Many United Methodist pastors across Indiana have just moved into their new appointments. Pastors and congregations are now saying their hellos, having just said their good-byes a few weeks ago in previous appointments.
This annual ritual provides an opportunity for congregations and pastors to try something new or to let go of a tradition that no longer serves either the pastor or the congregation. Every time we make a change there is a transition time from “what was” to “what is.”
This can be a scary time for everyone entering into a process of transition. For pastors, there is the task of moving to a new community. Even if the move is just a short distance away from their last appointment, there is a dislocation for pastor and family. Although the congregation is not moving, there is a new pastor and therefore, the community has changed. Everyone is in a learning mode.
William Bridges in his book, Managing Transitions, describes this time in the transition process as the neutral zone. It’s a time of uncertainty. “Will this pastor change worship? Will the congregation welcome my family? Can we learn to work together toward the mission of the church?”
During this time, the norms for life together have to be renegotiated. There is work to do. Bridges offers four guidelines for this time of transition. They apply to both congregations and pastors and include:
First is, show up. Be there to welcome the new pastor and family. Be at events in the community to meet your neighbors and learn about the community that is now yours.
Second, be present. You can show up, but not be fully present. Listen to the hopes and dreams of your new parishioners. Be aware of the grief that is experienced by both pastor and congregation in the transition time. Ask questions. Get to know each other.
Third, tell the truth. It is often easier to say what people want to hear than to tell the truth. It’s all right to say that you miss the last pastor. Truth-telling opens the door to building a community of trust.
Fourth, and maybe the hardest, let go of outcomes. This doesn’t mean that both congregation and pastor don’t work hard to fulfill the mission of the church. In fact it is just the opposite. Both pastor and congregation are committed to the work of being faithful disciples, but they are able to acknowledge that they can’t control outcomes. We do our best when we know the Holy Spirit is at work in our midst.
In the Gospel of John as Jesus is teaching about his death, he says this to his disciples, “I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24, Common English Bible)
The time of transition for congregations and pastors is much like a seed. Held in the farmers hand it cannot bring forth new life. Planted in rich, healthy soil it can bring forth a new plant that will bear fruit and seeds for the next planting.
May this time of transition bring new life to your ministry and honor what has been and what will be.
Mary Ann Moman serves as executive director of the Indiana Conference Rejuvenate Ministry.