If we could just get it back the way it used to be.
The Israelites wanted to go back to Egypt where the food was better. Christians in a congregation where there has been conflict want everyone to come back. “Let’s get a new preacher and get it back the way it used to be.” “Let’s appoint a new elder to replace the one who resigned, died, moved, or left angry.”
Without change, you have perpetual babies, freshmen, entry-level jobs, immature Christians, unqualified leaders, or no leaders.
Change IS. Change happens — often without our choice and control. Many times change is from the outside. Transition happens on the inside. I have choices of how I respond to change.
William Bridges was a frustrated, burned-out college professor. He decided to take some time off and decide what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. He became a transition specialist.
He divided a transition into three stages:
- An ending.
- A neutral zone.
- A new beginning.
The key to understanding the process is accepting and trying to deal with the neutral zone. During this time one is confused, disoriented, and often looses hope.
Mr. Bridges said trying to make things like they used to be is like taking a handful of leaves in one hand in November and a tube of Elder’s Glue™ in the other. When someone asks, “What are you doing?”, you reply, “I’m gluing leaves back on the tree. I like trees with leaves better.”
Here is the hope. Mr. Bridges said you don’t have to do much during the neutral zone — during the winter. Just keep from freezing to death. Winter will pass. Spring will come. Things will never be just like they were. But trees will put out leaves. Flowers will bloom. There’ll be another growing season.
A good understanding of this process has been helpful to me. Notice the chart. There aren’t three neat horizontal stages. They overlap. Some days you will be sad thinking of what you have lost, ecstatic as you think of great things ahead, and depressed because you don’t know what to do next.
I’ve read three books by Bridges:
- Transitions: making sense of life’s changes. This is the theory, a good explanation of the process.
- Managing Transitions: making the most of change. This is the how-to book. There are suggestions and procedures for leaders or individuals to deal with change to make a better transition.
- The Way of Transition: embracing life’s most difficult moments. He tells how he dealt with the illness and death of his wife, his grieving, and eventual remarriage. He describes vividly how powerful the neutral zone is:
All the things that I had written about transition – the very things that people had said were so helpful to them – now felt strangely unreal to me. I wondered, How could I ever have tried to pass myself off as an expert on transition? I felt now that my words had totally failed to match in depth the experience of actually being in transition (the way of transition: embracing life’s most difficult moments, by William Bridges Copyright © 2001 by William Bridges, page xii).
Part of understanding transition is that it takes time. You can assign as many women as you can recruit. But it will still take about nine months to have a baby. I cannot successfully command someone else or myself to “Get over it.”
The opportunity for the interim minister is to coach and lead the congregation during this uncertain time. Confusion, anxiety, and lack of direction are normal for people grieving over a loss and wondering if there will be a new beginning.
This process is what I plan to discuss in the months ahead.