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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Change is Inevitable, Transition is Not.

Written by: on May 17, 2018

Change is inevitable! In the time it takes for me to type this sentence things have already changed. For one, there are 18 words on this page that didn’t exist before. Now there’s 34. I know this is an oversimplification of an important reality, but it does illustrate how no thing, and therefore nothing ever stops changing, moving, transforming, leading to an eventual ending. The good news is that change encompasses not only an end but a new beginning. Thank God for new beginnings. 

It has been my experience that if you are going to lead in any way, even your own life, you have to get your head around the idea of change. For not only is change inevitable, but leading is change and change is leading. Though loosley stated, that is the core thesis of Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change. [1] I feel that Bridges has the right idea about change and how we face it. Most people don’t like it, and most people will do everything they can to prevent it, including going to war. Not that the book will help avoid war. However, high stakes battles are fought every day within organizations (yes the church too) and frequently it is the battle of change. 

Bridge posits that even though one cannot anticipate every change, leaders can and are responsible for being leaders not only of change but through change. [2] I agree that this skill of leading through change can be learned. However, learning to lead in change is one thing, learning to lead through change or transition is another.  When Bridges states that “Change is situational… Transition, on the other hand, is psychological,” he is exposing the great battle of change; it is a battle of the mind and the heart. The transition begins—as does the battle—when we realize that the end is imminent or even immediately upon us. [3] 

Allow me this simple personal example. On Easter morning I love to sing  “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” But many churches in my organization longer sing that song on Easter. Okay,, I get it. We are in a generational shift. It’s important to reach out to people in unique and impactful ways. And our churches are doing that and doing it well. It’s exciting. But on Easter Sunday I think the whole community of believers should sing together, “Christ the Lord is risen today, Hallelujah!” And, I’m not alone. Doesn’t my generation matter anymore?

Ah, oh! Do you hear it? Do you hear the pain of change and the stall of the transition—what Bridges refers to as being in the neutral zone? [4] Do you hear the focus on the end of an era and not the new beginning? And, all of a sudden I hear with new ears the voice of my parents and my grandparents and my great-grandparents, who, each in their own way processed change in the church with dignity and active participation toward a new beginning. Those leaders who can lead people through those types of changes in the church are those who will bless many and be a blessing in the thoughKingdom of God.

Bridges presents the key to leading through transition: The key is in part asking the right questions and then helping others to anwer them. One of the more significant questions is, “What can I give back to balance what has been taken away” [5] If a leader can help those she leads discover their part in giving back to balance what has been taken away, she will be a tranistional and even transformational leader. She will be like a Moses leading the people of Israel though the wilderness. She will be like a Paul leading the early church toward inclusion of the gentiles. It is those great leaders of the church who with dignity and strength, have lead people through difficult change to new beginnings. People don’t like endings, but they can embrase new beginnings. [6]  

In this light, I think that Bridges is wise spending time to inform, illustrate and give advice on processing “The Seven Stages of Organizational Life.” [7] More tears have been shed, more people hurt, more pain has been caused and more sheep scattered by the misuderstanding and mishandliing of change and the tranistion toward a new beginning that follows. If you have been in the church any length of time, you have been impacted by this type of change. 

A leader who can lead well in and through change is rare—these are the great leaders of each generation. They usually serve and walk in huminlty, because of the pain they themselves has suffered. They inturn tansform their pain into a tool to give back and balance the equation of what was lost, knowing now what can be gained. They are the unsung heros of the faith who live loosley attached to the power and material gains of this earth and remain deeply attached to Jesus. They are the “people’s” leaders and God choosen few. 

 

1. William Bridges, Managing Transitions: Making The Most Of Change (Boston, MA: Da Capo, 2017).

2. Ibid., 107.

3. Ibid., 6-8.

4. Ibid., 23.

5. Ibid., 30-31.

6. Ibid., 23.

7. Ibid., 76-98.

About the Author

Jim Sabella

13 responses to “Change is Inevitable, Transition is Not.”

  1. Mary Walker says:

    “And, all of a sudden I hear with new ears the voice of my parents and my grandparents and my great-grandparents, who, each in their own way processed change in the church with dignity and active participation toward a new beginning.” Jim, you are so right. Thanks, for pointing this out. One of my stickies on my computer is the verse from Job about his friends who think that wisdom was born with them.
    The book was good but you added an important piece for us as Christians; we can have the humility to see how the saints (not just Moses) did it before us.
    How are you using this in your dissertation as you help middle managers who are responsible for much of the “transformation” during changes?

    • Jim Sabella says:

      Thanks, Mary. I’ll definitely reference this in my research. Middle leaders are heavily impacted by organizational change. They are personally impacted and they are often the ones to deliver the “bad news.” Which makes them the target of a lot of feelings. They have to learn to process those feelings as well as their own feelings and also lead other toward transition. Not an easy place to be.

  2. Stu Cocanougher says:

    Jim, I think that what makes change so unique in a church is that, with the exception of the staff, no one is required to attend. While employees of a business that undergoes change face a lot of stress, they are usually still getting a paycheck. They need that job to pay the rent. A lot has been written about the large dropout rate in church attendance in America. We all presume that this often happens because churches refuse to change and lose touch with the culture. I think there is another reality that when a church does change POORLY, it also loses members… some who never return to any church.

  3. mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    So good Jim and so undesirable: “Do you hear the pain of change and the stall of the transition—what Bridges refers to as being in the neutral zone?” It reminds me of Dr. Seuss’s book about Oh the Places We Go, and being in the waiting zone. That page still haunts me in my head as I see all the creatures sitting around having to wait for the change. That’s one of the hardest parts about life- waiting for the harvest. Thank you for the reassuring reminder that change takes time, produces discomfort, and can offer fulfilling results. Or at the very least, new results. To know I am not alone as I journey through the natural stages of change is comforting.

  4. Lynda Gittens says:

    You matter but in a different way, I have found. You are now the anchor of the church. Their strong foundation. They are moving the furniture around and changing the paint color. But you as a foundation prevents the organization from collapsing.
    I would ask if one of the hymns could be sung. You never know until you ask. You may even find a new rendition of the song.

    • Jim Sabella says:

      Thanks, Lynda. You’re right. Moving furniture around and a new coat of paint is a good thing as long as the foundation is strong and stable.

  5. Kristin Hamilton says:

    “Doesn’t my generation matter anymore?”
    This broke my heart, Jim. When my husband was a worship pastor, he worked so hard to incorporate the music of past traditions into new traditions. He did a wonderful arrangement of that Easter hymn (one of my personal favorites too!) that included organ, drums, electric and acoustic guitar, bass, and a full choir singing with the worship team. I felt like we saw a little bit of what eternity will be like that day.
    The transition of aging is so hard, partly because we want to cling to the past, and partly because we have no respect for it. Part of my formation journey has been learning to balance respecting history with respecting the voices of the future. Hard work. Thank you for reminding me why it’s important in this post!

    • Jim Sabella says:

      Thanks, Kristin. Honestly, I don’t feel bad at all. I like change. It’s an example of the change that every generation faces. It is good for the church as long—as Stu put it—churches do change in a good way. We are too used to doing change poorly or experiencing poor change. I’m thankful you and your husband understand the power of positive change and transition. You’re both are going to change the world!

  6. mm Katy Drage Lines says:

    I love love love your example of the pain of changing worship; what a good example of a tangible struggle with transition.

    “She will be like a Paul leading the early church toward inclusion of the gentiles. It is those great leaders of the church who with dignity and strength, have lead people through difficult change to new beginnings.” While Paul modeled reaching out to Gentiles and spoke passionately and persuasively at the Jerusalem council, it was Peter’s words that finally convinced the council to change. We need Pauls who model and push boundaries of change. But we also need the more “traditional” Peters who will advocate and affirm that the purpose and plan of change is the right thing. Once that second voice speaks up and says “me too” it becomes within the realm of possibility for the rest of us to imagine the transition being a good thing.

  7. Jim Sabella says:

    Amen! Thank you, Katy. Maybe like Barnabas, Peter was a middle leader too.

  8. Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

    Jim I really appreciate your voice. I often wonder how change and transition affects milti generatios within a constant multi generational church context. I personally have been a young congregant that loves a mix of hymns and new worship songs. I actually attend a church where we can discuss sing old hymns to new worship music. Our church is multi generational and I appreciate that they strive to find a suitable balance ?.

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