There are all kinds of transitions. This isn’t necessarily about a new church; it could be moving into a new position in the church you are in, transitioning your programming, a new boss, or maybe you are in transition in your personal life. Transitions are always difficult to navigate, but they can also have a huge impact on you and your ministry. This is not something I like to talk about much, because I don’t think it is necessarily good, but I have served under five different senior pastors (a few of those times, they changed, not me) and had one stint in church planting. I’ve been in my current position for only 14 months—not only in a new ministry but a new state (Colorado). We’re also in the midst of making some very significant changes in our programming. We’re in the midst of all kinds of transitions.
Some of the transitions I have been through have been painful, but most of them have been positive and good. I’m not going to go into great detail here, but I wanted to share a few principals I’ve learned regarding making successful transitions.
- Don’t take it slow, but don’t go too fast either!
Yeah, I know it sounds like I can’t decide. In reality, I can’t, at least not for you! I’ve heard a lot of guys suggest that you shouldn’t make any changes in the first year. I’ve heard others say you should make changes early in your transition when you are on your honeymoon.
I’ve actually done it both ways. Both ways have some merit to them and depending on your circumstances both methods could work. So what is the overriding principal? Know your culture and know what is expected. In my current situation, change was expected. I needed a little time to get my feet under me and begin to understand the culture, but once I did changes started to come.
- Big change, Little change
There are different kinds of change. Some changes might be small, like starting to use countdowns before a program or setting up tables instead of chairs. These kinds of changes are relatively small. Then there are changes more like what we are doing right now. We have cancelled Sunday morning programming for our senior high and we’re changing to what we call “House Groups.” It’s important to think through the impact of the kind of change taking place. If you’re transitioning into a new ministry, make small, high-impact changes early and save the big changes for later when you have a better understanding of the culture in which you are now ministering.
- Vision is Everything
Whether you’re transitioning into a new ministry or considering transitioning to some new programs, make sure you understand the vision of your church and how either you or the new programs fit in. Once you understand that vision and how your vision fits in, communicate your vision endlessly!
Transitions are huge in so many ways. A good transition gives you credibility and a bad one will raise questions about your leadership ability. I don’t think I’ve ever made a perfect transition, but I have learned that there are exceptions to almost all conventional wisdom. Know what is expected and what is likely to be the response by all involved. Listen to conventional wisdom, but make sure it will work in your context.