The Emotional Spectrum of Change
The church where I now pastor made an important decision not long ago that resulted in significant organizational change. Sensing God leading them in a new and radical direction, they voted to join forces with a church plant in the area, and together these two bodies formed one new church, which is now Hope Church in Westerville, Ohio. As we walked through this process together, it became clear to me that there is a wide variety of emotional responses to significant changes in life. I called this The Emotional Spectrum of Change.
Knowing where we are in the process of change will help us to understand how to respond to those powerful emotions.
For most Christians, the local church to which we belong has a rich and vital role in our lives. Not only is our soul nourished there through worship each Sunday, but many of our closest friends are there. Church is more than something to which we belong; church is something we are. The community with whom we gather to worship and follow Jesus is one of the most important things in our lives. So when we experience change in this area, we often feel the effects of that change on a deeply personal and emotional level.
I believe that it is immensely helpful to be able to identify where we are, emotionally, with whatever change we may be experiencing. Knowing where we are in the emotional process of change, as individuals or families, will help us to understand how to respond to these feelings. God expects us to live wisely, to respond well, and to understand ourselves relative to both our circumstances and our emotional conditions. With that, I would like to introduce you to The Emotional Spectrum of Change.
First, there is Acknowledgment that change is necessary. This is an important step, and until we arrive at the place of recognizing the necessity of change, we will not be able to walk through the process well. Whether it is as an individual, a family, or an organization, we have to recognize that we cannot continue with things as they are now. We must change. God is leading us toward a significant shift in our story.
The 4 ‘A’s of the Emotional Spectrum of Change: Acknowledgement, Anticipation, Apprehension, Acceptance.
An important question to ask during this phase is: Are trusted voices and the prompting of the Holy Spirit leading toward change? This question needs a firm “Yes” if the process of change is going to go well. As time goes on, doubt will creep in, and if there is not a firm, affirmative answer to this question, you will be tempted to bail or undo the change.
About the same time that Yogi and I started seriously considering planting a church together, the congregation of Westerville Alliance began to talk about making a significant change. After four years of being led by elders, with no full-time minister on staff, the conversation turned toward hiring a pastor. And let me say, as someone who planted and pastored a church while working a full-time job, the men who took on that task did a remarkable job. But trusted voices and the prompting of the Holy Spirit led toward change.
For Yogi and I, we thought that we were going to be planting in the Delaware area. We had a plan in place for organizing small groups and building toward a Sunday morning meeting. But again, trusted voices and the prompting of the Holy Spirit led toward change. And long story short, two churches became one.
Once the need for change has been acknowledged and a plan is put into place, many of us enter into Anticipation mode. We get excited about change, and about what the future may hold for us. Not everybody gets to this place, because some of us really, really hate change. But most of us will have a sense of anticipation and excitement about what this change will bring about.
Are trusted voices and the prompting of the Holy Spirit leading toward change?
There are a lot of questions in the anticipation phase, but also a lot of hope and optimism. We begin to get a sense for the good things that lie ahead, and possibly even experience some of the early fruit of our labors. We certainly don’t have all the answers, but we are filled with trust and expectancy that God knows what he is doing, and that he wants to do great things.
But with great change comes great grief. Many people spend a lot of time in the long phase of Apprehension. What have we done? There was a lot to love about what we had before. Why did we have to change that? Why don’t we do this anymore? I’m not so sure that I like this change. I’m not so sure that I want to be a part of this change.
Change means loss. Organizational change means significant loss for those who stay in the organization. It is right and proper to grieve that loss. And no one can tell you how to grieve. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about grief, it’s that it looks different for each person every day.
But as we grieve change, we must remember to simply trust God. If the Holy Spirit has led us to change, then the Holy Spirit will lead us through change. God does not abandon his faithful people. The Scriptures testify to this over and over. Psalm 37:25 says, “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.” Deuteronomy 31:6 says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
What I’ve discovered is that when we surrender something to God, he always gives us something better in return.
If the Holy Spirit has led us to change, then the Holy Spirit will lead us through change.
When trusted voices and the prompting of the Holy Spirit lead toward change, it means that God has planned a shift in your story. And if we don’t shift when God says shift, we miss out on his best for our lives.
That doesn’t make it easy. That doesn’t mean you won’t miss anything about the way things were before. It simply means that God is with you, and it’s okay to grieve. It’s okay to not be okay. Just remember that we serve a God who in all things – whether a season of change or a season of stability – works for the good of those who love him.
And that’s why we can arrive at the final point on the spectrum: Acceptance. This change is good. This is what God willed to do, and because I persevered through my apprehension, I am able to recognize the goodness and wisdom of God’s shift in my story. It may not have been what I would have chosen, but it is good and right.
Things rarely work out as we expect them to, but change is always messy. We lose some things along the way, but we also receive new gifts, have new experiences, and make new friends. We learn to see God and the world from a different perspective, and that means that we have picked up some wisdom and understanding along the road.
The Emotional Spectrum of Change is a tool that is meant to help you navigate your way through the complexities of major life change. You may find yourself bouncing around the spectrum, but that’s to be expected. Hopefully this will help you to identify where you are today, and how you can move forward with faith and confidence.