But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. “What is this you are doing?” they asked. “Are you rebelling against the king?” I answered them by saying, “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.”
Nehemiah 2:19–20, NIV
Every vision will encounter opposition. God’s chosen nation spent time in the wilderness between slavery and the Promised Land, and you will, too. The DISC personality inventory mentioned earlier tells us that 40 percent of us are “S” personalities. “S” personalities value steadiness, staying the course, and maintaining the status quo. Charles Arn, in his book, How to Start a New Service, identifies five levels of receptivity to change:
- Innovators—Dreamers/Visionaries who embrace the future and are eager to embrace change but may not be accepted as leaders.
- Early Adopters—Those who embrace a good idea on its own merit and are influential in moving it forward.
- Middle Adopters—The majority. They tend to want to maintain the status quo and are influenced most by those opposing change rather than those supporting it.
- Late Adopters—The last to endorse a new idea. Often they will not support any change regardless of merit until after it is adopted by the majority.
- Never Adopters—Tend to be anti-change and will sow discord before, during, and after change is adopted.
Nehemiah experienced confrontation with detractors also. Nehemiah’s enemies circulated a rumor that his ambition was to become king. They planted the rumor to discredit him and undermine the mission. His three critics lived in his homeland but were not kindred. Expect there to be some who are not kindred spirits to your mission. Resistance will come; plan for it. I call this “anticipating some failure to reach more success.”
Casey Stengel, New York Yankee baseball manager in the 1950s, once said the key to leadership is to keep the five people who hate you away from the four who are undecided. In most organizations facing change, the middle adopters tend to listen to late adopters and never adopters. Your task as a leader is to empower the early adopters to inspire and lead the middle adopters to new ground.
An unknown source, tongue-in-cheek, has delineated five stages of innovation:
- Step One—People deny the innovation is required;
- Step Two—People deny the innovation will justify the effort;
- Step Three—People deny the innovation is important;
- Step Four—People deny the innovation is effective;
- Step Five—People accept the innovation, enjoy its benefits, attribute it to someone other than the innovator, and deny the existence of steps one through four.
When experiencing persecution, follow the example of Jesus. Jesus laid down his life for us. Don’t allow yourself to be a doormat to your critics, but do lay yourself down as a bridge to grace. We are most like Jesus when we share grace with someone who doesn’t deserve it. A servant leader imitating Jesus will absorb pain in his body to the point of brokenness. But our Lord has been there for us. On the other hand, Jesus also reserved some of his most confrontational words for religious critics. The ability to balance both godly grace and careful confrontation grows from brokenness before God. Remain a servant-leader, just as Jesus served us and died for us.
— Mark Powers
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10 Arn, How to Start a New Service, 66–67.