Transition: The passage or process from one form, state, style or place to another. In other words, change.

Last year, on a vacation, it took a couple of days to unwind. But eventually, I relaxed enough to reflect on the journey of my life. I recalled times that were very difficult, like when I was grasping to understand my wife’s extended health issue and the many frustrating days and weeks that made me feel like I was living in a blender. In another point of my journey, I was let go from a ministry position at a church, being told that my call to ministry was in doubt.

But despite these challenging times, there were also great joys and excitement: I married an amazing woman who I love and who loves me; witnessed the wonderful birth of our first child; and walked this same daughter, years later, down the aisle on her wedding day. Also, looking back at my journey has made me realize that God has used me in so many ways, such as introducing people to Jesus, helping a relationship and building ministry programs.

Through this reflection, I found that being able to accept both the hard and wonderful memories was good for me. As someone once told me: "Yesterday was practice for today and today is practice for tomorrow." In other words, what we are involved in today is important and it is getting us ready for what’s next. This gives me great hope and excitement.   

Those who embrace change have an honest perspective of themselves and life. They see the process of adjustment as developing them for their next steps, and realize the preparation is not just for today but for the future. For them, change is exciting and hopeful. This does not mean, however, that all the changes have been easy or fun. Accepting change involves taking a balanced reflection of the past, present and future.

Deniers and resisters

Change and transition are not always easy or accepted. Those who find change difficult fall into two camps: the Deniers and the Resisters. Though one is passive and one is active, both are obstacles to accepting change. Especially when fear is associated with transition, chaos and rejection is not too far away, and when nice and normal life is disrupted, we can feel like we have been thrown into a barrage of harassment.

Deniers are sometimes simply unaware that changes are happening. Certainly, there are some who refuse to accept the adjustments, but many are caught off guard because they simply don’t see it. A pastor-friend of mine, for instance, could not see the changes happening around him. Though he is usually a glass-half-full kind of guy, he was getting worn out and didn’t really know why. It was his wife who finally, after much effort, got through to him, making him see the number of conflicts he was dealing with. He needed a break and the church granted him one. Thankfully, he received excellent advice and care, and is back in the saddle, enjoying his ministry.

For my friend, it took his wife to help him recognize the changes in his life. As pastors or ministry leaders who constantly face change, we must remember the gift of our spouse and real friends to help us through transitions. They care about us and speak truth to us from that care.  We need to really hear what they say.

In contrast to Deniers, Resisters ask, "Why should I change normal life when I have invested so much into it?" In some churches, any change, whether big or small, often inspire Resister noise:  music, the length of services, switching times of services or programs, or whether the pastor is wearing a tie are examples of prompts that will increase the noise level from Resisters. H.B. London Jr. calls some of these folks "joy-suckers," but he is quick to remind us that it is okay to ask questions – even complain – because we need to have our concerns heard, and if possible, answered.

Seeking help while giving help

Big transitions, whether positive or negative, can be an intense time. We need to learn how to journey through these scenarios and develop a new, normal life. It may be acquiring new skills, adjusting behaviour or adopting purposeful attitudes that make all the difference. But as a pastor, remember that being of help and seeking help are both important: we ought to speak truth with grace to those who need it, but also listen to what others are saying to us in our times of need.

Transitions and change are a part of life for everyone. They can be exciting; they can be painful; they can be awesome; they can be awful; they can be exhilarating. Remember, we are in God’s hands. He is in the transitions in our own lives and in the lives of the congregations we lead.

Website references do not constitute blanket endorsement or complete agreement by Focus on the Family Canada.

Steve Wilson is Focus on the Family Canada’s regional director for B.C. He and his national team provide real help for the families and marriages in your church and community by speaking at a wide range of events.

© 2009 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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