As common as change and transition are, many of us struggle to navigate them effectively.
We often like new beginnings, though as the French poet Paul Vallery wrote, “Every beginning is a consequence. Every beginning ends something.” For a variety of reasons, we often don’t like endings. We find it hard to do transitions well.
As a child, I remember going to the circus and being captivated by trapeze artists. Swinging up high. Letting go of one bar. Floating in mid-air. Grabbing a new moving bar with grace in the nick of time. I couldn’t help but join the audience with a sigh of relief and vigorous applause.
Professor Howard Hendricks at Dallas Seminary told us that as pastors there would be times when our lives would be like “having both feet planted firmly in mid-air.” What a vivid picture of how we would experience needing to let go, feeling like we’re floating in mid-air, and not yet being sure what to grab on to next. Change. Transition.
A classic book on this topic is Managing Transitions, by William Bridges. He notes that change and endings go hand in hand: change causes transition, and transition starts with an ending. In chapter 1 he argues that it isn’t the changes that do us in, it’s the transitions. Transition is the process we go through to come to terms with a change, which is our new situation.
We learn that beginnings depend on endings, and good beginnings start with good endings. Like the trapeze artist, to grab onto a new bar with grace in a timely way, we have first done well to let go and live with the tension of both feet being planted in mid-air.
God’s people, the Israelites, were freed from slavery in Egypt about 1,500 years before the life and death of Jesus Christ. They wandered in the wilderness for 40 years on their way to God’s promised land, not because they didn’t have a good map, but because the Egypt in them needed to die. The wilderness experience was not as much getting out of Egypt and into the new place as getting Egypt out of God’s people to be ready to go into the new place. Would they let go and follow God in a new future rather than gripe and grumble? They chose to gripe about some of the Egypt benefits they missed. They also griped about their leaders in the process! They didn’t let go of the old and embrace the new, so it took 40 years and a whole generation.
To learn a new way we need to unlearn the old way. To take on a new identity we let go of the old identity. We die to in order to live (Phil 1:19-21; I Cor 15:31). We must put off to put on (Col. 3:1-17; Eph 4:22-24). In Christ, old things pass away and all things become new (II Cor. 5:17).
In our lives and our churches, it is not good when we fail to let go of certain attitudes, thoughts, perspectives, preferences, and behaviors. Transition seasons are not a time to wait and whine, but to reorient and redefine – to let go of in order to grab onto God’s preferred future for us. We move through stages of letting go and grieving, learning and adjusting, latching onto and stepping into the new.
Every beginning ends something. Good beginnings depend on good endings. We can do transitions with grace and confidence – knowing that God is loving and sovereign, that He sees and knows, and that He is ready to guide us and guard us in the process. That process involves: Let go. Mid-air. Grab on.
VitalChurch Ministry exists to revitalize churches in transition, and sometimes transitions are complicated. We are called to come alongside churches to discern what is, what to let go of, and what to grab on to in order to be ready to move into what God has prepared. How transitions are navigated is critical, much like it is for a trapeze artist and much like it was for the Israelites. What happens in this ‘in between’ season can result in an unintended crisis.
May we want what God wants, and may we participate in transition processes that result in a letting go and grabbing onto a new movement of grace. It will honor Christ. It will be cause for His people to have a sigh of relief and give vigorous applause.
If VitalChurch can help your church through a season of transition or crisis, please contact us!