I hate the in-between!
Every parent has heard the whiny question repeated over and over again on a road trip with the kids: “Are we there yet?” Why is this almost a universal experience, even with adults, who may say it like this, “How much longer?” or ‘Where are we now?” Because we hate in-between time. We just hate it…we want to be where we are going. The work of in-between time is not nearly as attractive as what we are going to do when we get there, right? But we are just beginning to unleash the Spirit of #synodality.
Welcome to #synodjourney. We are in the in-between time. The Pentecost Vigil Project was created to support this part of the journey…the in-between where we’ve been and where we are going…between the culture of the current Church and the culture of a synodal church. So let’s talk about this in-between time. What’s going on?
Pope Francis called for all of the baptized, around the world, to participate in this phase of the culture change. Want to know more about culture change? Click here! He asked us to ask ourselves hard questions, and sit down together to hear one another’s responses. In that speaking truth with love and listening from the heart, the Pope assures us the voice of the Spirit will be heard. Where are we with that? Well, some people participated: some dioceses, some parishes, some parishioners, some nones and dones, some on the very edges of life. Some. And some did not. Some see this as dangerous, as useless, as potentially playing with relativism and modernity and destruction. That’s one part of where we are. More steps have been taken. But not by everyone.
Unfreezing the organization[i] is what change leaders call these first steps in culture change. It involves improving readiness by fostering a realization of the need to move from an existing “comfort” zone. It involves making people aware of the need for change and seeks to improve motivation for participating/accepting/implementing the change. All the listening sessions are part of this work of unfreezing, of recognizing that the current culture is not conducive to following Jesus in the third millennium. And some participated, saw and are ready to go. Some participated, did not see, and are skeptical that it’s even possible to change. Some participated partially, and did not feel as if they have an influence over this. And many did not participate: on purpose or because they missed the memo!
Unfreezing is part of the in-between time. It’s uneven. Messy. Uncomfortable. And critical to creating fertile ground to accept change. Expect it. Embrace it. Above all else, KEEP LISTENING.
What else is happening on this journey? Lots of uncertainty. Just like on a long road trip, especially before GPS, it’s probable that there will be wrong turns, missed exits, horrible hotels, spilled soda, and terrible road food. What is certain? In-between time has a lot of uncertainty in it. News flash? Most people hate high degrees of uncertainty, and they really hate it at church.
High degrees of uncertainty create discomfort. Discomfort manifests in resistance, in longing to “go back”, in opting out, and in seeking more comfortable versions of the same activity. Expect it. Embrace it. But don’t relent.
In-between time also surfaces leadership inadequacies. When things are going along “as they always do,” not much is expected of leaders. Steer the ship in the same direction. But when the ship needs to turn, stop, engage in avoidance maneuvers, or weather a storm, the captain’s skill is visible. This is true not just of ship commanders, but of all leaders, including clergy, staff and parish leaders. Poor leadership is visible and that’s painful for the ill-equipped leader. It’s also painful to followers, who will reduce their pain by several different kinds of behaviors: calling out the inadequacies publicly and/or privately, refusing support (time, talent or treasure), looking for allies who see what they see, losing trust in both the leader and the organization, trying to take over, and leaving. And, fortunately, some organizations will have people equipped to lead, who will offer, who will lead from where they are, who will support and persist.
Many leaders are not equipped to lead change. Find those who are. Learn how. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. (It’s ok to say you are lost and need directions, really!)
There’s this weird low tolerance for messy when it comes to church/Church. We want this organization to be orderly, pretty-even beautiful. We want it to be loving, comfortable, known…like favorite bedroom slippers. One thing we do not want, expect or tolerate well is messy. We don’t want to break in new shoes when it comes to church/Church. So when it inevitably gets messy, especially when messy is the name of the game because the “new shoes” of a culture change is underway, many will just go home or go somewhere else to avoid the discomfort.
People will leave. Expect it. Prepare for it. But reach out, stay connected, listen to them! And ultimately, let them go if you must in order to keep following the Spirit!
Some people will see the culture change as LONG overdue, and they are elated that it is finally underway. They are enthusiastic, hopeful, energetic and willing to participate. In change theory language, they are “early adopters.” They are happy to lead the way, even if they 1) don’t know how to lead this; 2) don’t care whose toes they step on; 3) don’t have patience with those who are still figuring out if they are on board or not. AND, culture change needs their hopefulness, energy, and presence.
Guide the early adopters so they can help lead in the in-between time. But care for those who are on the fence or laggard, as well. Don’t forget to take care of those whose leadership stops in the in-between time. They are not happy! Just remembering, caring for the uncomfortable can happen even as you press ahead with the change.
Share this on social media: What’s called for on this journey together? Patience, kindness, gentleness. Wisdom, understanding, right judgment. The benefit of the doubt. Accompaniment. Empathy. And to keep walking.
I remember my Dad, often impatient with our impatience on our long trips from central North Carolina to Western Pennsylvania. But the one thing that never happened during the in-between time was stopping to stay where we were, or turning around. Nope. We were going to Aunt Nona and Uncle Ralph’s. The destination was fixed and the anticipation worth all the struggle in between.
Pope Francis keeps telling us this is not an event or a program, but a way of being. It’s a culture change and so will take time. In-between, he is guiding us to seek intimacy with Jesus, to listen carefully for the voice of the Spirit, to stay together on the journey, to reach out and gather others in, to embrace the messy…and to stay the course. Don’t listen to “the way we’ve always done things”, the outcries for remaining at home rather than going on the trip, or the people who decry the journey as dangerous. Embrace the journey, for Jesus tells us, “Look! I am making all things new.”[ii]
And one more thing: learn to answer that question “Are we there yet?” with a resounding “Not yet, but we’re getting there!”
The Pentecost Vigil Project is here to support early adopters, help with leadership, and walk along with you on this journey. Check out our freebies, our products and services, and our resources! www.pentecostvigilproject.org
Click here for a special resource sheet on leading change!
Photo by Leio McLaren on Unsplash
[i] Kurt Lewin’s Change Management Model: The Planned Approach to Organizational Change. Management Study Guide. https://www.managementstudyguide.com/kurt-lewins-change-management-model.htm Accessed 6/22/22 [ii] Revelation 21