Editorial: LOFT and change

Editorial: LOFT and change

Back in the day, when I was a worship apprentice, I remember our team tossing around the idea of phasing out the song “My Friends, May You Grow in Grace” — and wondering whether such a change was even possible. It had become a staple at LOFT, ending every service with an a cappella chorus and arms lifted high.

And on Sunday night, I got my answer: yes, it’s possible. Some shrugged their shoulders and some were really disappointed. And regardless of whether you approve of the change, it opens up a fascinating case study of why change can be so difficult.

Most of us students have lived long enough to know that change is not easy. We move to a new state for college and don’t know anyone. We end a long-term relationship. Our parents get divorced. A good friend passes away.

And we know it’s even harder to lead other people through change. An RA comes on to a new dorm floor and wants to change the culture. You become leader of a student organization and need to get organized. Le Roy becomes the new president of a college, only to discover he needs to cut 10 percent of its operating expenses. It’s not easy.

So how do we lead through change? I think this happens in two parts: naming the loss and painting a vision.

But for background, we need to know that people don’t resist change; they resist loss. A 12-year-old doesn’t resist moving to a new state because it’s a new place; he resists because he’s losing friends, he’s losing comfort and he’s losing stability. A dorm floor doesn’t resist culture change per se; they resist losing their community and their closeness as friends.

So the first step is to name that root loss. A lot of people won’t make the distinction that it isn’t moving to college they fear, but it’s the loss of friendship or the loss of familiarity. If it isn’t separated, college becomes a symbol of that loss and a source of the fear. Or the new RA becomes a symbol of potential loss of community. Or a college president becomes a symbol of instability. Naming the loss hits the root of the problem and can help you pivot to the next step.

A leader needs to paint a vision of why all the instability that comes from the change is going to be worth it in the end. An RA might explain that being more inclusive will actually help create deeper friendships. I think President Le Roy has been so successful over the last 18 months because he never stops pointing to the college’s mission. People put up with the instability because he’s assured them that we will come out a stronger school in the end.

So back to our example.

This decision and this change process is still very young, but I think we need to recognize the real loss: singing “My Friends” is a symbol of the genuine Christian community, encompassing the devotion of a community to God’s purpose and glory, as well as the acceptance and the friendship that so many find at LOFT. We can’t pretend it’s just a song or that students don’t think this change is a big deal.

Then, maybe most importantly, we need to see a vision. The community isn’t losing its welcoming, accepting Christian environment by eliminating this symbol of it. Leaders would argue they’re expanding it, because they’re trying to make LOFT more meaningful and genuine for students who may have grown up with that song.

By better articulating this vision for the future and naming the root of the loss students feel by eliminating the song, LOFT leadership can navigate this change smoothly and continue to be a welcoming environment for every student at Calvin.