Handling Change: Life Coach Shares Ways to Turn Obstacles into Opportunities

Date Posted: 4/27/2017

From his experiences as a life coach and TAC Vibrant Church Initiative consultant, Steve Stutz shares how keeping an open mind opens new opportunities.
One thing that I’ve learned as a life coach and consultant is that we all have issues with “change.” Whether it’s the thought of making a significant change in our personal lives or banding together to chart a new direction for our congregation, the very idea can be so intimidating for some of us that, even though we want to step up and do the right thing, we end up doing nothing out of fear. But that doesn’t make the issues we struggle with go away. We simply abandon our power of choice and someone else decides. In the end, fear of change often causes us to settle for less and prevents us from responding whole-heartedly to God’s invitation for our future.
As a VCI Directive Coach, I’ve worked with a significant number of congregations in the Texas Annual Conference to address fears and anxieties surrounding “changes” that their VCI Consultation Team suggests in the report outlining recommended “prescriptions.”
These common fears seem to group under four key obstacles. I will address each of these four obstacles and provide insight that hopefully will help you work through personal struggles with adopting positive life changes as well as work for VCI leadership teams.
Obstacle #1. The Big Kahuna–Fear of the Unknown
Someone has said, “The Devil you know is better than the one you don’t.” Your current situation, even if it is toxic and unfulfilling is at least predictable. “What if we decide to make this change and it ends up worse than what we have now? What if we take a chance and end up failing? What if…?”  Without constraint, your imagination can very easily dream up a never-ending supply of terrible things that could happen. The good news is that your mind can also work in the opposite direction! You have the potential to use your energy to imagine the absolute best thing that could happen to your congregation as a result of implementing change. It’s simply a matter of focus.
True Confession: there have been periods in my life when I wasted so much time imagining the worst case scenario, when there was very little chance that it would happen, and a much greater probability of something wonderful manifesting instead. Because you can’t accurately predict the future (BTW, if you can, please email back so we can talk about the stock market!) there’s no way you can’t tell for sure what the exact consequences of your actions will be. It’s much more of a “quantum” probability type of thing than a Newtonian “cause and effect” type of thing. Try approaching a new situation with this mindset: “I can’t lose– regardless of the outcome of the decision I make–because the world is a place of opportunity and I look forward to the learning and growing that any outcome gives me.”
Obstacle #2. Self-Doubt/Lack of Compelling Vision
You may not notice it anymore when you’re driving, but there’s a warning label on your passenger side rear view window that reminds you that what you’re looking at is not in correct scale. Your eyes are playing with your sense of proportion and it can be dangerous if you try to change lanes without making the mental adjustment. Likewise, I’ve found when working with VCI Teams that when they’re contemplating the full scope and impact of what they are being asked to do, it can seem a lot bigger and harder than it really is. Yes, there is certainly a level of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual challenge involved, but the majority of the problem is inside the heads of those involved. The question of, “Who do we think we are – in thinking that we can do something like that?” reveals the presence of self-doubt.
Perspective changes when you remember that you are a child of God. Thinking small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us. It is in everyone. And as we let our light shine, we give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
Obstacle #3. Caring Too Much About How the Polls Are Trending
Another problem VCI Teams and individuals face when contemplating change is the tendency to focus on external things to define identity and worth (for churches that might include what kind of campus and style of worship offered, etc.). A fixation on what is transpiring in the “parking lot meeting” or around the coffee pot also causes emotional paralysis. Leaders can find themselves giving undue weight to the loudest voices and the “lots of people are saying” meme. A loss of momentum often follows as enthusiasm wanes, and progress comes to a halt. In my experience, I’ve found it helpful to ask VCI Teams to focus on the value of what is being proposed, how it will improve all the relationships currently in tact in the congregation and how this change can help those outside the congregation to find their entry point.
Obstacle #4. Chained to Material Stuff
It goes without saying that we cling to certain possessions, statuses, and perks we’ve been given along the way. People will “handcuff” themselves to jobs they hate with thoughts like, “I’ll stay until I use up all my vacation days” or “I’ll stay until I’ve got my pension.” People often fight the “I’ll stay until…” delay tactic. We tend to do this in the congregation as well. During VCI Consultations, I’ve seen well-meaning folks who are yoked to programs, activities, and ministries that ceased to be effective sometime in the 1990s. Suggesting that these “sacred traditions” be evaluated in light of the current vision of the congregation can be difficult. Leaders can feel challenged by the views of friends and family. I’ve found it helpful to remind them that while it can be frustrating to realize that you have no control over their thoughts or responses, the good news is that you can always change your own perspectives.
There’s a System for That
VCI Consultants and coaches use a process adapted from industry known as ADKAR
to help leaders and congregations to successfully manage change. The term is an acronym that embodies the change process via its name.  A—awareness, D—desire, K—knowledge, A—ability, R—reinforcement. As a VCI Teams sounds out the congregation along these lines, a clear picture emerges of where attention needs to be focused. This method will work for any change, but what if we took it out of the VCI context and placed it within a larger conversation occurring within the United Methodist Church concerning the proper response to questions regarding homosexuality, same sex marriage, etc.
Awareness—what is your level of awareness of the issues involved here? Do you really understand the views of both sides and the issues at stake? Can you articulate the position that you are AGAINST to the clarity and satisfaction of someone who holds that position? Or is your opinion based on a strawman characterization of your “opponent” that is incomplete, inaccurate, and/or biased?
Desire—what is your level of desire to see healthy, positive change happen (either your own views or the position of the church)?  Or are you happy with the status quo-- or something in between? Are you able to clearly define your own desires and commitment to seeing them fulfilled?
Knowledge—what do you know about the structural, legal, financial, ecclesiastical issues involved? It’s great to have high personal awareness and desire, but if you don’t understand how the larger system works, you’re more likely to end up angry and frustrated.
Ability—what can you personally do to manifest the change you desire? How can you get more involved in the “action” and do less watching from the “sidelines”? What level of acceptance do you perceive in your congregation for either perspective? In other words, what will likely happen to us if either position carries the day?
Reinforcement—how can you reinforce the change in a way that it will ‘stick’?
Do you have the reinforcements in place to prevent you from reverting to old habits?  Do you have systems of accountability to sustain and celebrate the change?
As someone who has worked through thorny issues with lots of folks over many years, I’ve come to believe strongly that if you can train yourself to keep an open mind, you’ll find that new opportunities in your life open up as well. Ensuring that your perspective is open to all possibilities will bring good things your way – via a whole new world of thoughts, experiences, and adventures. This holds true for our life in Christian community as well.  Although your instincts may guide you to stick to the familiar, stay open to something new. VCI congregations are great examples of knowing what kind of possibilities will present themselves when you open your mind and try something new.
Judicial Ruling
Keeping an open mind in today’s tumultuous culture can be challenging, to say the least. In the Methodist denomination, the Judicial Council will issue a ruling that could easily cause a rift if people forget to speak in holy conversation and focus on unity as the primary goal, in spite of differences. Bishop Scott Jones speaks often of the importance of listening to one another. Update: See more information on the ruling.