I can understand why a lot of people in this country are getting exercised about what is happening to their pensions. It must be exasperating if you have been putting money away over a period of years with the expectation that you will get a certain return on them at the end of your working life and then discover that the rules have changed and you will get less. I think I can understand why people want to protest or even strike about it. The Baptist Ministers’ Pension Scheme has recently undergone a massive transformation in order to try to cope with a multi-million pound hole in the fund. While I believe that the staff involved in overseeing this process have done the best they possibly can for us in the circumstances, and I have no criticism of them (only admiration for their technical competence and diligence), it does mean that the pension I receive when I retire is likely to be less than it would have been under the previous regime.
The problem in these circumstances is that it is impossible for us to do nothing. Doing nothing is worse than the ostrich sticking its head in the sand when it senses danger*. I don’t imagine that many of the people who have been protesting in striking are expecting that nothing should change. I’m sure that they realise that in the new economic circumstances in which we live, and particularly in the light of the increased life expectancy in this country, pension arrangements are experiencing a new paradigm and we need to adapt to it. I suspect that much of the frustration is to do with perceived injustice about the way that pension changes are being introduced or perhaps even imposed.
I think there are lessons here for us all. When we introduce change, or when change is necessary, people react in different ways. Some embrace it. Some are fearful of it. Many would rather it didn’t have to happen. A few can’t cope with it. It is important for those of us in leadership to realise that people respond to change in different ways to us and if our preference is to embrace change we need to recognise that others will not want to or will find it difficult to do so and if we want to bring them with us we need to move at their pace rather than at our own.
I think this is particularly an issue where there is a small team in leadership of a larger organisation. They may spend considerable time considering the new circumstances and the need for change before coming to their conclusions about what is necessary. If they do not enable the rest of the organisation to make a similar journey they may well find that their proposals are rejected, resented, or ridiculed.
There are probably thousands of “how many… does it take to change a lightbulb?” jokes of differing levels of quality and taste. I can’t remember how long ago I heard the ones about Baptist churches:
How many Baptists does it take to change a lightbulb? Change?
How many Baptists does it take to change a lightbulb? Six Church Meetings, a subcommittee and a report on the effectiveness of the old lightbulb.
How many Baptists does it take to change a lightbulb? None. It’s not a good idea to mix water and electricity.
Or there’s the joke about the seven last words of the church when Jesus returns: “We’ve never done it that way before!”
Sometimes there is more truth in these jokes than we’d like to admit.
How do you cope with change? Do you enjoy it, embrace it, accept it, resent it or resist it? How about if God wants to change you – how do you respond to that?
Be blessed, be a blessing.
*I know that ostriches don’t actually put their heads in the sand, but it’s still a compelling image.