How do I start over? What can I do to I pull people back in? How do I deal with polarization in the church? How do I recapture the mission of the church? What does it look like to move people forward from a practical standpoint? Dozens of key questions weighing on church leadership right now can be summed up with this one question: How do we get from HERE to THERE? And it’s a great question! At its root, it’s a question about the process of transition.
Change vs. Transition
The best resource that I have come across on this topic is Managing Transitions, by William Bridges. In the book, Bridges explains that change is external—change happens to us, whereas transition is internal—transition is the psychological (and spiritual) process people go through to come to terms with the new situation.
The last 15 months have been filled with rapid-fire changes surrounding topics that are foundational to the way we do life on an individual, community, national, and global level. In short, a lot has changed and we are still processing it.
You are in the middle of transition and so is every single person you are leading.
The process of transition
Bridges breaks the process of transition into three main parts: Letting Go, The Neutral Zone, and The New Beginning. We are going to take it slow and walk through these parts over the next few blog posts.
The first step: Letting Go
“Failure to identify and be ready for the endings and losses that change produces is the largest single problem that organizations in transition encounter.” —William Bridges
Simply put, change means loss. Even good changes like the birth of a new baby, a new job, or moving to a new town require letting go of the old to make room for the new. Simply put but not as simple to do. Of course there is much joy when adding a baby to the family but there is loss too: sleep, priorities, your time being your own, space, date night, money… there’s a lot to let go of in order to fully embrace the joy of a new baby.
Now think of the changes you experienced in the last 15 months. Many were sudden and scary and unwelcome but that didn’t stop them from happening. You mastered the “pivot” because it allowed you to keep moving forward but how well did you stop to identify the endings and losses in the process?
It’s time to slow down and process the losses from the last 15 months. By processing loss thoroughly, you can move forward intentionally and effectively.
Here are 5 steps to guide you through the process of letting go:
1. Identify the losses
Make a list of changes, including pivots, that were made over the last 15 months (i.e. stay-at-home, store hours, online church, etc.) For each one to occur, something had to end. Think through the ripple effect of each change.
- What physical or tangible things were lost as a result?
- Were there mental processes that were impacted? If so, what and how?
- How were you affected emotionally?
- What relationships were affected and how?
2. Acknowledge the loss
It will be tempting to shrug some of this off as no big deal. But as they say, “It’s the little things…” Each loss is still a loss. The sense of loss tends to grow when not acknowledged. Take some time to recognize and acknowledge what each loss means to you.
Don’t be surprised if you find yourself going through the classic stages of grief; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The grieving process is normal, however, getting stuck in any one stage can act like a millstone keeping you from moving forward. Should you get stuck in one stage, reach out to a trusted friend, mentor, or therapist who can help you walk through the process.
3. Don’t buy into hyperbole.
Life isn’t OVER. It’s not ALL bad. It won’t ALWAYS be this way. Yes, some things have ended but if you find yourself using hyperbolic language it may be time to rehearse what hasn’t changed. You may even want to go back to your list of changes/losses to add on and answer “What is still true or hasn’t changed?”
It’s good to be specific but let me pause here for an important reminder: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” —Hebrews 13:8
The way we do church may change but the mission of the church will never change. Jesus has called us to love the Lord, to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to make disciples. These will never change as our God will never change.
4. Punctuate each loss
Punctuation is powerful. It tells us when to pause, what comes next, and when it’s over. When looking over your list you may see losses that are temporary (…), some with undetermined futures (?), and some that are permanent (. or !). Take time to consider the punctuation for each loss honestly. Some you may hope are temporary but in reality will never be the same.
- How does each affect you?
- What needs to be done in order to move on?
- How can you work to keep the vision alive on temporary losses?
- What do you need to move a loss from undetermined to temporary or permanent?
- How can you honor the past and close the door on permanent losses?
5. Guide others through the process
How do you move people forward? The first step is to let them know that they are seen and heard. I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of people struggled with pivoting because all they could see was the loss and they felt like leaders were blind to it. As you go through this process, recognize that those you are leading need to go through it as well. Look back at your list and think it through from the perspective of different people within your staff and congregation. Walking in their shoes you will find additional, or at least different, losses. Then talk about the elephant in the room… acknowledge their losses, mourn with them, and help them let go.
- What losses may have been overlooked in all the pivoting? Is there a demographic that stands out?
- What do you need to pause in order to address loss?
- How can you honor the past as you plan to move forward?
The Discipleship Difference– Follow a pastor as he transitions his congregation to a more effective disciplemaking culture. People do not grow in Christ linearly. So, why do we expect a linear discipleship program to work for everyone? Nonlinear does not have to be complicated. The Discipleship Difference outlines ways to meet people where they are at while walking through intentional and measurable discipleship.
Becoming Barnabas– Processing transition cannot be done by just one person. You need a team of encouragers to come alongside people and walk them through the process. Becoming Barnabas casts vision for such a team within the church. When you are ready to train up some Barnabas’s, check out the Barnabas Ministry Training Kit.
Photo by Ehteshamul Haque Adit on Unsplash
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