Crossing the River of DeNial: Why it’s so Hard to Change Ourselves

By on April 1, 2007   /   Leave a comment

Flying from London to Nairobi in a 767 is quite an experience. If the expanse of that mammoth plane doesn’t take your breath away, peering down on the terrifying terrain will. After gazing at a thousand miles of Sahara Desert, the gigantic and intimidating Nile River suddenly came into view, cutting a huge swath through the vast African continent. Eyes staring and mind racing, I couldn’t imagine someone attempting to cross the Nile, much less the Sahara.

   Some call trying to conquer the most fearsome parts of nature “extreme sports.” I call it a “death wish!” After failing to jump over a huge canyon on a motorcycle, the daredevil, Robbie Knievel, explained his actions to a reporter by saying, “Everybody has a calling. This is mine.” Yes, everyone has a calling, Robbie, but not everyone is stupid!

   Standing at the edge of a canyon, a desert, or a gargantuan river like the Nile makes us feel small, inadequate, and overwhelmed. Maybe you’ve had that exact feeling as you look over the organization you help lead. I know I have. Depression can set in when we get real honest about all the gaps, struggles, dysfunctions, inefficiencies, and lost opportunities we observe. What to do? Where to start? Instead of just sticking our head in the sand or looking for the nearest bridge to jump off, consider these steps:

1. Pull your team together
Don’t be the lone ranger and arrogantly believe your brilliance, personality, and willpower can get you out of the valley and up the mountain. Get your key people away for a day or more, grab a white board, and really start with a clean slate. Let them know (maybe for the first time?) that their opinions, assessments, and “buy in” are critical to the future success.

2. Confront the brutal facts
This is what Jim Collins (in his book, Good to Great) encourages leaders to do before they begin to strategize or implement. No need to put on a confident smile and act like you have it all together. Usually, everyone on the team knows the truth; they’re just waiting for the leader to admit it! So really, truly, listen to them, and try not to let pride and defensiveness get in the way.

3. Bring in some experts
We’ve worked with more than 250 organizations, and I’ve observed a few things. Most ministries, especially parachurch organizations, think they can do everything “in house.” Instead of turning to an experienced and objective outsider who can quickly and accurately pinpoint the problems and solutions they are willing to ride the ship right down to its “watery grave.” Why? Usually…to save a buck! Ask God for wisdom to know which things should be handled by your people and which ones should be “farmed out” to specialists.

   God can use this unity building exercise in powerful ways, but our denial will thwart our prospects for healthy change and growth. Go ahead. Cross that river!


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