This Little Matter Called Change

The best dollar I’ve spent in years was for Carly Fiorina’s book “Tough Choices: A Memoir.” Sunday after church, my granddaughters spotted a Dollar Tree store and because they had one like it in New Hampshire, where they’re from, we ran by for a few minutes. Near the checkout stand was a bin with books on sale. This hardback, originally priced $25, was going for one precious dollar.

Carly Fiorina–for those who don’t keep up with goings-on in the business world–is one of the smartest women on the planet, rose to a high position with AT&T, and then was hired to take over Hewlett-Packard in the late 1990s as their new CEO. After a few years, the board fired her. The termination was a shot heard ’round the world.

I’ve marked up the book. On page 26, I wrote in the margin, “Each time she overcame her fears, she was stronger.” On page 43, she speaks of men in her corporate world who were called “42 Longs.” That referred to their suit size, but described “a manager who looked and acted the part but was more show than substance.” On page 70, I wrote in the margin, “She saves her tears for the important stuff.”

When Fiorina took over Hewlett-Packard, she found a company that sounds and appears like a number of formerly great churches I have known over the years. That’s what rang all the bells inside me, the connection with the world I live in. On page 181, I wrote at the top of the page: “Like a dying church living on memories of past glories?”

Carly Fiorina describes what she found when she arrived to take over this company which had been founded by Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, originally in their garage. For a long time the men ran it as a benevolent dictatorship, but now they were off the scene and the company was struggling to find its new identity. Here is her description on arriving….

“…I felt as if all the buildings I visited were wrapped in layers and layers of gauze bandages. Outside blared a cacophony of sound, the light was bright and dazzling, and thousands of exciting visions jostled for attention. Inside HP the sounds were muffled, the light was faded, and the gentle images of Bill and Dave as kindly, older father figures were more visible than the harsh realities of the marketplace. HP, especially at headquarters, which was so close to the original garage, felt like a mausoleum or a cocoon.”

In 1970, when John Bisagno arrived as the new pastor of Houston’s First Baptist Church, he walked around the downtown asking people if they could direct him to the church. Even two blocks away, no one could. The church had little or no off-street parking, and the 300 souls in the pews on Sunday rattled around in that massive building. When John asked the treasurer what that $60,000 was doing in a savings account, the man answered, “It’s for a rainy day.” The new pastor exploded, “Rainy day! Man, it’s been flooding for years!”*

That church, Hewlett-Packard, your church–all must change or die.

Change is never easy. Scores of books come off the presses every year telling businesses and churches and other institutions how to achieve it. Consultants earn good incomes advising organizations on how to find their way through that maze. Every week, churches struggling with the change-or-die syndrome vote to die by refusing to make the radical transformations required by their new realities.

I’ll leave with you this paragraph from page 182 of “Tough Choices” on the subject of change.

“Change always takes great effort. Once begun, change is never exactly what you expected it to be; people sometimes tire of the effort and long for the good old days that now seem better after all, especially when viewed through the mists of time. In every institution the powerful and the decision makers always favor the status quo; continuity preserves their position. As I’d learned over and over, many people prefer even a deeply problematic known to the risks of the unknown. Be careful what you pray for; Don’t rock the boat. Don’t change horses in the middle of the stream are all cautions about the risks of uncertainty and the consequences of imprudent action. For all these reasons, the natural inclination of any organization or institution is always to maintain, to preserve, to protect the way things are. In many real ways, change is an unnatural act and so requires a sustained disruption of sufficieint force.”

Deep in the Sinai wilderness, dirty and tired and fearful, the people of Israel looked with disgust at Moses and wondered what insanity had come over them to make them leave the comforts of Egypt for the uncertainties of a land they had never seen.

They said among themselves, “We remember the fish we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic.” (Numbers 11:5)

They would have chosen to return to the misery of slavery than the uncertainties of a future filled with hard choices, unknown obstacles, and promised blessings that were off in the future somewhere.

Welcome to the ministry, pastor. Did you think this was going to be easy?

*I have no personal knowledge of FBC Houston. However, in the 1970s, Bisagno was a favorite speaker at Baptist meetings across America where he would tell “the Houston story.” Many of us heard it so often–learning the lessons, too, I trust–that we could have filled in for John any time he was unable to make an appointment!

2 thoughts on “This Little Matter Called Change

  1. Let’s discusss the student minister’s influence as an agent of change… student ministry is the only ministry in the church that works with members in transition. The student minister’s target audience changes every four to five years and it is the only ministry of the church that has to adapt its context to the audience culture as frequently as the audience changes. Student ministry and those who volunteer have to evolve to remain relevant to students and the age of the minister has nothing to do with it. A smart student minister knows the content will always be the same, but the context is a fluid concept. As a side thought, why are we quick to ask our student minister to do something that the church and its leadership is very seldom willing to do

  2. Yogi’s right. This is heresy, but I grew tired long ago of most of the hymns in the book. I noticed during 30 yrs of doing at least one youth camp a yr, that the kids are smarter than we are. My first yr they were singing “Life was filled with guns and wars…” Ten yrs later they didn’t know it.

    Change is also why so many young pastors drop out. They hit the deck after seminary like a team after a pep rally. They’re going to change the world thru the church! Then they discover the church is a stone wall. Hopefully, enough of us work through that and build good ministries, but that resistance to change kills off a lot of us. (Of course, the seminary needs to point out that you can’t revolutionize a church in a yr and teach how to do it.)

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