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Why You Should Create Discontent in Your Organization

Welcome to Change Week on the blog! This is Part 1 of a 5 part blog series on leading change.

We’re celebrating the release of my new book Leading Change Without Losing It with a special, limited time 50% discount for Kindle and iBooks (or here for iBooks Canada). Plus we have some giveways and more (see below).

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So you would think it’s your job as a leader to smooth the waters, to keep the peace and to minimize discontent.  That would be seem intuitive in any organization, but especially in ministry, right?

What if it’s not?

What if one of the very best things you can do as a leader is to create discontent? Even in a church.

I realize that sounds counter-intuitive, but hang in there. As we’ve seen in a previous post, people usually only change when the pain associated with the status quo becomes greater than the pain associated with change.

So it stands to reason that the longer you keep people content, the less they’ll want change.

Today’s post is in response to Kevin’s question. Kevin is try to lead change at a church where people can’t see the need for change. According to Kevin, they’re convinced they’ve arrived. Here’s what Kevin had to say:

It’s one thing to cast vision, and to have your processes and practices change to reflect a new direction… But how do you change attitudes? How do you show people that the status quo isn’t good enough, especially with the next generation? …How do you change attitudes toward church, service, mission, selflessness, humility, etc. etc. etc?

…How do you move people who think that they’re already living the Christian dream? How do you get them to listen so the the Spirit is free to work in their hearts?

Love that question!

How do you change attitudes? You create discontent – discontent with the status quo.

It’s easy to raise discontent with the status quo when things are going terrible. In fact, it doesn’t take a leader to do that. You just need someone to point out the obvious.

It takes a leader to create discontent when people think things are good or adequate. In fact, the greatest enemy of your future success is your current success – exactly what Kevin is facing now. The more successful you are, the more intentional you have to be about creating discontent.

So how do you raise discontent without blowing your church apart? Here are three approaches:

1. Paint a picture of a better future. Let people know in almost every conversation you have that while you have had success, you haven’t arrived yet. There is more to be accomplished. The vision isn’t fulfilled. There are people to be reached, families to be engaged, people living without hope and so much more you have been uniquely positioned to do. In a phrase, you’re not there yet.

Language like that creates a hunger in people for something different, a longing for a better future. Best yet, it’s dead-on accurate. I don’t know of a single church that has fully realized the mission of The Church, or any organization that has completely exhausted it’s purpose. Keep moving toward that better future.

2. Focus on interests, not positions. Chances are the people in your church or organization have the same desires you do, just a different strategy. Their strategy is to do what they’re currently doing to get different results. As leader, you kind of see where that leads. So don’t focus on their position (we need the choir, we need a committee, we need this facility), focus on their interests.

A conversation focused on positions sounds like this:

“We need to change the music at our church.”

“No we don’t.”

Those conversations never go well.

A conversation focused on interests sounds like this:

“I’ll bet you really want to see your kids and grandkids in church again (Or “I’ll bet you would love to see our student ministry twice the size that it is today.”)

“I’d love that.”

“You know what, so would I. So good that we agree on that.”

“I just don’t know why they won’t come anymore.”

“You know, I’ve been looking into that along with some others on our team. I think there are some things we could do that would help get people like your kids and many young families to church. Music, for example, is something a lot of churches are using to become more effective in creating great environments for the next generation. We should talk about that….”

Do you see the difference? You won’t convince everyone. But chances are 90% will either initially or ultimately follow a lead like that (I talk about the math of opposition in detail in Strategy 1 of Leading Change Without Losing It).

3. Keep pointing back to the why, not the what and the how. Why unites. Almost everyone in the room is united by your mission: they love Jesus, they realize it’s the church’s job to reach people who are not reached. Or at a minimum, they realize they should care about those things. Keep calling people back to that.

Keep calling people back to why we do what we do. It unites people. It motivates people. It points us to a cause bigger than ourselves.

What and how divide. People tend to argue and disagree over how to do things and what they should do. The more you focus on that, the more division you will have. It creates positions, not interests. You need to engage what and how, but only do that in the context of continually reminding people why.  When you focus on why, you remind them not just about why you want to do this, but why they do.

So those are three practical ways to navigate change in a season where most people are content with the status quo.

What advice would you give Kevin? What have you done when facing a similar situation?


For your chance to win a free copy of the book during launch week, tweet about the book, this post or change using the hashtag #changebook. Then, on Monday, December 17th I’ll select three winners who used the #changebook hashtag on twitter:

  1. Two will win a free copy of the book.
  2. One winner will win
    1. Copies of the book for their entire team (up to twelve copies);  and
    2. A one hour video consultation with me to work through your specific change scenario with you.

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  • Renee

    This topic is so timely. Our church leadership is just beginning a journey to turn our church around, from dying to living. Remembering to focus on the “why” as more effective to getting buy-in/understanding/acceptance/excitement. Thank you.

  • Yes, Yes, Yes!!!