By Eddie Pipkin
March 10, 2017
In our coaching and training sessions, it doesn’t take very long for participants to share frustrations in their ministries that seem insurmountable. Lack of power to effect change, lack of ideas, lack of support, lack of hope: all are ingredients in a nasty stew of ‘stuck soup.’ We can see change that needs to happen. We can describe unhealthy habits that are dragging our organization down and keeping it from flourishing. We can envision the possibilities that are at hand if we could only break the logjam. But we can’t seem to unjam the logs.
Asked to express their feelings, it is not uncommon to hear participants respond, “It is what it is.”
That phrase became very popular in pop culture and common usage in the past 10 years. It’s even known by its acronym, iiwii. In most ministry cases, however, it is not a sufficient answer. It’s often just a form of giving up. “It is what it is,” though succinct, is just a trendy way to shrug our shoulders and throw in the towel. It seems resigned and at peace, yet it cleverly communicates our discontent. Here’s a great explanation of the underlying problem as captured in a 2009 blog from “The Insighter”:
The problem is, iiwii is a deceptive statement. The words and tone imply acceptance of the current state of affairs, but the underlying sentiment is frustration and helplessness. Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite familiar with irony, cynicism, and satire. But that’s not what this is. This is a defense mechanism. Not only that, it’s the Ebola virus of defense mechanisms: denial.
Rather than deny the depth and difficulty of a particular challenge that we are facing, wouldn’t it be far more productive to confront that challenge with honesty and a clear analysis of the steps that would need to be taken to make change happen. I can easily list a wide range of “iiwii challenges” faced by congregations with which I have worked. Here are a few:
- Worship music leadership that added in new songs at a frustratingly slow pace.
- A greeter who offered unsolicited hugs to women in ways that made them feel uncomfortable.
- Lack of participation in a slowly dwindling UMW group.
- Difficulty signing up Sunday School teachers.
- The absence of a working, current calendar for the church web site.
You are going to have about zero percent difficulty in coming up with a whole list of your own examples. Yet each of the things I have listed above lend themselves to solutions—not necessarily easy solutions, but workable plans nonetheless.
What is needed is process. We need to change the culture in our leadership that is content with an iiwii attitude. We need to identify iiwii moments as an opportunity to dig more deeply into issues. We need to begin with, “Well, is it? Does really have to be limited to just what it is at this moment in time?” and use that question as the jumping off point to a series of exploratory inquiries:
- What is the deeper issue that underlies the specific point of frustration (issues of personalities, clashing leadership styles, territorialism, bad communication, misplaced priorities, lack of funding, etc.)?
- What would a solution look like?
- What is the principal logjam blocking that solution?
- What people are invested in things remaining the same? What people would be invested in change?
- Would such change require a short-term focused push to completion or a long-range shift in vision and resources?
- Is this a change that can happen now or is it a change that would require too much blood, sweat, and tears at this point in time and thus should be delayed for a future time frame? (Even knowing that it is an issue to be addressed in a designated future time frame can provide hope—iiwiifn—“It is what it is for now.”)
Again, the point is process. We won’t surrender. We’ll name the issue and take some time to explore solutions. If it’s worth the investment in people and resources to solve it now, we’ll establish a plan to solve it. If, once we’ve looked at it honestly, it’s not worth the people and resources to make a high priority right now, we’ll put it aside temporarily. We’ll pray about it; we’ll agree to not sugarcoat it when we talk about it; and we’ll be on the lookout for windows of opportunity to move it up the priority list if circumstances change.
The Jesus whose example we follow as disciples did not practice iiwii leadership. He spoke passionately of change in the service of justice and mercy. He prompted people to shift perspective and imagine new possibilities. He spoke of the foolishness of “pouring new wine into old wineskins” (Matthew 9:17) and a little later reminded them that “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
At your next leadership gathering do an iiwii audit: take a few minutes, having introduced the idea of using the iiwii response as shrug-of-the-shoulders defense mechanism, to make a list of the iiwii issues with your congregation or ministry. These are things that you, as leaders, know should change, but which you have given up on trying to change. Share your experiences with us. At Excellence in Ministry Coaching not only do we offer resources that give great insights into the processes of effective ministry leadership, but we also offer direct coaching of teams and individuals (much of which is geared to help you develop specific models for addressing intractable challenges). Contact us for more information.
I leave you with this gem from Portia Nelson, the short meditation “There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk” from her work The Romance of Self Discovery:
“Chapter One of My Life. I walk down the street. There’s a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in.
I am lost. I am helpless. It isn’t my fault. It takes forever to find a way out.
Chapter Two. I walk down the same street. There’s a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again. I can’t believe I’m in the same place! But it isn’t my fault. And it still takes a long time to get out.
Chapter Three. I walk down the same street. There’s a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it there. I still fall in. It’s a habit! My eyes are open. I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.
Chapter Four. I walk down the same street. There’s a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.
Chapter Five. I walk down a different street.”