"Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end"
These lyrics from the song "Closing Time" speak so profoundly of what happens during a transition. I just sent off the draft my an upcoming book on starting well in ministry. It's geared for people who are entering the early days of their ministry, starting a new assignment, or those who need to hit the "reset" button on their ministry.
Perhaps one of the best books out there on handling transitions is the book Managing Transitions by William Bridges. The general premise is that transitions are different than changes: changes are structural, while transitions are personal. Whenever there's a transition in an organization, there's a relational process that happens and needs to be navigated. It's worth the time to read if you're in ministry leadership. What we do is more than just adjusting organizational charts, we're impacting people's lives. So we need to make sure we navigate the "Neutral Zone" well.
In my time in ministry I've had to get 3 new beginnings, which meant 3 "other beginning's ends." They weren't just "job changes," they all involved moving the family, saying goodbye to dear friends, and the excitement of building new relationships. Here's some things I've learned over the years about managing these transitions.
1. They're hard - It's never easy to leave. There's a lot that goes into it. You have to sell a house, pack a truck, sell your stuff, and say goodbye. They're not supposed to be easy. When we knew God was calling us to Florida, we were so excited about the next chapter. We knew it'd be hard, but nothing could prepare me for nervously reading a goodbye letter. If a ministry departure isn't hard, you're doing something wrong.
2. Friendships overcome distances - Because ministry is intensely personal, you're going to develop friendships that are going to last longer than your tenure. The wonderful news is that with social media you can still connect with folks you care deeply about. And it means you're free to break connections with others. There will be some you'll be connected with just because they're in the same church as you. They probably won't miss you either. That's reality.
3. Move on - If you're entering a new ministry assignment and you're still holding onto the previous one or trying to continue to be "their pastor," you'll never be able to be fully invested in where God has you now. So move on. Give your current assignment your focus, and let what happens after you leave happen. You're not responsible for what happens after you go, and that's ok. Failing to move on from an assignment you've left is a lot like checking up an ex-girlfriend. It's not healthy.
4. You're not obligated anymore - One of the great things about leaving an assignment is that you've left. I love getting together with my predecessor here in Florida. He's a huge encouragement, he's able to help me navigate some of the relational channels here. But at the end of our conversation he always says "Good luck!" because it's not his problem anymore.
5. Dive in - You've been asked to move to a new ministry assignment and invest in new people in a new community. Dive right in. Give it your all. Don't look back, and invest all you've got where God has you now. He's the one who orchestrated and authored your calling and transition, give it your best for His sake.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.