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Leadership during 'discontinuous change'

I love to meander through Margaret Wheatley’s book ‘Who do we choose to be?’. She writes on leadership with creativity and honesty, it’s a joyful refreshing read. When I’m in need of wind over my burning embers, this is one of the books I turn to. It can be read in bite-size chunks over a cup of coffee or absorbed in a quiet room with the door shut. It speaks to this moment of change and disruption that both the church and the world is in. Leaning on her own experience from working with leaders who operate in chaos, Wheatley inspires the reader to be who they need to be in this moment of time. Quoting Howard Zinn she writes in her first pages; “We don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future in an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvellous victory.”1


She tells the story of General Gordon R. Sullivan, the Army Chief of Staff in the United States, during the Vietnam War era. His role included adapting how the military operated, and leading them into the future. Apparently, Sullivan spent 50% of his time thinking about the future, because he had the defence of the free world on his shoulders. Reflecting on this practice, Wheatley asks “how many leaders understand how to step off the arrow of time and consciously engage with the future so as to influence its direction, not with complex strategies but by using information well?”2  Does this resonate with you? I feel like this is what leaders in the church are having to do at the moment, using the information we have to step off the ‘arrow of time’ and to engage with the future. Perhaps this is something that all leaders are called to do, but some manage it better than others.


Roxburgh and Romanuk call the season we are in a season of ‘discontinuous change’.3 Continuous change is when we know what the new might be and as such can prepare ourselves, whereas discontinuous change is when we don’t know what that change will be, the future in unpredictable. During discontinuous change leaders and churches need to be adaptable. A time of discontinuous change is a challenge to those who have learnt to lead in one way and have been doing so for a while. Without the skills for the new environment, leadership becomes daunting and often overwhelming. For others who have learnt to lead during discontinuous change, this season feels a little like home, and the challenge of discontinuous change is, ironically, familiar ground.


I find those leaders in our Hubs, and in the many conversations that I engage in through RM. I am encouraged that God, as expected, is working in and through his Church during this transformative moment. Thank you for all the hard work you are already doing. Keep paying attention to the season we are in, adapting and changing as the new arrives, and keep living in a manner that prepares yourself and others for that future.

Jo Allen

Director: South West

1 Howard Zinn, in Margaret Wheatley, ‘Who do we Choose to be?’

2 Margaret Wheatley, ‘Who do we Choose to be?’, p.60

3 Roxburgh and Romanuk, ‘The Missional Leader’, p.9


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