At a recent meeting, Lee Rayfield, my fellow bishop in this diocese, shared two metaphors of transition from the natural world that had struck him from a book he was reading by Howard Friend. The transitions were from tadpole to frog and from caterpillar to butterfly.
Howard Friend compares the marks of the tadpole’s development – which is visible, organised, orderly and uses the basic structure – with the marks of the caterpillar’s transformation – which is hidden, disorganised, chaotic and abandons the basic structure. Change management gurus call the former incremental change and the latter step change.
In his book, Friend applies the metaphors to transitioning congregations, saying we generally go for developmental, incremental change rather than transformational, step change. His view is that both are necessary and that the art of a leader is to blend the two.
Certainly, transformational leadership is rarer. Some will be grateful to God for this! In the church, largely through plenty of practice, we have majored in leading incremental change. Such gradual change has almost become instinctive to us. But can these two metaphors be mixed? My gut feeling is that this is highly unlikely. Will a group that has become accustomed to tadpole development ever permit butterfly transformation? On the whole, it seems unlikely: the risk of destroying the organism feels too great (unless that’s your goal!).
What does this say to us about emerging church development?