The Stages of Transition

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It’s official and public. I have resigned from my church where I have served for 25 years. Twenty. Five. Years. I’m going through some transition right now. I’ve got that holy tension going on which has all sorts of discomfort.

I am facing this discomfort willingly. My desire is to embrace each stage of this transition so I can get to the “new thing” for my call as soon as possible. (FYI: In my world, as soon as possible would be now. The quicker the better. But I have a feeling it will not be on my time table.)

The first stage in a transition is recognizing The Ending. As I leave my church family I acknowledge everything I am leaving behind. I can write pages of platitudes of who I am leaving behind. You don’t stay at a church for 25 years and not have such a grieving departure. There is a loss and I am letting go. There is an ending here.

Where most people get tripped up in transitioning well is right here. They don’t have an ending. They have a change. A change is just a rearrangement of the furniture. A transition is you no longer have that furniture. Change hinges on the new thing. Transition hinges on leaving something behind. I am fully aware of what I am leaving behind.

Here’s a good and common example of the difference between change and The Ending. It’s the young adult making the move out of his parent’s home (something I as a youth pastor have coached very often). If that young adult decides to move out but still has necessities at home, still has bills being paid by the parents, still is using the parents’ car, tools, cooking ware, etc., the likelihood of that grown adult moving back home is high. But if that grown adult moves out after making endings—such as changing of address, having a social circle at the new address, paying bills for the new address at the new address—the grown adult will likely make the launch into the adult world.

Or using my example from “Living In Your Holy Tension” and our woman in Matthew, Mark, and Luke who was healed of the blood disease. Once she decided to leave her shack and break Jewish law to be in public with this blood disease and risk being stoned for that decision, she made The Ending.

I have had a clear ending at my church. Tears abounded. Other emotions such as fear, denial, anger, sadness, disorientation, frustration, uncertainty, and a sense of loss were felt leading up to this last Sunday at my beloved church.

The next stage in a transition is called The Neutral Zone. This is the part when most people don’t travel through. The Neutral Zone has three basic parts:

A.  full of confusion–which you feel is a sign that something is wrong with you
B.  want to circumvent out of The Neutral Zone because of the anxiety that comes with transition
C.  it is one of the most creative times in your life

You didn’t see C coming, did you?!

But first, recognize that there is a lot of confusion in The Neutral Zone. Confusion causes anxiety. But who likes anxiety? Imagine the anxiety the woman from Matthew, Mark, and Luke went through once she made her Ending.  Another word for this type of anxiety I have coined is “holy tension.” These are moments of anxiety and discomfort but you know you have to rumble through because there is something good about to breakthrough. Because God is at the heart of this moment and He is close, these are holy times. Live in your holy tension. Push through the “supposed-to-be’s” that actually divert you from transition.

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Holy Tension can be a catalyst for growth in our lives and it is a tool that God uses to speak to us. During The Neutral Zone/Holy Tension, bravely ask yourself questions, even the hard questions. Slow down enough to hear what God might be saying to those questions. Sometimes slowing down can be the hard part during this time but you must. Find ways to create even more times of Sabbath rest and silence while in transition. It is during these times that you can find your hope that is Plan B.

And this is why The Neutral Zone/Holy Tension can be one of the most creative times in your life. When you are just living, you are just coasting. But when in anxiety you are paying attention to little things and seeking God more. True, you may be seeking God more to mostly end the anxiety but you still are. Thus you have ears to hear more. Your eyes are more open. The possibilities are wide open.  The possibilities lead to creative juices churning. New ideas. New practices. New relationships. New challenges which you can definitely jump in on.

I have no idea what is next for me when it comes to serving in a local church. No idea. But my eyes are open. My ears are open. I’m aware of every random conversation as I live in my community that may give me a clue—or the clue—as to where I am going to end up.

Which reminds me of something else that is important while you are in The Neutral Zone or in Holy Tension. Let others speak to you. Particularly those others who desire for you to live a great story and those who want to walk with you through the anxiety. This requires a vulnerability on my part. Needing to be vulnerable only adds to the anxiety and all the other emotions of transition but it is necessary.

The last stage of transition is The New Beginning. You would think this would come first. But if you don’t recognize The Ending and if you don’t go through the anxiety of The Neutral Zone, transition doesn’t happen. What you experience at this stage is high energy, openness to learning, and a renewed commitment to your identity. I can’t wait to be in this stage. The possibility of this is what gave me the bravery to actually leave the comfort of my church, now former church. I also realize that to get to this “new thing” I have to transition well.

So here I sit in The Neutral Zone which I call Holy Tension. To me, I say be brave. Stick it out.

P.S. This isn’t my brilliance. These are actual researched stages from William Bridges called The Transition Model. Google it. There are lots of resources available.