I have heard it said over and over, from conservatives and liberals (theological and political): “The system is broken and we must fix it!” Or, “The government is broken so we should fix it.” From pastors and lay leaders I hear: “The church is broken so we surely should fix it.” Or parents and children: “Our family is broken so how do we fix it?” On and on this goes. I recently read this exceptional and insightful quotation from the book The Practice of Adaptive Leadership. It made me wonder about this common complaint and what we really mean when we invoke it as frequently and broadly we do.
There is a myth that drives many change initiatives into the ground: that the organization needs to change because it is broken. The reality is that any social system (including an organization or a country or a family) is the way it is because the people in that system (at least those individuals and factions with the most leverage) want it that way. In that sense, on the whole, on balance, the system is working fine, even though it may appear to be "dysfunctional" in some respects to some members and outside observers, and even though it faces danger just over the horizon. As our colleague Jeff Lawrence poignantly says, “There is no such thing as a dysfunctional organization, because every organization is perfectly aligned to achieve the results it currently gets” (The Practice of Adaptive Leadership, Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, Marty Linsky. Harvard Business Press, 2009).
On the Amazon book site the following description of the leadership approach of these authors can be found: “We live in a time of danger and opportunity. Individuals, organizations, communities and countries must continuously adapt to new realities to simply survive. Wanting more, wanting to thrive even under constantly shifting and often perilous conditions, people in all sectors are called upon to lead with the courage and skill to challenge the status quo, deploy themselves with agility, and mobilize others to step into the unknown.” I so deeply concur with this statement. As a leader my goal is reject the myths about organizations and apply what is true, good and just.
These three authors seem to believe that what we really need is a practical set of stories, techniques and activities that will help us to actually assess and address the toughest challenges that lie ahead. I have not yet read their book but I resonate with this idea.
If no organization is, in itself, dysfunctional then none of us does a bit of good by complaining or blaming the church as the church. The problem is in us. If I am a leader then I must do something to bring about change and not simply blame the system. If I am not a leader I should interact with those who are and pray for them. I love the church, with all its flaws and problems. Why? Because it belongs to Christ. I believe that if you love the church you will not continually attack it but rather respond to it in deep love.