Transitions that Transform
Whether we initiate or are surprised by them, we will experience transitions in life – they are unavoidable! In fact, it has been said that “life is in the transitions!”
Call them what you will ...
"Journeying through the neutral zone"
"Crossing your Jordan"
"Plot twist on steroids"
"Dark night of the soul"
... or to use a fancy word, "A season of liminality"
... they are often characterized by long periods of anxiety, fear, doubt, restlessness, disorientation, anger, and a pothole of so many other emotions!
As a pastor for over 25+ years, I have journeyed through many transitions: job transitions, staff transitions, church vision/strategy transitions, and family/geographical transitions. And most of those would be characterized as "plot twists" in my ongoing narrative. The classic analogy often used to describe a transition of being launched into mid-air by one trapeze artist into the hands of another is very, very fitting – in that in-between space, you are not in control! And if I have learned one thing about life going through transitions, it is that control and certainty are illusions. Life (and ministry) is unpredictable, filled with complexity and chaos, twists and turns, tangles and wobbles – it's life experienced at the quantum level!
Yet, despite all the uncertainty we may experience, there are certain things we can do to leverage the transformative power transitions can have on and in us. Church leadership-transition expert Terry Walling writes that, "transitions serve to bring about needed change, provide clarity in life direction, consolidate learning, deepen values, shift paradigms, and advance one's influence and/or ministry."
In other words, transitions can transform us; but this requires intentionality and effort on our part. In the spirit of Vivian Greene, I call this type of work, "learning how to dance in the rain" – because life "isn't about waiting for the storm to pass". Here are some 'dancing moves' (and there are so many more) that I have found extremely helpful in maximizing the life-changing power of transitions:
Emotions are the dashboard of your life; emotions are both informative and instructive. They are indicators of what is really going on under the hood, and in the engine of your soul; and transitions have a way of lighting up that dashboard! When going through transitions we need to identify, attend to, express and work through our feelings. For example, if you feel like crying – cry away (FYI, when we cry it removes stress hormones from our body); if you need a good laugh, find a comedy on Netflix, Prime Video, or any other movie platform you may have (according to the Mayo Clinic, laughter stimulates your organs and improves your immune system). There is a reason why Emotional Intelligence (EQ) has gained so much momentum over the last two decades – every emotion from enraged to serene, ecstatic to despairing can play a role in transforming you! For more on how to flesh all this out, see the R.U.L.E.R. approach developed by Dr. Marc Brackett of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.
A helpful practice that taps into your creative/imaginative side is to describe your current state-of-affairs in the form of a shape. What shape would you use, and why? Based on recent research, the shape we choose can be very informative. People tend to choose 3 types of shapes: trajectory (i.e., lines); spatial (i.e., circles); or object (i.e., stars). And based on the type of shape we choose, is indicative of the human longing that we are currently connecting with and working through – it could be agency, belonging or cause (known as the ABCs of meaning). So, what shape would you choose? And why did you choose this shape? For more on this check out a great resource by Bruce Feiler, called Life Is In The Transitions.
If you isolate yourself, you insulate yourself. We are made from and for community – we need each other to not only survive but to thrive. We are relational beings requiring relational input. So often in transitions, whether it be due to fear, embarrassment, pride, jealousy, etc., we avoid the necessary input, care, and encouragement we need from others – it's a protective mechanism we enact, which at the end of the day is not protective. In seasons of transition, it is critically important to connect with people we trust, allowing them to speak wisdom into our lives – people who have been there and through it. Who are you currently connecting with that you are allowing to speak into your life and current season? A great resource to check out is Leader BreakThru.
Getting practical involves the steps shared in this article, but it also involves additional dance moves. If you don't have one already, find a hobby or sport to get involved in that helps you get or stay in shape. Regularly, get outdoors, go for a run/walk/bike ride, pick up that paintbrush and start painting again, do some woodwork, or read a completely secular fiction novel – whatever it is, in the spirit of Nike, Just Do It! Get out of your comfort zone and do something totally different – staying in that zone simply keeps you comfortable! Check out this very practical article on the journey from comfort to growth.
Obviously, we can't forget God in all this – not that he isn't involved in the above steps. As a part of this, what I have found helpful is to read some of the Christian mystics – old and new. It could be Henri Nouwen, Richard Rohr, or Thomas a Kempis to name a few (as you age, transitions have a way of turning you into either a critic or a mystic - choose the mystical way). Engaging in some more liturgic and ancient forms of spiritual practice such as the Lectio Divina, Breath Prayer, or a Prayer Walk in God's creation can be extremely helpful and transforming to your soul. Often in transitions, our understanding of and trust in God gets challenged and refined - and perhaps a revisioning or reimagining of who God truly is needed, and often that happens in seasons of change (embrace it!). A great resource for you, your team, and your church to check out is the Emotionally Healthy Discipleship with Peter Scazzero.
We at Chemistry Staffing get transitions because we have been there, are there, and we have seen how they can bring positive life-change to you and/or your church family. We understand transitions in their many forms and experiences, and from this place, we would love to serve you as a church or as a pastor in your season of transition – whether you are looking for a new staff member or a new church to serve – to help the journey ultimately be transformative no matter how much it may be raining in your life right now.
To connect with Allan about finding a long-term healthy fit or to talk about church health, reach out to him via email here.