Dealing with the Emotions and Challenges That Come with Change
I’m hearing big emotions right now from the pastors I’m coaching, and even from many of you who listen to the podcast. Many of you are questioning your leadership leadership capacity—wondering if you are the right person to lead the church where it needs to go moving forward.
Others of you just feel sad. You’re missing what you’ve lost from the past and have a sense that you’re not going to be able to go back to the way we did church in the past. There’s a sense of loss.
Others of you tell me you feel paralyzed. I think one of the primary reasons is that it’s just hard to make decisions when you know circumstances are constantly changing. Many pastors are worried if that decisions they make today will obsolete tomorrow because of something new and unforeseen. (We probably all feel that way.)
Then many are simply tired. You’ve been pulled outside your normal patterns for months. It’s added stress and required more energy.
But there are also some pastors I’m talking to who are palpably excited—maybe afraid to admit it, but they are feeling re-energized in this season and are excited about the opportunity to do things they didn’t have permission to do before. They have a new sense of freedom, though they still recognize it’s probably unique to them.
For all of us leaders, we’re dealing with this range of emotions personally, and at the same time, we still have to lead other people through them.
Amy and I were talking about this a few weeks ago, and it reminded us of the book The Change Cycle: How People Can Survive and Thrive in Organizational Change by Ann Lacerno and Lillie Brock.
We thought revisiting this tool might be timely as you’re considering how to lead your teams and your congregations through these seasons of rapid change.
In this conversation, Amy and I share…
- The 6 stages of the change cycle, how they are similar to the grief cycle, and how we should let that shape our leadership in this season
- The danger zone, what it looks like, and how it gets people stuck repeating the worst parts of the change cycle
- What Amy and I have personally been wrestling with as we’ve walked through this change cycle over the last few months
- The key questions to ask in each stage that help you keep moving forward to the next stage
- Why leaders get through all six stages before everyone else, and how to communicate empathy while still leading people forward
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Links & Resources from the Episode
- The Change Cycle: How People Can Survive and Thrive in Organizational Change by Ann Salerno and Lillie Brock
- LEADER, then STRATEGY, then STRUCTURE | Episode 151
- The Key To Reaching NEW People in a Digital World | Episode 152
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Our team has been listening to what church leaders like you are asking for and we’ve heard things like:
- “I wish I had a coach.”
- “I just need someone to help me navigate this season as a leader in the church.”
- “I’ve been praying about having someone help me lead my team well in this season.”
That’s why I’m excited to announce our Unstuck Leadership Coaching. We’ve developed a customized, holistic, one-on-one coaching experience designed to increase your capacity as a leader, help you lead change, and equip your team to be aligned and actively executing on the vision and mission of your church.
Learn more today at theunstuckgroup.com/coaching.
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Sean (00:02): Welcome to The Unstuck Church podcast, where each week we’re exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. The amount of change we’ve experienced in 2020 can be overwhelming. And if you’re leading in a local church, you’re not only helping others navigate the change, but you’re processing it yourself. On today’s podcast, Tony and Amy share some tips on how to lead yourself and others well in a rapidly changing world. Before you listen today, though, make sure you stop and subscribe to get the show notes. When you do, you’ll get resources to go along with each week’s episode, access to our podcast, resource archive, and occasionally bonus resources that you won’t find anywhere else. Just go to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast and subscribe. Now let’s join Tony and Amy for this week’s conversation
Amy (00:48): Well, in today’s conversation, we’re going to be talking about change and the emotions and challenges that come with it. And Tony given the dramatic changes we faced as churches in recent months, this feels like a very appropriate conversation for us to be having today.
Tony (01:01): Change. What do you mean about change, Amy? Yeah, it’s hard to believe, but we outlined this conversation about four weeks ago. And given the pattern that we’ve experienced in the last few months, change is happening daily. And I’m just wondering what specific changes will we need to talk about when this episode actually releases? So I’m trying to forecast ahead in my brain. What are we going to need to talk about related to this topic? I mean, it’s just hard to plan a conversation about change when you don’t know what changes will occur. I mean, churches have shifted online. They’ve tried to reopen. They’ve closed again. There’s just a lot happening. Ministries have tried to prioritize all of these different changes. Staff roles have changed. Here’s the deal. I felt confident, when I drafted the notes for today’s conversation, that we would all be in the middle of some sort of new change. I had high confidence in that, Amy, and with that, I’m hopeful that what we’ve planned for today’s discussion will be beneficial for you and for your team, no matter what change you’re facing today.
Amy (02:05): Yeah. There’s no doubt that we’ve all experienced a lot of change in recent months. And Tony, I know you are constantly in conversations with pastors and helping coach them through the unique challenges, you know, that they’re facing. And you’ve shared what pastors are saying in recent podcast episodes, but what are you learning about how pastors are feeling?
Tony (02:25): Yeah, it’s interesting. My wife, years ago, as I was coaching pastors, I would come home for a trip and ask the question, how much counseling did you have to do on this trip? And it feels, I mean, I love the coaching I get to do with pastors, but it does Amy. It feels like there’s a lot of counseling that needs to happen right now. And I’m glad that we can offer that for the pastors that we’re engaged with because there’s some big emotions that I’m hearing from pastors right now, several of them questioning their leadership capacity. And so they’re just wondering, am I really the fit for where the church needs to go moving forward? Several, I think, it’s just they’re sad. I mean, they’re missing what we’ve lost from the past and they have a sense and it’s probably accurate that we’re not going to be able to go back to the way we did church in the past. So there’s a sense of loss. I mean, they’re just, I mean, they’re sad and depressed. Some pastors are just paralyzed. And I think one of the primary reasons is it’s just hard to make decisions when you know circumstances are constantly changing and many pastors are just worried if we make a decision now, is something going to happen tomorrow which is going to make this decision obsolete? And then here’s the good news though. Pastors won’t admit it, but some pastors actually are secretly re-energized in the season and they’re excited about the opportunity to do things they didn’t have permission to do before. So they have a new sense of freedom, but even in that, they’re recognizing that’s probably unique to them because they actually enjoy working through change, and they’re the ones driving the change. And so it’s going to be easier for them, but they’re recognizing that the team around them, they’re experiencing some of those same emotions that I just described. So Amy, as you ask about the emotions that pastors are feeling, though, it reminds me of the change cycle you shared in the past. I think actually that would be very helpful for pastors to understand the emotions that they’re processing now in this current season, but it might be helpful for them as they consider how to lead their teams and their congregations through these seasons of change. So would you be willing to unpack that change cycle for us?
Amy (04:55): Yeah, this concept actually comes from Ann Salerno and Lillie Brock, and they have a book called “The Change Cycle.” It’s an older book. We used it at our church and we went through some significant change probably 15 years ago. But the principles haven’t changed, and I believe it’s still available on Amazon. So I encourage you to purchase a copy of this, listeners, and read through it particularly in the season. So after a change occurs, it says we all go through six stages of change. And by the way, I find it parallel a little bit to the grief cycle, ironically. That’s how change impacts us. But the first two stages are what the authors called the red zone. So obviously this isn’t where we want to stay, but stage one is loss and this is where we feel fearful. We move very cautiously in this phase, and this caution probably is helpful because it makes us assess what we’re doing before we do it. But again, it’s a fearful stage. It’s a sense of loss. Phase two is doubt, and doubt is where we feel resentful. Maybe said we feel skeptical, wanting to go back to the old way. I know I felt that way early on, Tony, when all of a sudden you grounded us, and we weren’t going to be traveling to churches. And I just felt like, you know, not resentful at you, but at the COVID. And I wanted to go back, right? So those are the two red zones that we start in, and then stages three and four are the yellow zone. So the first one is discomfort. Stage three is discomfort. This is where we feel, if anyone remembers this, I do, very unproductive. You’re anxious, you’re confused. You don’t really feel like yourself in this phase. You feel tired, but the upside of this and the reason it’s yellow versus red is that it’s also a stage that we call daybreak. You recognize you have to do something different. It’s here, it’s happening, and you’re not fighting or denying the change anymore. In stage four, which is the yellower of the yellow, is discovery. And I think that’s what you described a little bit with some of that energy. Here, your sense of control is returning and with it, some energy is returning, and instead of focusing on survival and security, you’re open to new ideas and new opportunities. When we think about our churches, survival and security, I mean, that’s where we quickly moved to, right? But now you’re opening up to new ideas and opportunities. And then the last two stages are in the green zone. And of course we like green, but stage five is understanding. So in stage five, we’re understanding the benefits of the new change. We start to feel some confidence again. We still wish that the change hadn’t occurred, but we’re back to being productive. We’re in a productive state of mind, and we’re breaking through to a deeper understanding of the change. So you’re not only understanding the benefits, but you’re also having the sense like, “Hey, we’re not finished yet.” So there’s some hope that returns as we get to understanding, and then stage six is what we call integration. And this is what the authors call the new normal. This is where you’ve created a new stability. You’re not complacent anymore. I like the term “new normal,” because you’re not going back to what was anymore. That was part of your history. We are in a new place now.
Tony (08:09): Yeah, Amy. As you were going through those phases, I was reliving everything in the last months. But I was intrigued when you got to discovery, which is the yellower of the yellow zone, the fourth phase of this change cycle. And you were talking about that sense of opportunity that is there and that willingness to start to think about new ideas and new opportunities. And I was meeting with the church yesterday and at the very end of our conversation, one of the women on the team said coming into these two days of planning for the future, I just was not looking forward to this because there’s just so much that’s happening right now. They’re trying to reopen their church and reopen ministry. And at the end of the conversation, she said, now I’m realizing this was exactly the right time for us to be having this conversation because she said, I needed to start to think about the new opportunity that we have as a ministry. So I was just so encouraged by that, but you did a great job of highlighting kind of the differences between these six different stages in this change cycling, Amy. But could you help maybe put this into personal terms by giving an example for yourself of what this has looked like?
Amy (09:29): Oh, sure. I mean, I’ll go back to when you grounded us, right? When we said we’re not flying anywhere. Man, I was like, I was fearful. Like, what will we do if we can’t get to our churches? What’ll happen if The Unstuck Group can’t get to their churches. And I quickly moved to that resentful place of just starting to bargain with the change, like Tony, how big of a deal is that if I fly to Canada? I’m supposed to get on a plane to go there, you know, tomorrow. They’re my neighbor. They’re one state away. Government’s blown this whole thing up. You know, I started to just negotiate with it, to bargain, but then I got to the stage three, which was discomfort. And, you know, as you were, I was used to being somewhere else three to four days a week. I was not used to being in my home office as much. I don’t know. I began to work on just, maybe I shouldn’t tell you this. I just sat there and cleaned out old emails for a while.
Tony (10:19): Well, I’m glad you got that done, Amy. And I’m glad I was paying you to do that.
Amy (10:26): But I started to think about then, like the enormity of the change, how will we be the church if the church can’t gather? You know, I’m a church-goer as well. And then I start to get anxious. Right? Cause I figured all of a sudden this was going to take awhile, but I had no experience, Tony. I mean, this was the discomfort for me. I had no experience in leading an ungathered church. Right? So what, what type of coach would I be now? And I felt a little dismal and you know, what really helped me get through this phase, by the way, Tony, this is actually between stage three and four, what they call the danger zone. If you can’t get from three to four. And what got me from three to four was our team. As a team, we started to look forward. You know, we started to think through new ways we could serve churches. And that may be, God had been planning, you know, and preparing us for this all along. So we started planning again, we started taking action with the things we could control. If our listeners remember, we put together some very targeted podcast webinars, doing some coaching calls. And that got me to discovery, and that’s discovery for us, for me, was when we started the virtual consulting, and it was very energizing. It was producing, like you just shared, amazing conversations that churches didn’t have any energy for, but it was so different on the other side of it. And so I began to return to being productive, creating new tools, new systems, you know, everything that is now emerging as some best practices and solutions for churches, and Stage Five — Understanding. This is probably where I am now, Tony. I’m probably not to the new normal yet, but I have new rhythms. I know how to serve churches in this season, and spiritually, I just sense God’s leadings and confirmations about how he’s working through this. So, I hope that helps.
Tony (12:07): And are you still working through your old email? I’m just curious.
Amy (12:11): Well, I could cause there’s still a lot of them, but I haven’t been focusing on that lately.
Tony (12:17): Alright, Amy, beyond defining the stages and challenges associated with each of the stages, I think it would be helpful to consider the key questions that will help us move forward to actually get movement through these stages. So will you walk us through these key questions that are associated with each of these six steps?
Amy (12:36): Yeah, I’ll try to summarize it. I think the key thing you just said there is move forward. That’s what you have to do as a person. You have to keep moving forward in this change cycle. So let’s just consider, as I’m responding, I’ll think through the COVID filter. I think loss to move you through. I think you have to just go, what’s the worst thing that could happen? You know, just name it and then move forward by channeling that fear into action. I think for many churches, you know, quote, “the worst thing that could happen” was a loss of people connected to their church, a loss of finances to sustain their ministry. And the actions they took early on were related to meeting the emotional and physical needs of their attenders and getting their gathering online. So they turned fear into action and that’s what moves to the next phase, which is doubt.
Amy (13:22): And I think the headline question there, Tony, is what are the facts and who can give them to me? It’s really critical in the doubt phase to get perspective. The key to moving from this stage to the next, honestly, is managing your anger. Remember how I said I got resentful? You have to push through that and get some information, so that you can have the data and kind of push aside any angry feelings that will get you stuck because anger won’t won’t change anything. You’ve got to take some action. And then the third discomfort to move through that one is what steps can I take to expedite a breakthrough? So make a plan based on what you know. You know, stage two, that doubt when I said get some facts? That was all about thinking. The breakthrough in stage three is turning thinking into doing, and you have to take some small steps despite your frustration to get things moving. Discovery is really about how can I determine the next best step to take? So if you find yourself kind of moving into that hopeful stage, meaning you’re going through the danger zone, you know, in discovery, stage four, you’re all up to speed data-wise, the key action here is to explore what needs to get done and how you and the team can accomplish it based on your current perspective. When I said the team got us through it, Tony, that’s what we did, right? What’s our next best step to take forward? Understanding is stage five. I think the question here is what have I learned that can increase my productivity? So identify the wins and opportunities for improvement. You know, last week we talked about digital strategy and what that product needs to look like. This is one when you’re in stage five, you’re like, what am I learning? And how do we make it better? What am I learning? How do we make it better? That’s a stage five action, And stage six, excuse me, integration. How can I help those who are not so far along? And I’m excited for churches to get there and start to share with other churches, here’s what we’ve done, here’s what’s working, you know, that’s where the storytelling begins with leaders.
Tony (15:28): Right. Right. Yeah. And we want to help you with that by the way, because it will help other churches. So as, as you and your team work through this type of change and you get to the other side of this, I hope you’ll share your stories with us so that we can pass those along to other pastors and church leaders as well, because they need that encouragement to hear from you what it’s going to take to continue to move forward, especially given all of the change that we’ve experienced in recent months. And as you were talking through that, Amy, I’m thinking, this is great content, great questions. And by the way, there’s a lot of content and a lot of key questions. And so we’ll summarize all of that and provide that in the show notes for you to download associated with this conversation that we’re having on today’s podcast.
Amy (16:16): Tony, as I walked through those questions and kind of the key next steps that leaders can take as they’re helping people and even helping themselves process change, what came to mind for you as you heard that?
Tony (16:27): Yeah. So this is the key thought I had as you were describing those six steps and those key questions and what it’s going to take to move forward. It’s for lead pastors, senior pastors, you have to remember to display empathy here. And I know sometimes this is easier for some of us than others, but empathy is going to be very necessary to help your team get through these six stages. And one of the reasons is because leaders will get through those six stages before everyone else. I mean, and primarily that’s because you’re the one driving the change. And so you’re actually the one encouraging us to move forward in a new direction. And so you just need to be sensitive that not everybody else is going to be where you are in that change cycle. Remember that people are still dealing with loss. Some are still in doubt. Some are still dealing with discomfort, but we love them too much to leave them there. So, though your staff team may still be mourning, you know, the loss of how we used to do ministry in the past. I was working with a church recently. They were still mourning the departure of a key staff member that left a full year ago, Amy, and several were still dealing with loss and doubt and discomfort. We love people too much on our team to leave them in that position. We have to encourage them to move forward. But we need to communicate using empathy. Remind people, we can’t go back. We need to help people understand why the pain of going back would actually be worse than the pain of making the change to move forward. And that’s going to be so true, given the next season of ministry that we need to engage. But remember, normal people, they don’t like change. Leaders, we’re abnormal. We actually get fueled and re-energized by change. Normal people always prefer to go back to Egypt rather than take the risk of entering the promised land. So, we need to display empathy, but let me express it this way. Vision without empathy is going to come across as disconnected at best and tone deaf at worse. So we just need to make sure, as we’re talking about a new vision for the future, it needs to come with empathy. But on the other hand, empathy without vision is going to leave people stuck. People are going to remain in loss. They’re going to remain in doubt. They’re going to remain in discomfort for a very long time, unless you encourage them to continue to move forward. So it’s good. You need to practice empathy in this season as a leader, but you have to begin to cast a vision for where we’re going next. And I know this is not easy, but this is what leaders do.
Amy (19:19): That’s really good. Can I just add two thoughts? I’m actually repeating a little bit, but there’s a lot of change happening right now. And people like the lead pastor, senior pastor and the senior leadership team, they get to process a lot of this. And just to say it differently, you’re going to move through the change cycle much more quickly than the people that you lead. And I have to say that again because you’re managing multiple change for teams, and you have to remember that they will not start where you are. Let’s say you’ve decided to redeploy staff into some new areas. You’ve probably been talking about this for six weeks. When you roll it out, everybody on your team is in stage one, even though you’re in four or five. So I even, you know, get the book by the way, get the visual, keep it in front of your senior leadership team and have those questions, where are people at and what do they need from us as we lead them through change? And second, I’ve mentioned it a few times, but that danger zone between stage four, three and four, if we don’t push people from three to four, they go from three to one, they go from discomfort back to loss. So just some leadership chops on managing change will be important because I hope you’re making changes. I hope that we’re adapting to the new realities we’re facing. And so the book can offer more help on how to set your team up to keep moving instead of reverting back to fear. But I would just encourage you to do that. So Tony, any final thoughts before we wrap up today’s conversation?
Tony (20:44): Well, yeah, for you listeners, it just might help you to know we’re also dealing with change right now, as an example, in the last several months at The Unstuck Group, we had to completely shift our model for helping churches. Before the COVID crisis, everything we did was built on in-person experiences at churches that we’re serving and almost, well really, overnight. We had to be, especially I’m thinking about your Canada trip, Amy. Overnight we had to flip our model to deliver The Unstuck process using virtual tools. And since March, we’ve served close to 50 churches now using those that new model. We’re getting great feedback from the churches we’re serving. And I think we’re providing very timely coaching, given the changes churches are having to navigate in the new normal. Because of these changes, I went through all those emotions that we discussed today. In fact, just today I looked at my suitcase in my closet. It’s very lonely, Amy. And part of me again, I was just going back to that sense of loss because we can’t be on-site with churches that we serve. I experienced the doubt that we would be able to move forward as organizations, especially in late March, were starting to shut down. And I experienced discomfort as we tried to consider new approaches. It was kind of pushing me beyond where I was even comfortable as a leader. I experienced discovery once we started to implement the new changes in our new model. And that led us to understanding about ways our new approach was actually better than the way we used to help churches in the past. And now I’m helping the rest of our team integrate the changes that we’ve made. I’m doing this with my teammates at The Unstuck team, but I’m also doing that with you today. So thanks for playing along as I’ve gone through this cycle process. But here’s the reality. I know several of you are still living in loss. You’re living in doubt, discomfort after the changes that we’ve experienced in recent months. And I just want to challenge you. You can’t stay there. You need to lead strong. Your team needs you to lead strong, and your church needs you to lead strong as well. The people we’re trying to reach for Jesus, they need you to move forward. And so if that’s you, here’s the question I want you to wrestle with today. How can I determine the next best step that I need to take in my leadership at my church? And it’s time for you to take that step.
Sean (23:16): Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. We would love to help as you take your next step in leadership. If you’d like to learn more about how we’re helping churches get unstuck, you can visit us at theunstuckgroup.com. If you like what you’re hearing on this podcast and it’s been helpful for you, we’d love your help in getting the content out. You can do that by subscribing on your favorite podcast platform, giving us a review and telling somebody else about the podcast. Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode. So until then, have a great week.