Throughout history, there have been those who have maintained the status quo, and those who have challenged it. Sometimes, the status quo desperately needs to be both challenged and changed. But many who correctly observe that change is needed inadvertently sabotage their own efforts to bring about meaningful and lasting change for entirely avoidable reasons, including some (or all) of the following.
1. The persecution complex. Opposition from the establishment does not prove the validity of the argument for change. The vehement anger of the establishment against the proposed idea does not prove the veracity of the argument. Martin Luther was strongly opposed… but so was Joseph Arius (proponent of the heretical belief that Jesus was not fully divine). The fierceness of the established viewpoint against the new argument is not a reliable indicator of the truth of the argument.
2. Overswinging the pendulum. Attempting to correct error by striving for equal and opposite error does not correct the error, it creates additional error. This should be self-evident, but it rarely is. Error is corrected by patiently persevering in the agonizingly-maintained balance in the center. Few who attempt to bring about change succeed, often because their error of over-correction (which may be evident to everyone but themselves and their fanboys) itself requires correction. It takes far greater strength, character, and leadership to maintain balance in the face of withering pressure to slide to the opposite extreme.
3. Blindness in expertise. I am told that the most dangerous phase for a rock climber is not when they are first starting out. At the beginning, the new climber is so freaked out they pay careful attention to all the rules, use every protection, and take every precaution. It is when the climber considers themselves an expert that they start to miss things, overlooking them because “I got this.” This is the most dangerous phase they encounter… and not all of them get through it alive. Expertise may suggest all kinds of new solutions to old problems. But it may also result in myopia and an inability to look beyond the limits of what the “expert” has always seen.
4. Cessation of listening. Working to bring about change requires increasing knowledge—knowledge about the depth and severity of the problem that needs to be fixed, and knowledge about the proposed solution. Together with the increase of knowledge comes (almost inevitably) a reluctance to really listen, especially to anyone or anything from the opposing camp. The solution to this fingers-in-the-ears-I’m-right-you’re-wrong problem might be as simple as adopting an attitude of asking advice. It does not necessarily mean the advice will be taken (though it must be genuinely sought), but it assumes a posture of one who—no matter how right they believe themselves to be—still listens and learns… kind of like a disciple.
5. Confirmation bias. Often tied to early successes, it is easy to seek out and receive only the anecdotes and factoids that support the assumption of what is true. Everything else either does not compute or is quietly discarded, in the hope of making a more solid case for the change that is desired. Ironically, crucial evidence that could make the case stronger (or at least prevent train wrecks based on false assumptions) is missed.
6. Poisoned by Attitude. Maybe you have observed it: the clearly brilliant person who is well-read, speaks with authority that comes from years of experience, and provides new perspectives that have the ring of truth to them… but something is off. The words are right, but there is a sense that not all is as it should be. Then you see it. The subtle-yet-pervasive attitude that there is only one man—the Dear Leader—who has received truth (possibly believed to be Truth) from the Divine, and there is not even a close second. What he says, goes. No one else need even be on the roster, why share the stage or have anyone else create original content or teach? They would be redundant, at best. The anointed one has everything covered, thank you very much. This attitude of self-centeredness is terribly crafty and has the disturbing effect of simultaneously eroding sight while promising greater vision.
7. Deformed by arrogance. Maybe it is inevitable, but following closely in the footsteps of an exclusive “One Dear Leader” attitude tends to be arrogance. Sometime subtle, sometimes flagrant. But as soon as success kicks in, the numbers go up, the testimonials pour forth with emotional gratitude, how could it not? In the Name of the King, another king is hailed. In the Name of the Kingdom, another kingdom is built. The Leader is still occasionally glimpsed behind the leader, but that view usually diminishes over time. Gradually, the teaching is increasingly mistaken for the Teaching. Love is distorted into strategy, and humility gives way to ambition. Slowly, but all too surely.
8. Pharisees under every rock. — Not everyone who disagrees with the new idea—the new paradigm—is a Pharisee. They might simply disagree. The new ideas may well be a return to biblical truth that has been lost for centuries, but disagreement with them does not make someone a Pharisee.
9. When change catches the changer unaware. — It might be one of the saddest things you ever see. The self-proclaimed “paradigm-shifter” and “change-agent” is presented with evidence (sometimes just the mere suggestion) that they themselves may be “old school” or “traditional” in some aspect. For example, suggest to one of these people that—regardless of the innovative nature of their propositions—they may have overlooked a foundational aspect of their strategy and so are in the same camp as everyone they love to despise most. But stand back and be ready for vehement, angry, and possibly irrational pushback (sometimes multiple times in the middle of your presentation), as that is the one thing—the one thing—they cannot tolerate. To be discovered to have been a traditionalist all this time and not ahead of the pack in anything is absolutely unacceptable, regardless of how true it may be. They have built their entire legacy on being forward-thinking, advanced, innovative, disruptive, and altogether different from all the others. The possibility that they may have overlooked something and are “as weak as any other man” is simply intolerable. Could it be that you don’t know who I am?
When You Serve the King
Thankfully, the solution to all this is not to ignore the need for change, but to remember that we are all together unworthy servants in need of God’s grace every day.
A. Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. Yep, those nasty bad guys did what nasty bad guys always do. In the same way that every one of us do what sinful people do every day: sin against God and against others. Which is why we are taught in Scripture to forgive others. Failure to forgive others results in the failure of forgiveness for our own transgressions (Matthew 6:15).
B. “If I understand all knowledge but have not love, I am nothing” — Jesus has made it pretty clear that he desires mercy more than sacrifice (Matthew 9:13; 12:7, quoting Hosea 6:6 which uses a word for mercy that means “love”). Truth is extremely important. Holding fast to what is true in the face of the status quo is equally important. But doing so with selfless love for others is more important still. Speaking the truth is not the definition of love, the truth should be spoken with love (Ephesians 4:15). And love, we are told, does not insist on its own way (1 Corinthians 13:5).
C. Above all else, get humility. Even the change-agent should call to mind the one thing that God desires, the one thing He has asked of us (Micah 6:8):
Do what is right. Even when no one else is.
Love loving others. Love not giving others what they deserve, even as our Heavenly Father loves to be merciful and gracious (Exodus 34:6).
Walk humbly with God. Humility is tough, especially when we are absolutely convinced of the rightness of our own position. It involves letting go of what is rightfully mine (Philippians 2:6-7), including acknowledgment and acceptance of the rightness of my ideas. At the end of the day, God is sovereign, He is on His throne, and He needs no help from you or me to bring about his purposes (Isaiah 46:10).