Reflections of a Rookie Specialized Transitional Minister at a crucial point the first time through the process

Part One: Introducing concepts

If you prefer, you can click here to listen to audio of me reading these reflections out loud (can take a minute to load).

To me, as a pastor, the necessity of differentiating between technical adjustment and adaptive change is generally important, but it is even more so in Specialized Transitional Ministry. The insightful writers of the book I learned those two categories from: “Leadership on the Line” write primarily for business. My belief is this distinction has even stronger application in church and spiritual work than in business. Other books, such as “The Leader’s Journey” effectively apply some of the same principles, along with systems thinking, to church work and demonstrate its value in facilitating transformation.

Here is what the two concepts represent to me as I continue learning.

Translated into an analogy of a slowly sinking ship, technical change is a focus on arranging deck chairs, touching up the paint, and picking tunes — things we readily know how to do — while adaptive change is a few leaders taking the courageous steps of grabbing flashlights and tools and going into the bowels of the ship to try find and assess the deeper problems. They are aware the ship is slipping deeper into the water, is slowing down, and is hard to nimbly navigate even though the passenger load is light. Even though they are not experts in addressing such things, they feel compelled to seek the root causes. The problems their ship is experiencing do not occur every day, so they don’t readily know how to tackle them, and resolution may be evasive and not quickly accomplished.

The Western medical equivalent description would say technical change is about treating presenting symptoms, while adaptive change is about finding causes for the symptoms, and not just more immediate, direct causes like “something you ate” but lifestyle causes: why you ate what you ate. Again, like with the ship, the deeper you go, the more elusive pinning down root causes of presenting symptoms can be.

Attempting to speak the concepts in spiritual language, I see technical change as superficial, appearance-oriented, external change — cosmetically changing religious habits for instance — while adaptive change is internal, a matter of the heart changing, of the worldview shifting, of being transformed by the renewing of your outlook.

Putting it even more mystically, I equate technical change with adjusting our “Doing” and adaptive change with our “Being” changing. And there immediately the parable of the Good Samaritan comes to mind, a parable which was prompted by someone asking Jesus “what must I do” to which he responded with a word-picture of a way to be.
So now, to my ears, when Jesus says “Everything they do is done for people to see” in Matthew 23:5 he is prophetically addressing technically adjusted religiosity, and later in verses 25 and 26 he is calling for adaptive change when he says:

“Woe to you … You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. … First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.”

Having these understandings of a concept is all fun and academic and exciting and neat. But taking the belief in the necessity of this distinction into a church that has invited you on board as a sort of harbour pilot to navigate a known-to-be sinking ship into a safe harbour to decide on future options like: scrapping or retrofittting, sinking for divers to explore later, or for donating to a museum, well that is a serious test of faith for me and my passengers, test of faith in the processes needed, faith in one’s own insight and ability, faith in the validity and applicability of the concepts, and ultimately faith that the Spirit is at work in all of those.

Today, I happen to be at a spot where I can feel and see the value of it working out. So I’m trying to capture that in these reflections. In the next part, Part Two I will talk about my experiences with these notions applied in a specific situation.


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