DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Getting SMART about diversity

Written by: on May 10, 2019

Reading Diane Zemke’s text, Being SMART about Congregational Change has me in knots. Part of me wishes I would have read this a year ago, and part of me feels its timeliness in the present. The idea of change is something that is at the same time exciting and anxiety producing. As Zemke says multiple times in her text, change will take much emotional energy and time. When I think of the systems in both my local church, the denomination, and larger tradition of which I am a part, I recognize the need for deep change and change agents. But, more than all of this is a need for strategy. Change that will last and do more good than harm requires an intelligent and purposeful process.

When beginning to peruse Being SMART about Congregational Change, the reader will find the text is well laid out, building from one topic to the next, with review and reflective application at the end of each chapter. Starting with the wider congregation, then honing in on change itself, and finally narrowing to those who are enacting change, the book covers multiple layers toward producing healthy change in a congregation or denomination. In addition, Zemke’s guide book gets straight to the issues so practitioners can assess their situation, pick up the tools for the task, and begin applying. One limitation is that of a narrative or case study throughout the text. Though many examples of possible contextual possibilities are cited, a more in-depth look at addressing change in one of the three primary contexts is not presented.

While several aspects of the book could be highlighted, I will focus on three that had particular relevance: bridge building, adaptive problems, and self-care.

Bridge Building

I have been using the phrase “historical future” lately. My thought has been that we in the Wesleyan Tradition need to move into our historical future with regard to equity in the church for women and people of color. When I read Zemke’s conclusion I realized she was naming a metaphor that captures the idea of a historical future. Zemke concludes her text on what it means to be smart using the imagery of bridge building within congregations. She states, “One side of this bridge is anchored in the future you are trying to reach. The other side of the bridge is anchored in the past. In the present, people are walking on the bridge as you build it.”[1] One side of the bridge in the Wesleyan tradition is a history of inclusivity through being forerunners in the abolitionist movement. The other side is the future, where we actually look like the diverse group that we are theologically prepared to be. Today, in the middle, we are discovering the reasons why we are not actively living into our historical and prophetic voice and working toward change as our culture around us increasingly shifts and adapts to an ever-diversifying world.

Adaptive Problems

When thinking about the bridge being built and the needed change in the Wesleyan Tradition, Zemke’s variety of change types come to mind. While some of our changes are indeed technical and others are hybrid problems, the major focus of lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the Wesleyan Tradition centers around adaptive problems. “In adaptive problems it’s hard to understand exactly what the problem is and it’s also difficult to generate possible solutions.”[2] Adaptive problems center around identity and values, affecting the entire system or organization.[3] When considering the theology and practice of the Wesleyan Tradition, our identity and values do not match our action, particularly when it comes to diversifying our systems.

Zemke’s five steps toward addressing adaptive change are necessary to consider toward transforming the present into our historical future, so we may cross the bridge to a diverse and equitable reality. For reference toward working on the problem further, they are:

  • Reflect on the nature of the problem. Many questions are addressed here, such as “What values are involved? Will solutions affect the entire congregation in significant ways? Who will experience a loss of power, status, and/or relationships?”[4]
  • Map the problem. Take care of technical problems but continue to dig into the bigger, more pressing challenge.
  • Create emotional space for working on the problem. Continue to press into the urgency of the issue so others take ownership. This is the most difficult and needed part of addressing adaptive problems.
  • Remain focused on adaptive problem, reassessing values and identity rather than defaulting to more technical solutions.
  • Don’t attack the leaders. Laity and staff must work together.


When considering the scale of change needing to happen in the Wesleyan Tradition to become the diverse people we say we are historically and theologically, it is a daunting task requiring all levels of leadership, compliance, and programming to change. This monumental adaptive change will take an incredible amount of emotional energy, and self-care is the bedrock for survival and continued transformation. As a woman and a tempered radical, I see the need for sustaining community who walk with me both within and beyond my calling in the Wesleyan Tradition. In addition, an even deeper life with the Spirit is calling me to remember Zemke’s final words in the change journey: “Yet no matter how challenging the times are, God is present. At times it can be hard to see what God is doing and how God is building the Church, especially when many congregations are in decline or struggling in other ways. It’s good to remember that before the new can spring forth, the old must die. God is active in the living, the dying, and the rebuilding of the Church. God is always faithful.”[5]


[1] Zemke PhD, Diane. Being SMART about Congregational Change . Kindle Edition. Location 1941

[2] Zemke, location 821.

[3] Ibid., 837.

[4] Ibid., 904.

[5] Ibid., 1993.


About the Author


Trisha Welstad

Trisha is passionate about investing in leaders to see them become all God has created them to be. As an ordained Free Methodist elder, Trisha has served with churches in LA and Oregon, leading as a pastor of youth and spiritual formation, a church planter, and as a co-pastor of a church restart. Trisha currently serves as leadership development pastor at Northside Community Church in Newberg, OR. Over the last five years Trisha has directed the Leadership Center, partnering with George Fox and the Free Methodist and Wesleyan Holiness churches. The Leadership Center is a network facilitating the development of new and current Wesleyan leaders, churches and disciples through internships, equipping, mentoring and scholarship. In collaboration with the Leadership Center, Trisha serves as the director of the Institute for Pastoral Thriving at Portland Seminary and with Theologia: George Fox Summer Theology Institute. She is also adjunct faculty at George Fox University. Trisha enjoys throwing parties, growing food, listening to the latest musical creations by Troy Welstad and laughing with her two children.

8 responses to “Getting SMART about diversity”

  1. mm Jean Ollis says:

    Thank you for ending your blog with such an inspiring quote and great reminder that God is present no matter the journey of the church. With both of us being a part of such a closely related denomination I wonder where the Free Methodists are in their journey for inclusion with LGBTQ+ population. Are there rumblings about inclusivity like in the UMC?

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:


      I think there is a missed opportunity with the LGBTQ+ community. While we are more traditional in theology, we have not utilized our welcoming historical posture to help all people belong to the community. There is still a divide in this way, where we assume that people in the LGBTQ+ community have to let go of their “sinfulness” (as may be perceived) before they are truly welcome. This is contradictory to the gospel and the commandment of Jesus. The rumblings have not been dealt with because there is mostly a squashing of the conversation due to the extremes, with the vast majority being traditionalists. How is the rumbling going in the UMC?

  2. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    I really enjoyed your ending and the quote you choose from the book. It is so true that sometimes things have to die for new growth to happen, it is the way God seems to work both in the church and in the world at large. Thanks for the insight.


  3. Shawn Hart says:

    Trisha, you wrote, “As a woman and a tempered radical, I see the need for sustaining community who walk with me both within and beyond my calling in the Wesleyan Tradition.”

    I was curious what you see lying beyond your calling? Is there a specific idea here, or just leaving room for the future?

    • mm Trisha Welstad says:

      Shawn, thank you for your curiosity. I was thinking in terms of having a community of friendships for support who are not those God has called me directly to minister within my particular church or tradition. This includes those who are grappling with similar issues (ie, I just received an email from a friend who does diversity and equity training for organizations who is interested in having a cohort of women who are part of different churches but working toward the same goals to gather for mutual encouragement and support.)

  4. mm Dan Kreiss says:


    It seems like Zemke’s text came to you at just the right time. The Wesleyan tradition has long been at the forefront of critical societal change, beginning with JW himself and what many historians will argue preventing the collapse of English society through the revivals and house groups he initiated largely among the working class. This was an inclusiveness very unlike the Anglican church of the same time. Many of those early traditions have carried over to contemporary Methodist and Wesleyan traditions but change is still challenging even to them. Zemke’s metaphor of the bridge is a key insight for those and other historical traditions as they seek to continue to develop in meaningful ways to carry on the work God initiated generations past. I believe that your leadership will be key in some of this going forward.

  5. Trisha,

    Thanks for highlighting the phrase “historical future”. That is a very powerful idea akin to “now and not yet” which has often shaped my thinking. It is hopeful in that it looks forward to the fulfillment of God’s desire for the church … which is destined to come to pass if we take seriously the Scriptures pointing to all nations, all peoples, ie. humanity in its diversity, around the throne praising the Lamb that was slain.

  6. Dave Watermulder says:

    Great blog once again. I appreciated your use of the image of the bridge that your tradition is walking across right now. One of the good things about this image is that both the past and the future sides of the bridge are already secure in Christ. They are already anchored. So, there is work for you to do as you all move together and take this journey, but our beginnings and endings are held by God (whew!).
    I thought your discussion of the adaptive change vs technical change was good to hear again and be reminded of as well. So, thank you!

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