following “process of change” identifies eight different components of how change can occur. The initial structure of these eight steps in the process of change came from John Kotter and his book Leading Change. However, Kotter’s process focuses specifically on organizational and business oriented change. These eight steps have been significantly adapted to suit a more holistic perspective of how change occurs within communities.

Step 1: Identifying the Problem

It is difficult to pursue intentional change if people do not have a clear idea of the problem they desire to address. Often people have the idea that something “just isn’t right” without a clear sense of what the problem might be. If a group of people come together for any common purpose, it is important that they first go through the process of identifying what they would like to see changed. Some groups and communities may gather with a common purpose and the desire to address many problems, not only one specific thing. Nonetheless, intentional conversations and work toward breaking down the components of the problems they desire to address are important. Sometimes the problem seems obvious. However, if a group of diverse people have gathered to address an obvious problem, they will each be coming with their own ideas and worldview of why the problem exists and how it should be changed. Addressing the specifics of the problem is a helpful place to start in order to begin to week out assumptions and differences in opinion of the group members who are gathered. (For more information, see the exercise about problem identification.)

Step 2: Overcoming Complacency

Cloud and Townsend write: “Do not wait for change to happen. Take the initiative to face what you have been afraid to know.”20 Overcoming complacency means being willing to face the reality of what problems exist. One of the main ways this can occur is by willingly entering into the process of awareness. Awareness allows us to step outside of our own personal paradigms and view the world from a larger perspective. Specifically in regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the process of problem identification and overcoming complacency can take a great deal of time, energy, and resources. Do not be discouraged. When the assumptions and paradigms that a group of people are starting from may seem so vastly different, it is inevitable that the process of finding common ground and commonality will take time and effort. Complacency often comes from a lack of hope and the belief that things cannot be different. However, the Bible promises that with God nothing is impossible. If people are discouraged about the possibility of change, lead them through an exercise intentionally created with the goal of providing hope. (See the exercise section that follows for further details.) According to Kotter, some of the things that can be done to overcome complacency include creating a crisis; eliminating obvious levels of excess; setting high goals that are not achievable without change; increasing accountability; creating more direct conflict within the system; using outside people to force honest conversations; and getting rid of “happy talk” in order to create an environment where there are really honest conversations. Each of these ideas is a helpful possibility. Practically, creating a crisis can sometimes be difficult to manage. However, Kotter’s main idea still stands. If there is a crisis, people feel compelled to respond and are pushed out of their comfort zones and motivated into action. Similarly, limiting obvious levels of excess makes people feel uncomfortable, which inspires people to pursue change. Increased accountability means that people will be held accountable for their commitments and actions. Each of these is a practical step to help address complacency. (For further ideas, see the exercise about identifying specific aspects of complacency that inhibits change.)

Step 3: Developing a Dynamic Team

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. Romans 12:3–5

I have taught entire workshops about developing a dynamic team. Thus, this short paragraph description is woefully inadequate. Developing a dynamic leadership team is a critical way to practice biblical community in the church and non-profit setting. Regardless of if the group is Christian or of different faiths, a leadership team will help set the course and direction of how change is going to occur. Alan Forsman, a leadership coach and consultant, defines a team as: “a small group of people, with complementary skills, committed to a common purpose, performance goals and approaches or processes for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.” A team is important because different people possess unique gifts. Ultimately, when a group of people gather together with unique gifts and with their collective resources, more can be accomplished by their collaborative efforts. An effective leadership team is a vital component to growth and change within a community.

Patrick Lencioni provides an excellent resource for developing a dynamic team in his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. The book is written for the corporate context, but the principles still apply. Lencioni identifies five dysfunctions that inhibit a team from working together effectively: lack of trust; inability to have effective conflict; lack of commitment; lack of accountability; and inattention to results. In order for a team to be able to function effectively, the individuals must have a certain level of trust and safety. If people do not feel safe, they will not be willing to be vulnerable. If people are unwilling to be vulnerable, they will be unwilling and unable to change. Thus the establishment of trust is a critical component of developing a healthy, dynamic team. Each of the other components is similarly important and should be further explored, however such exploration is beyond the scope of this chapter.

In addition to addressing the dysfunction of team dynamics, it is important that the right people be in the right positions. Jim Collins addresses this issue in his book Good to Great. Collins talks about how it is vitally important for the right people to be in the right seats on the bus. Sometimes, good people are not the best fit for a team. In order to have an effective team, individuals must be willing and able to work well with others. Great people in the wrong position can be detrimental to the effectiveness of a team and can be major inhibitors to successful change. In addition, if people make commitments in the group, it is important to have good and clear methods of mutual accountability. If someone does not follow through on their commitments, they are not only letting themselves and the leadership team down, they are hurting the entire community. A healthy leadership team sets the pace for the entire group whom they are leading. Bill Hybels, pastor and leader of Willow Creek Community Church often says, the “speed of the leader, speed of the team.” If the leaders of the group are ineffective and unhealthy, they will inhibit the growth of the entire team. Similarly, if the leadership team is healthy and strong there is great hope for the changes that can be brought about within, among, and through the group they are leading.

Step 4: Defining Reality

One of my leadership mentors was personally mentored by Max Dupree, a corporate executive and leadership guru. Dupree is known for his book The Art of Leadership and has taught workshops and courses around the United States about leadership. I have greatly appreciated the things that I have learned from Max’s writings and through his direct leadership influence through my own leadership mentor. One of the adages that has been credited to Dupree is the following: “The first task of a leader is to define reality.” Once a leadership team has been established, the next step is to have a clear and (as much as possible) unbiased perspective about the reality of your current situation. In large part, I believe this to be true. However, I would argue that defining reality is the second task of a leader, not the first.

Several years ago, I was hired to manage a team of about 20 people at a medium sized church. I was excited about my mission as I was brought to the church to help them become more effective and purposeful, and ultimately to bring about change within the church community. I embraced my new role with excitement and vigor and took to heart the principle of “the first task of a leader is to define reality.” One of the first meetings that I attended was a meeting of the entire staff team. They had gathered for an afternoon, for perhaps three to four hours (it felt like 50!) to discuss the church schedule and which meetings would be occurring in which rooms of the church. The meeting was long, excruciatingly detailed, and terribly boring. As I was sitting in the meeting, I was reminded of how much the church was paying for the salaries of every person in that room. The meeting was an ineffective use of time and beyond that was excruciatingly painful to sit through! As I left the meeting, one of the other pastors in the church asked me what I thought. In the spirit of “defining reality,” I immediately responded something like this: “That was the worst meeting I have ever been in. It was terribly boring and a waste of our time. Shoot me in the head.” Granted, I might have been exaggerating (only slightly) for dramatic effect. Nonetheless, if only you had seen the look on this man’s face. You could tell that my comments devastated him. That day, I learned a very important lesson. The first task of a leader is not to define reality. The first task of a leader is to love your people. Once your people know that they are loved, then they will be open to the process of defining reality. But first… be sure they know that they are loved.

In business, one of the most effective ways to define reality is to conduct what is known as a SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for the following: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. The goal of the exercise is to identify what strengths and resources are available as a group attempts to address a problem and to encourage change. Strengths and weaknesses apply to internal strengths and weaknesses. Looking at the group, community, or organization, identify what positive strengths are working in your favor and what negative weaknesses or challenges present themselves internally. Opportunities and threats refer to similar questions, but apply to external sources and influences. For example, government restrictions or laws may be considered external threats whereas the talents and gifts of members of your leadership team may be internal strengths. (For more information on this, see the exercise section that follows.)

Step 5: Determine the Vision and Strategies for a Solution

The vision creates a picture of how the problem being addressed can be resolved; what will things look like if they are the way that you want them to be. A vision should be specific and clear. Once the vision is accomplished, the job of your group or organization will be complete. Vision sets the direction for change and motivates people to take action in the right direction.

In addition, vision helps coordinate the action of individuals in a “remarkably fast and efficient way.” Regarding this vision, Kotter writes, “Clarifying the direction of change is important because, more often than not, people disagree on direction, or are confused, or wonder whether significant change is really necessary.” A vision is never created in a single meeting, but is a process that can take months and even years. Effective team work is a necessary component for coming up with a corporate vision. For some groups, particularly ones that are working within an organization, the vision of the group may be preset and determined. (For an exercise about how to create an effective vision, see the exercise section below.)

 Once a vision has been clearly determined, strategies are needed to deal with the problem. By this point, significant work should have already been done defining the problem and determining what resources and challenges most directly present themselves in addressing the problem. The vision and direction of change should already have been established. The process of strategic planning answers the question of how to bring that change about and to make it happen. For example, a group whose vision is for reconciliation between Christians and Muslims would then determine specific strategies to move the group and community in that direction. It is necessary for the vision to be specific and clear so that the strategies adopted will directly apply. For example, “reconciliation between Christians and Muslims” is a broad and generic vision; however, reconciliation between the leaders of the Christian and Muslim community in the city of Bethlehem is much more specific. Strategies can include things like raising awareness, building relationships, networking, and providing avenues for acceptance. (For an exercise about brainstorming strategies see the exercise section.)

Step 6: Commit to Specific Goals

Goals are the specific actions that a group has committed to carrying out as means of employing the agreed upon strategies. A goal defines the desired result a person or group or system envisions, plans, and commits to achieve. A goal is a desired end-point along the road to accomplishing your group’s vision. Personal goals can often be more easily defined than group goals. For example, someone may want to be able to run a mile in under six minutes; or to lose ten pounds; or to graduate from college. Group goals must be corporately agreed upon and must directly fulfill the strategic purposes that have already been established.

One set of criteria for developing effective goals is called SMART. SMART is an acronym for the following: Specific; Measurable; Attainable; Realistic; and Timely. Often one of the main reasons that goals are not accomplished is because they are not specific. Once a goal has been determined, it should be clearly measurable, attainable, and realistic. This means that the goal can actually happen. It may be a challenge and it may be difficult, but it at least needs to be possible. “Timely” means that a goal should have a clearly defined date and time of when it might be accomplished. (For an exercise about how to develop effective goals, see below.)

Step 7: Celebrate Small Victories along the Way

Most change occurs gradually. Thus, it is important to have markers which can help a group see the progress that is being made along the way. One of the best ways to go about creating this type of marker is to celebrating small victories along the way. Often it is helpful to have a person or group from outside of the community acknowledge and affirm the changes that they have witnessed. Because every group, team, and community is unique, one of the best ways to determine how to celebrate is to allow the group to develop their own method of commemoration. Some groups may want to celebrate periodically by sharing a meal together. Others may want to throw a party or some type of event. Other groups may want to honor their accomplishments through creative ways, writing a song, making a play, or some other idea. With ministry teams, I often encourage groups to consider the possibility of keeping a “victory journal” or some type of log where they will record and celebrate their accomplishments. Then, a few times a year the group should intentionally review the journal to be reminded of the things they have accomplished. Within organizations, often the time of annual review provides an opportunity for celebration about the work and ministry that has been accomplished.

Step 8: Long-Term and Results Oriented Change in Communities

Change takes place over long periods of time and after substantial effort. Nonetheless, change is not impossible. It can and does happen. Once a group or community has progressed upon the pathway to long-term change, the attributes, behaviors, thoughts, and perspective of the desired change must become deeply integrated into the culture of the community. In English we have the expression, “bad habits die hard,” thus the group under the influence of the leadership team, must persistently be reminded of their common vision and purpose. As the above verse mentions, we each play a part in bringing about change. Some, like Paul, play the role of planting the seeds; others, like Apollos water the seed once it has been planted; but ultimately God is the one who makes this grow. God brings about the desired change within individuals and within the world. May we willingly and intentionally embrace the process of change as we submit to the work of God in our lives and in the world.


Dick, B. and Bill Pittman. Courage to Change: The Christian Roots of the 12 Step Movement. Center City: Hazelden Publishing, 1994.

Cannon, Mae Elise. Social Justice Handbook: Small Steps for a Better World. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009.

Cloud, Henry and John Townsend. Changes that Heal. Zondervan. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993.                            

———. How People Grow: What the Bible Reveals about Personal Growth. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.

Hunter, James Davison. To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Kotter, John. Leading Change. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1996.

Kraft, Charles. Anthropology for Christian Witness. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1996.

Lencioni, Patrick. Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable. San Francisco: Jossey- Bass, 2002.