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Turning a Cruise Ship

It’s hard to stomach how powerless we are over certain things. Racism; poverty; intolerance; inequality… And honestly, even the smallest things can be just as frustrating. Our children’s behavior; our personal finances; hell, even the laundry. 

We are confronted (daily) with our inability to control significant parts of our lives.

As a pastor, I spend time with people at all different stages of their lives. Some are older and more spiritually/emotionally mature, while some are older and substantially less mature. And the same is true for people younger than me. Some people develop personal discipline and rhythms that benefit them greatly, while some people lack basic boundaries that inevitably spread themselves too thin to do anything of significance. But most all of us carry one thing in common: We want to see change.

We want to see change in ourselves, in our families, in our church communities, and in our world.

But how? 

How do we become prophets that stand up and speak out against the injustices? How can we introduce change in an effective way? How can we lead people through fundamental shifts in thinking?

And will anyone listen?

A mentor of mine once told me,

Introducing change into your community needs to be treated like turning a cruise ship. You turn too quickly, everyone gets seasick and wants out. But if you adjust your course by 1º every few miles, everyone onboard will embrace the final destination.

Slow, consistent adjustments in the right direction. 

Is it fun? No. Is it wise leadership? Yes.

Do you see where you want your community to be?

Can you see it, way out there in the distance?

Lock your eyes on it.

Fantasize about it.

Meditate on it.

Pray over it.

But when you recognize that you’re actually not heading that direction, promise yourself that you won’t screech the brakes and try to turn on a dime. The people around you will feel like it was a bait-and-switch. They’ll be disoriented. They’ll want out. 

Sure, people will notice our 1º corrections, but with each degree of change we’re able to explain the “why” behind it. We’re walking side-by-side with people through the change. And people will understand (at least the people we want sticking around will). 

SIDENOTE: I guess it’s important to note that I don’t embrace this philosophy with personal growth. When it comes to change in my life, I jump into the air, pirouette, and land in a totally different direction without batting an eye. But that’s because I’m wired that way. If I catch a glimpse of something better for my personal rhythms or disciplines or boundaries, I’m going to implement it immediately (and unapologetically). Because the only part of me that will be offended is the unhealthy part of my ego. (I’m OK with that.)

Leadership is difficult. Whether we’re leading a company, a church, or a ragtag group of children. Leadership is tough. And sometimes it means playing the long-game. 

Are we willing to set our end-goal far out on the horizon; while celebrating small victories along the way? 

Consider Moses, one of the spiritual fathers of Judaism and Christianity. A committed, patient leader if there ever was one. The journey that the Israelites took lasted 40 years, while only spanning ~240 miles. That’s 6 miles per year. That’s a little under 87 feet per day. For. Forty. Years.

And yes, these were by far the most difficult, frustrating, exhausting years of his life. All he knew prior to this was luxury (as a part of the royal family) and personal solitude (as a simple shepherd in the wilderness). But he was faithful to seeing it through. At any one of the hundreds of frustrating moments, he could’ve thrown his hands in the air and said, “FORGET IT! I’m out. You people are killing me!” 
But he didn’t.

If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

African Proverb

Maybe you’re staring down the barrel of a seemingly hopeless, “un-changeable” situation. And yes, maybe your scenario wouldn’t be able to handle an abrupt pivot. Maybe that would send the whole thing toppling. 

But could it weather a 1º change? I’m guessing yes.

  • Maybe it means inviting someone new to Thanksgiving dinner.
  • Maybe it means bringing your kids to a playground on the other side of town.
  • Maybe it means refraining from laughing along with the “guys” at work about that “thing.”
  • Maybe it means hanging a new piece of art in your home.
  • Maybe it means starting that conversation you’ve been putting off for two months.

If you’re leading yourself, be relentless. Be annoying to yourself. Pivot. Pirouette. Change your habits. Do whatever it takes to be as healthy as possible.

But if you’re leading others; remember what it takes to turn a cruise ship.