Life has its seasons. The journey from childhood to teenager, from adult to spouse, from parent to empty-nester, from caregiver to being cared-for, are all just a sampling of the different seasons of life that people travel through. Each period of life has its own joys and sorrows, rewards and regrets. But the really difficult trick is moving from one season to the next. Transitions imply change – every time. These transitions are things everyone experiences, and some are more difficult for us than others. But if there ever were sure events of life, transitions are it. So, we must learn to navigate them with some attention and care.
At the time of this writing, I am in the process of moving my youngest daughter to a new job and new adventure in a new city for her. It is all good stuff. But it is a transition. And it is not particularly easy. But I am committed to not simply move on with life as if there were no challenge to it. Her leaving marks a new era in the lives of me and my wife (who will certainly find this transition more than challenging!).
Churches also face the challenge of transitions because they inevitably go through cycles of change. To try and never change is to forsake the sheer reality that congregations have their own life experience of birth, growth, change, maturity, decline, and eventually death. None of the churches mentioned in the New Testament of the Bible still exist. It does not necessarily mean they did anything wrong or unwise; they just underwent a particular life journey, experienced a full range of Christian life and service to their people and communities – then they passed away. But just as we, in some ways, live forever through the ongoing generations of our progeny, so churches never really die in the sense that they live on in the many people who came to Christ, grew in spiritual maturity, and multiply by proclaiming the good news of Jesus to others.
Since life transitions are highly significant, here are some ways to approach them when they occur:
--It is a new opportunity to be in a different role. When a child leaves for college, the parental role is changed to become an adult peer and even a friend. Yes, in one sense parenting never ends; but in another sense it just shifts to being a faithful mentor and example like never before. When a church member or family leaves a congregation, the relationship is changed. People leave for all kinds of reasons, but the relationship should be kept open to respond to them as the universal Body of Christ.
--It is okay to bawl and be sad. Grief attaches itself to any significant change or loss, and not only to bereavement. It is both normal and necessary to experience the passing of a season of life that you will never have again. It is also appropriate to celebrate and remember a job well done in raising a well-adjusted person who is becoming an important contribution to society. Go ahead, pat yourself on the back. It’s okay. It is also okay to remember and celebrate church ministries that have had their day, but are no longer viable. Give them a decent remembrance so that you can move on to the new thing God is doing.
--It is important to connect with others who have been through it. Everyone goes through transitions. But not everyone has done it well. Seek out and find those persons for whom you see a successful and fruitful transition from one season of life to another. As it pertains to churches, they almost always need help from those outside the congregation to transition well into a new phase of ministry. Let it happen by purposely seeking out wise people who have been through it.
--It is finally now your chance to pursue God’s unique calling. That ministry, job, or education which has been set on the back burner for so long now has the chance to come to the fore in your life. Embrace the new beginning that God has been stirring in you for a while to come out and have its day.
I am not communicating as any sort of expert on the subject of transitions. I just have had to experience a good many of them in my life, and have learned a few things along the way. But I am still discovering along with everyone else. And each transition is new and different than all the others before it. I am not sure yet what God has for me with my daughter’s transition. But I do know that I am entering a new season which is full of fresh possibilities. May you discover yours, as well.