Speak to Loss

One of the key functions of leadership is to work toward overcoming difficult challenges. More often than not, it means that, to borrow a phrase from Aretha Franklin and other recording artists, “a change is gonna come.” And it is nearly impossible to have change without some measure of loss. You may hear people say, “I hate change,” but the reality is that they don’t actually hate or fear change. Instead, they fear the real or perceived losses that are associated with change.

Loss is scary. Loss is not fun. We’d prefer not to talk about it. Those that are working for change can be especially tempted to focus energy away from the negatives. We may try to deny potential losses or defend them in some way so that others agree that they are necessary. It may seem counterintuitive, but one way to energize and mobilize others is to simply acknowledge and speak to the loss that others are experiencing.

Hesston Mennonite Church is certainly in the midst of change and is working to overcome some difficult challenges. Turnover has been notable over the past two years, and it has affected every sector of our church – pastors, staff, elders, church council, and the general membership. By death or by choice, we have lost friends, family, and co-workers along the way, and we’re probably not done yet. Even for those who are still here, I wonder if, in the midst of difficult conversations, we have lost the sense of trust and authenticity that we once had. It certainly seems, at times, that the situation is out of our control.

There are still other ways in which we’ve lost. We’ve lost annual giving and have struggled to meet our budget, affecting the ministries that we want to support. We have even watched as a visioning process, a congregational discernment process, and a pastoral search process have each begun with enthusiasm only to end abruptly or fade quietly into the sunset. Just as I have named the losses that I have perceived at HMC, others should name what has been hard for them about all of this change. We should be willing to listen to one another while resisting the urge to respond to every comment.

So why speak to loss in this painful way? We don’t like uncertainty and conflict, and it’s risky to name losses for which we share the responsibility. We are taught to be positive, and it is hard to acknowledge loss without also offering solutions. Ultimately, we do it to build trust and to validate one another’s feelings. One some level, we all want to be heard and to get unstuck from uncomfortable situations. We’ll eventually move forward again with new energy, but sometimes we have to pause to speak to loss before we can do that.

-- Brent Yoder