Leading Your Church Through Transition

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Catch up on the series “Transition: Opportunity or Obstruction?” with the introduction.

When I enthusiastically accepted the leadership position at a new church, I was not prepared for what William Bridges describes as the “3 Stages of Transition.” 

The Three Stages of Transition are:

1. An ending, followed by

2. A period of confusion and distress, leading to

3. A new beginning, for those who come that far.

I came from a church with a debt-free, strong financial position, but I became the pastor of a church that had a monthly mortgage note and was hemorrhaging funds because members were leaving. For 18 months, every Monday I would get an email showing our attendance, our tithes and offerings and our cash flow balance sheet.

When I saw “the email” sitting in my inbox, my anxiety went up, fear crept in and negative thoughts flooded my mind. I would not be lying if I told you there were weeks I was physically ill at the thought of looking at the numbers.

One particular Monday I remember waiting for the email, and when it arrived, I sought far and wide to find the courage to open the attachments. Before I could open them, I sensed the Spirit of God say to me, “Thank Me for what finances have been given. When you allow anxiety and fear to influence your heart and show you how far short the giving is, you discount and marginalize those that have given. I want you to be verbally thankful for the faithful ones who give and quit looking at the ones who didn’t.”

WOW! That simple word from the Father changed my life

At that moment, and almost every Monday since when I see the Tithes & Offerings email in my inbox, I stop and verbalize my gratitude to God for whatever we receive, regardless of the amount. Sometimes it is a 20-second prayer and other times it is several minutes. Over time, my heart has grown less anxious, and my faith, expectation and appreciation have gone up.

If you are a leader and have been in transition or are in transition, you know it’s complex and confusing. You are all-too-familiar with the roller coaster of emotions, unstable footing and the uncertainty of tomorrow associated with the “T” word.

Here are some things I did with respect to my relationship with Jesus that helped me during personal and church transition:

  • FRIENDS: As often as possible or as needed, I called my friends who wouldn’t let me shrink back or let me lead outside of my God-given identity.
  • EMOTIONS: I cried because this was hard. My tears gave me permission to be where I was emotionally but not stay where I was emotionally. I laughed because I had to find the joy and strength of God.
  • PRAYER: I prayed because faith and hope must have the last word in transition. My prayer, regardless of words, was an expression of faith and belief that God would take care of this situation.
  • LISTEN TO GOD: I listened to the Holy Spirit, because the words of God are life giving and stir my faith like nothing else.
  • SELF-AWARE: I paid attention to the season I was in because I realized I lead best when I am aware of what Jesus is saying to me and how He is shaping my heart as we walk together.
  • IDENTITY: When I was overwhelmed by fear, anxiety or uncertainty, the Father would consistently tell me, “You will lead better and be a healthier leader when you live as a son first and ‘everything else’ second.” I felt this most when getting ready to preach. I would sense the Spirit whisper to me, “Just go stand behind the pulpit and burn as a son deeply in love with God.” I love preaching and was prepared weekly with a message, but the idea of burning as a son versus being an eloquent communicator was a no brainer. I’ll take sonship any day!
  • TEACHABLE: Learn and never stop learning. Share what you learn with your spouse and friends.
  • BE HUMBLE: Find an experienced, seasoned and mature pastor who can coach you, challenge you, champion you and care for you. See a counselor or therapist if necessary.
  • FAMILY: Don’t forget your family. They are in transition with you. When we moved to a new part of the country, we explored the new scenery together, getting ice cream or something special.
  • CONFESSION: Confess mistakes and triumphs. Confession is mostly referenced in the context of sin, and I believe in living in the light and sharing failures or sins with close brothers. However, I also confess who God says I am, what He created me to accomplish and His promises over my life. I let others carry involvement in my life and call me up to who God says I am. I do the same…calling myself UP!
  • PROMISES: I find promises in the Word of God and drill down, dropping an anchor of faith and hope into the eternal promises of God. For example, “we have this hope as an anchor for our souls” found in Hebrews 6 has been with me since we arrived at our new church nearly two years ago. I hang my faith hat on that verse all the time.
  • DON’T FORGET: I remind myself and Jesus that it’s His job to build the church.

If you are leading a church in transition into her preferred future, you can do it. Establish healthy practices and rhythms in your relationship with Jesus, and you will not only survive, but you will discover some fantastic things about Jesus, Jesus in you and you in Jesus.

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