Understanding Transition and Changing Seasons
A good context for understanding change and transition is found in what I will call the law of expansion and contraction. It is believed that all things in the universe, and the universe itself, expands and contracts. Examples of this include: air, water, metal, concrete, wood, your heart and lungs, and even your waistline. If this is true, we can apply this universal law to ourselves and to our local churches. We should understand that there can be no expansion without contraction and further realize that our lives and the life of organizations will experience a series of expansions and contractions. The book of Genesis puts it this way:
While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease (Genesis 8:22).
The key is to learn how to flow and grow with these changes.
I often tell my audiences that, “to live is to grow and to grow is to change.” Life itself as well as ministry is a growth process. Growth necessitates changing seasons and transition from one season to another. For example: Birth to childhood, childhood to adolescence, and adolescence to adulthood. Change can produce growth or a lack of growth and growth certainly produces change. The transition periods connecting one season to another presents opportunities to manage the changes and deal with the growth or lack of it.
On an organizational level, what does all this mean? How do expansion and contraction, change and transition affect a pastor’s or leader’s vision in the local church? We can’t answer these questions without first making mention of some conditions that are becoming increasingly common in churches across the nation. It is no secret that church leadership on all levels of responsibility is being shaken. Pastors and leaders are distracted and discouraged with local church ministry and the challenges it brings. For many leaders, the fire and passion for ministry is no longer there.
Leaders are torn by constant roller coaster-like conditions such as: Increased membership growth followed by massive pruning and purging; meeting the budget and then being frustrated because of budget shortfalls month after month; being a happy spiritual family, then feeling like the internal conflicts and infighting are impossible to reconcile; having a trusted staff and leadership team and then feeling betrayed by those in whom you placed your trust and confidence; having a feeling of success on the inside during times of prosperity, then wake up one morning feeling like the bottom has fallen out and that you’re destined to fail.
There is the birth of a vision, the trying of a vision, the death of a vision, and the resurrection of a vision. An expansion that becomes a contraction is not designed to abort or defeat the vision but rather to try the vision, crystallize and refine the vision. The trying of our vision comes to develop the inner strength of the vision as well as to provide the visionary an opportunity for reflection. Reflection involves waiting on the Lord.
But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall run and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31)
Reflection is how we learn. If we reflect on who we are and Whose we are, affirm that it was God who birthed the vision in us, and refuse to abandon our journey, then this transition will provide us with the growth, learning, pace and strength to proceed with the vision—notwithstanding the changes.
As a result of these changing conditions coupled with feelings of isolation and inadequacy, family and financial problems, some pastors and church leaders are dropping out of local church pursuits. Many are being drawn into other areas of ministry and others have left ministry all together for secular careers. In light of these changing circumstances, what is God saying?