CHANGE :: End of the 40/40 World

Not so long ago, I listened to a talk given by Alan Roxburgh where he described the end of what he called, the “40/40 world.”  I am not sure I agree with the exact timing of his observations, but I think his point is right on the mark. In my own words, the point is as follows…

For a generation or two we lived in a world where the average family had one parent who worked a forty-hour week for a company where they were employed forty years. In addition, most families were able to make it on the one income so that the other spouse could devote full-time attention to the job of household management and child-rearing. Among other things, this meant that when the working spouse returned home at the end of the day, the house was clean, kids were finished with homework, and dinner was on the way.

In this environment the American church refined its programs and rhythms. Because there was a reserve of energy available for evening activities, it was very common for active church families to spend four or five days a week in church based activities—Bible studies, committee meetings, choir practice, prayer meetings, mid-week suppers, children’s programs, vacation bible schools, etc.

That 40/40 world ended sometime near the end of the last millennium. It was replaced by a world where everyone essentially works as a consultant, a world where job security is only as good as the current project you are working on. It’s a world that requires people to put in however many hours it takes to get the job done. And, now both spouses work in this same environment replete with the anxiety, fatigue, and long hours that come with it. Families no longer have a reserve of time and energy available for multiple church or community activities. Volunteerism cannot be taken for granted.

Thus the leadership challenge. We can bemoan the loss of the older ways all we want to, but the reality is we live in a new world and must adapt to it. We must begin to own the fact that time and energy of our people are the most important resources of any organization. Understanding how the realities of this new day severely limit people’s time and energy is a starting point from which a leader can begin to effectively adjust plans and expectations.

The end of the 40/40 world calls for creative alternatives. Programs designed to serve people must be built on the principle of multi-usage, delivering value on multiple levels. The quantity of commitments expected of people needs to be downsized without value judgments. Every program, every commitment, every invitation must have a crystal articulated purpose and/or vision.  It will not work any longer to attempt enlisting people  out of  a sense of duty.

Leading in a world when people had active reserves of time and energy out of which they can serve was much easier than having to compete for diminishing availability. However, the reality is, that older world doesn’t exist anymore. And, when the world you live in changes, the way you lead must change as well.

Change :: the new status quo

“We’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Sure, Dorothy’s line is now cliché, but it captures the disconcerting wake-up call that we all have at unpredictable moments all the time. Change is the new status quo and when least expected it catches us off guard knocking us off-balance.

Here’s what I mean. Two weeks ago my Uncle asked me to help him get his television working. It’s a simple problem really—unless you are completely behind the curve of technological change. His television is one of those old portable 13-inch screens in a box the size of an ice chest that weighs about 25 pounds. The assisted living facility where he lives told him that the problem is he would need to order cable. He has never had cable and doesn’t understand why he can’t a good signal with a pair of old-school rabbit-ears.

So, picture the scene. Here I was, trying to explain the problem of a 30-year-old analog TV in a flat-screen high-def digital age to a technologically illiterate senior citizen who is almost deaf. He just doesn’t have the categories.

Think about his dilemma on a deeper level. The changing world we call home has put him in a place where the ‘rules’ he knows for how life works no longer apply. He cannot apply “rabbit-ear solutions” he understands to a “digital world” he doesn’t. His desire to wind the clock back to a day where solutions and approaches he understands still work is perfectly understandable. It is an unavoidable experience in a world where constant hi-speed discontinuous change is the order of the day.

These are the waters we all swim in. It is the reason why I chose the image of a sailboat cutting through the waves by harnessing the wind as the metaphor for this website. Learning to embrace and navigate change is life for all of us and it is the meat and potatoes of leadership.

I am fascinated by change, by how it happens, by the way it impacts people, and especially by what it takes to lead it effectively. I have been making observations and logging insights into leading change for a number of years now and it’s time to put more of them in writing.  So, consider this an introduction. For a number of weeks, I will devote my entries to different thoughts about change, including:

–       The end of the 40/40 world

–       A 5-dimensional approach to leading change

–       Leading is change

–       A battleship vs. a zodiak

–       The need for heretics

For today, the question is a simple one: what is one area of change you are tired of and what could you do to embrace it rather than fight it?

Redecorating a One Room House

Over lunch in central Romania, across the table from a Hungarian church planter named Josef, I heard someone describe ways the church of North America. It was a conversation whose context helped make it profoundly unforgettable.

shifting the furniture

The subject of our conversation was the speed and complexity of change facing the church in former Soviet-bloc countries. While people in the U.S. often feel perplexed by the undertow of tidal change within our culture, these eastern-bloc countries have experienced change in the past 15 years that took us 75 years. Yet, his comments have direct application for us.

Josef’s comments, “so much of the time, the church is like people inside a one-room building who are busy rearranging the furniture but ignoring the real question. The fact is, we are ignoring the fact that we are still in a one-room building and nothing has changed. We are so busy with church activities that everyone is worn out and we aren’t bringing about real change. The church of Hungary is typically irrelevant to thepeople and life of our country.”

I fell in love with this man. He is culturally and organizationally astute. For years he ran an international import-export business and resisted God’s prompting to become a pastor. In his words, “I never wanted to become a pastor. They are poor, they have large families, and they are generally irrelevant.”

What’s my point? Moving the furniture around creates a busyness that masquerades as change, but it isn’t. The man sitting at a bar with his friend are not talking about the longing of their souls for a local church that is using PowerPoint and video clips. We live in a world that perceives the church as irrelevant and self-absorbed-at best. The world around us is looking for a church that will move outside its walls and into relationship with messy people and hurting world.

I don’t know about you, but as for me and my house, we will be those who give themselves to a new day for the church.