Three Successive Demands of Transformation

If you could be transformed to be more like Jesus in just one way, what would it be? What’s stopping you?

Lasting change is hard to come by. Each year, by the end of January most people have quit on their new year’s resolutions. The simple fact is, transformation is expensive and few are willing to pay the price.

A large part of my calling is to catalyze and lead transformation first in pastors’ lives, then in a church’s culture. Regardless of the context, most change initiatives fail. In individuals that rate is 50-75%, in organizations it’s over 80%. Though failure rates are different, the process of transformation is the same. In my work with lead pastors, discipleship pastors, and church leaders in Dayton Ohio, I've found three demands of transformation are both universal and unrelenting. Meeting these demands has the power to flip the success rate from 20% to 80%.

Demand #1: Vision.

The first demand of transformation is vision. As I wrote previously, the most common barrier to vision is our old map. Before we can get to a new place, we must be willing to toss our old map. To make that change to we must recognize and acknowledge that it’s not leading us to our intended destination. This is harder than it sounds.

The difficulty of this step is proportional to three things:  

1. The age of our map. A map we’ve used for three days is easier to alter or throw out than one we’ve followed for three decades.  

2. How useful the map used to be. Sometimes a map was previously useful, but changes have occurred in where we need to be. Some maps, like faithful friends, are hard to let go.

3. The degree of difference between your old map and the new map. The prospect of letting go of the old is easier if the new is similar. When you've been using a street map, it's hard to imagine adjusting to a topographical map. 

Often the greatest challenge in this phase of transformation is admitting we’ve followed (and sometimes copied and distributed!) a flawed map. It’s a grueling process that requires both humility and courage. Unfortunately, many are unwilling or unable to meet this demand. Even though they can clearly see threats and opportunities, their unwillingness to let go of the old prevents them from seeing the new. 

Demand #2: Action.

The second demand of transformation is action. Surprisingly, developing vision doesn’t guarantee action. But obviously, without action nothing happens. So why is it that we develop new maps, but then fail to move?

New action is difficult because we hate moving from competence to incompetence. As emotional creatures, feeling confident and competent is important to us. Having a new map, doesn’t change the fact that we’re really good at traveling to the previous destination. This reality makes it tempting to continue traveling old paths because pursuing new paths means moving through the valleys of incompetence and insecurity. 

In other words, the need for humility and courage continues! Transformation demands a willingness to leave our areas of competence and embark into uncertainty. Though most intense at the outset, the tension of leaving those places will be experienced until we reach our new destination. The key question leaders face at this stage is, "Do I have what it takes to make it?"

Demand #3: Completion.

The third demand of transformation is completion. Many people do the hard work to establish a new vision and begin new actions, only to return to the start. So, what causes people to throw away everything they’ve invested in transformation?

Well, if you’ve ever started and stopped a work out plan or diet, you know why! Persevering to the end is difficult. At the start, our motivation is strong but as we tire, the temptation to turn back grows. Instead of focusing on our new vision, we focus on our old place of comfort and familiarity. And it doesn’t look so bad anymore! Some decide they can’t make it or that it's not worth it anymore.

NFL coach Vince Lombardi once said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” To keep fatigue from flunking us out we must keep our eyes on the vision. Yearning for the destination keeps us going. Additionally, we need to be encouragement to keep going. Ideally, there are people around you to cheer you on. As attention is drawn to distance traveled to how near the new reality is, our motivation is renewed. That affirmation and celebration are like a drink of cool water in the desert!

Once transformation has occurred, there is no going back. We’ve reached our new normal. The old seems as dim and distant as our new place once did. No longer do we struggle against ourselves. Our new course and new actions are second nature to us.

Transformation isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s an intense journey that reveals our character and commitment. I consider it a privilege to walk the road with individual pastors, church leaders, and small teams of culture changers within churches. Though each journey is unique, the road to transformation leads through each of these successive phases; vision, action, and completion. 

So, are you ready to change? Do you have someone to walk you through the transformation journey?