Can we change other people?

In ministry we need a fundamental humility about our ability to change others. When we wilfully try to create people in our own image, we get in the way of God’s work in the change process and the mysterious inner workings of the human heart. I’m being presumptious and arrogant when I think I know exactly what someone else should do. In my own leadership and life I have badly wanted to believe I could change others (especially my family!). But, paradoxically, the more I work to change someone, the more my efforts seem to backfire. When I can give others the respect and room they deserve to find their own path, the more we can all breathe easy and find our way together. This doesn’t mean anything goes: I can be clear about what I will and won’t put up with from others when it directly impacts me. I can be clear about where I am headed with my own goals for ministry and life. But ultimately others have their own choices to make (including whether or not to follow).

2 replies on “Can we change other people?

  • Margaret Marcuson

    You raise an important point how we may bring about negative change by wilfullness and unhealthy relationships. We often (though not always) have the best of intentions, but when we focus more on others than on ourselves, it’s hard to bring about positive change.


  • IGalindo

    My hunch is that the answer to the question is “Yes, we can change people.” But any direct ‘change’ (however one cares to define it) will be the result of manipulation or coercion—not a very healthy kind of change. Typically that kind of change does not last long, and if the change is permament, it likely is toxic.

    The kind of leadership that results in healthy change—as you describe, usually comes about as a result of good functioning on the part of the leader that INFLUENCES others in the system. I prefer the notion that “leadership is influence” over notions of leadership being about power. If people are not moving toward you, your capacity to influence them is minimal, in fact, it’s likely resisted. The bottom line: the quality of our relationship mediates change in others. Healthy relationships yield healthy changes; unhealthy (willful, manipulative, coercive) relationships yield unhealthy changes. Both by virtue of the influence the leader has on the system. All the more reason to focus on one’s integity, maturity, and one’s own functioning.


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