Keep the Faith, Change the Church.

Harvard Scholar Discusses Adaptive Change

continued from the Nov. 4, 2016, In the Vineyard feature

The Church needs a movement like VOTF to identify “adaptive issues” and lead people to come up with solutions without resorting to authority. Such “adaptive issues” reflect a gap between aspirations and current conditions, Heifetz said. To solve these issues takes a long time and involves going beyond organizations’ and individuals’ competencies to use the collective intelligence of the community to foster the health of the organization.

Long-time VOTF member Frank McConville of Wellesley, Massachusetts, put it this way, paraphrasing Heifetz’s remarks: “Leadership requires vision and the ability to influence a community by the truth and the benefits of a proposition which usually has been acquired by participation, dialogue, questioning, and testing to reach a consensus.”

For VOTF, change has taken place slowly and not necessarily obviously. People have not been “anxious to be enriched by your opinions,” Heifetz said. But attitudes about the clergy sexual abuse scandal have changed, he noted, and the language of transparency, accountability, and clericalism has been adopted.

Even so, VOTF is still presented with an “adaptive challenge.” A gap exists between expectations of where VOTF would like the Church to be and where it is.

The Church views any attempt or suggestion to change its structures as loss. “We’re asking the Church to exercise competencies it doesn’t have,” Heifetz said. “People resist change that is perceived as a loss, and you have to respect the losses people will suffer during change.”

He mentioned three categories of loss: 1.) broken relationships; 2.) loss of market share; and 3.) loss of loyalty. With regard to the Church, all three categories of loss are represented in people who have left the pews. Getting them back and keeping others in their seats is going to take a long time. VOTF might help accomplish this and attract new members by developing new ways of being community or creating sources of value for people other than solving the clergy sexual abuse scandal. VOTF was born in crisis and needs to identify new crises or find out how to continue in the absence of crises, according to Heifetz.

“Adaptive change in an insulated organization like the Church takes a long time, with a lot of people staying in the game and not giving up,” Heifetz said. “Real progress has been made, but it’s going to take a couple of generations, especially around an issue like how clergy handle sexuality, before the problem will be solved.”

VOTF member Ron Petitti of Braintree, Massachusetts, said Heifetz basically wanted us to “know that VOTF is bringing peace and hope to the Church and its members, so don’t stop.”