is no grand revelation to note that we are creatures of habit—as anyone who has
made a New Year’s resolution knows, only to revert back to old practices by,
say, the fifteenth. Habits are stubborn things! We find deep within us,
however, a relentless drive for a brighter, more richly satisfying future, so
the next New Year’s Day we perform the same ritual.
is true for individuals is also true of institutions. Replace New Year’s
resolutions with strategic plans and…you get the idea. We long to see the place
of our employment grow and become more compelling, more effective, more
relevant and we plan accordingly; yet, we often see our best efforts lead to
only marginal advances. Yes, habits are stubborn things for institutions as
we are not left to guess how institutions grow. The theorists who study these
processes conclude that the key to transformation is finding a powerful enough
motivation to overcome the many-fold resistances to change. The present is
known and comfortable, and even if it isn’t entirely satisfying, it is safe. Growth
requires two distinct elements to overcome this resistance to change: a
profound disaffection with the present and a compelling future.
causes dissatisfaction with the present? The transformation learning theorist
Jack Mezirow suggests that transformation starts with a “disorientating
dilemma”—either a crisis or a compelling sense of urgency to be or do something
different. Something isn’t working and the current situation becomes untenable!
motivates a compelling future? A clear sense of what might be that transcends a
dissatisfying present and a plausible path towards that goal. A future so
compelling we ache for its presence.
dynamic is profoundly illustrated in the encounter of the disciples with Jesus
on the road to Emmaus. The disciples had witnessed the death of their Lord
(disorienting to be sure) and now heard the risen Christ unfold the Scriptures
to them and lay out the plan of salvation. As they began to imagine the future
and their role in it, the account ends with the revelation: “didn’t our hearts
burn within us...”. It was this dynamic that ignited their, and their fellow
witnesses’, hearts as they gathered and purposed to do kingdom work. From this
tiny band of brothers and sisters grew the church that served and changed the
School of Education often faces such disorientation, and often at what seems to
be at the most inopportune time. Many of our programming innovations come after
we’ve been “thrown for a loop” by some change at the state or federal level or
critical financial challenge. Our Master of Arts in Teaching degree would not exist
if it were not for changes in federal student aid that required quick, decisive
action. Our reading program came back from the brink of closure thanks, in
part, to the innovative thinking of a division chair in response to a chance
encounter in a classroom between a program graduate and an administrator. Our administrative
services program turned what could have been a “lethal” change in program
standards into the cornerstone of its success through some innovative ways to
find student financial support.
university is facing even more serious challenges, which means conditions are
right for transformation. First, our current societal conditions are untenable—our
world cannot stay as it is! One could easily check off a list of pressing
societal challenges: inequalities of all kinds, conflict, ignorance,
intolerance and so on. Additionally, as an institution, we need to address
financial challenges born out of a most disorientating pandemic. In no small
way, we need to grow in order to survive. Both external and internal sense of
there is hope! Long before the Coronavirus, FPU purposed to live into our
mission by “engaging the culture and serving the cities.” We have been asked to
“lean into our identity” and contribute out of our traditions and resources to
innovative solutions to the grand challenges of our day. We have connections
and strategies that can make our institution a compelling place for new
students to attend.
are invited by Scripture to be transformed by the renewing of our mind so that
we can be the kinds of people our Lord desires us to be, to do the work he asks
us to do. Similar dispositional changes are necessary to transform institutions.
When we take sober inventory of our world and our current institutional crisis,
all of us who care about the world and FPU are, no doubt, troubled. When we
look to our Lord and the resources placed in our hands, we can imagine a better
future, one achieved by awareness, dedication, hope and a confidence that our
Lord energizes and rewards those who singularly seek kingdom goals.