Water, chisel or dynamite? Choosing the right tool to drive change


Rock is a material that is resistant to change and provides a good analogy for an organization or people that need to be lead. Rock likes to stay as it is, it will not change on its own.

Having worked in the mining industry I know what impact explosives can have on rock. Explosives experts can take a large chunk of solid rock and make into very small pieces. This process is fast but the result looks nothing like what you started with. It also cannot be very fun for the rock.

Water is also effective in changing rock. If you have been in a cave or canyon, you can attest to this. Water dissolves minerals and slowly changes the shape and size of the rock. This process is agonizingly slow but the result allows the rock to retain its previous form and often enhances the beauty to the point where we make it a national or state park. This process is not directed by a leader and the result is dictated by the type of rock, quantity of water and other factors beyond the control of a leader.

The chisel falls somewhere in between water and dynamite as a means of changing rock. Under the hand of the sculptor, the chisel can take away the bits of rock that are not contributing to the desired result. The chisel is faster than water and is more selective and controlled than dynamite. Used with skill the chisel shapes the rock in accordance with the sculptor’s vision.

Leaders have to choose whether they want to use dynamite or a chisel to change their organization. Or they can allow the organization to change via natural process like water dissolving rock. All three methods are valid depending on the quantity of change needed, the urgency of the need and the current make-up of the organization.

An organization that is severely dysfunctional may need to be blown up and reassembled. An organization that is basically functioning but has some pieces that are not contributing to the desired result, may need to have some members removed. Some organizations which are functioning should be allowed to change at their own pace. It takes wisdom as a leader to know which method is appropriate.

I have seen leaders who grow impatient with the speed of change and therefore use too much force trying to drive change. Often the result is ugly. In the case of an organization that is largely made up of volunteers, the leader who uses too much force can find himself very alone. Never use dynamite when a chisel will do. Never use the chisel when the process is already taking place but is slower than you would like.

True change in people has to come from the inside. There is a big difference between true change and organizational conformity. As church leaders, we are looking for true change. This is often an agonizingly slow process, therefore patience is required.

Church leaders also have the added dimension of trusting that God is also involved in the process and he is working in the leader and those he leads to bring about his desired result. We, as church leaders, are responsible to follow God’s lead and not try to drive change faster than God is bringing it about.

It is God’s church. In the end, the church is to reflect God’s glory, not the leader’s.