Transition: Opportunity or Obstruction? - Part 3

There are 3 kinds of people in this world.1. Those entering Transition. 2. Those in Transition. 3. Those coming out of Transition.

Because you are alive you have experienced Transition. No questions asked. No defense needed. It's nothing to be shy about. If your experience is like mine, you have a love/hate relationship with it. We are familiar with Transition, but successfully navigating Transition requires understanding and adjustment.

From William Bridges Book - TRANSITIONS: MAKING SENSE OF LIFE'S CHANGES, Revised 25th Anniversary Edition, we learn:

1. We are always in times of transition. Mr. Bridges once said, "Every transition begins with an ending. We have to let go of the old thing before we can pick up the new one—not just outwardly, but inwardly, where we keep our connections to people and places that act as definitions of who we are.” (1)

2. There are 3 stages to transition. Mr. Bridges describes them as, "[1] an ending, followed by [2] a period of confusion and distress, leading to [3] a new beginning, for those who had come that far.” (2)

My challenge was that I had stage 1 and stage 3 happening at the same time. While managing the painful emotion of an "ending", I was also in a "new beginning." With a cross country move into a new culture, and as the new Lead Pastor of a church in financial and attendance decline, I was emotionally paralyzed. I was not prepared for the confusing and distressing season of "nothingness", or "no man's land" as a friend calls it, which is stage 2 while processing stages 1 & 3 at the same time.

That being said, a seasoned pastor/leader friend of mine was deeply encouraged by how we were leading during the transition and asked me to write a series of articles sharing our experience. As I pondered the three phases of transition, spread out over many months (and we still aren't finished with the transition) I discovered two things. First, I had to embrace the profound change happening in five key relationships. Second, while embracing change in relationships I had to make necessary adjustments in my heart and lifestyle, giving me the best opportunity for success.

I've already written about two of the relationships, my relationship with Jesus and my relationship with my family, and how I adjusted. Today I want to write about my relationship with the church, Gateway Christian Fellowship.

I won't go into all the detail for the sake of time, but from the moment I submitted a resume to the time of hire was about 8 weeks. That's not long considering many churches take months to walk through the hiring process of a new Lead Pastor (3). However, we had some literal dreams from God, key prophetic words and instant connection with the Board of Directors & Lead Pastor Search Committee. What made this process awkward, and important to know, is that the church did not know that the Sunday I preached, I was actually "trying out" for the position. I had sat in hours of meetings, answering questions, etc. and now I was near the end of the interview process and that meant preaching two services on a Sunday morning. Sure, there were some people in the church that connected the dots and knew I was there to "try out", but Gateway does not have a voting church membership. So I was being asked to "try out" with a group of people who would really have no voice in whether I was offered the position or not. That was a new experience for me and one I wish not to repeat.

I share that so you can understand our first interaction with this fantastic church family. They needed a Lead Pastor and Darlene and I needed relationships. I've often told the church, this is a Divinely arranged marriage. Now that we are together, and we like each other, we need to learn how to love and trust each other. So what did I do to help facilitate this relationship?

1. I was available. My availability is best represented by this simple truth. It was a custom at Church of the Hills, in Austin, Texas, where I was Sr. Associate Pastor, to shake hands with people after church. You would find three or four pastors after church in the atrium shaking hands, hugging necks and loving the people as they left the church. I did that my first official Sunday at Gateway and have done it almost every Sunday since I arrived (2 1/2 years ago). I'll never forget one Monday or Tuesday after church getting a phone call from a long time member telling me how much they appreciated me standing and being available to the church. They said, "In 17 years you are the first pastor to stand after church and shake hands." After that call, I proceeded to also "shake my head" and think, "The key to revival in New England may be as simple as hospitality." It's not. But it sure goes a long way in connecting heart to heart with your church family, learning to love and trust.

2. I was transparent. This has been probably been the number one compliment I get from my church family. They say over and over again, "You are so open and honest about your own journey with Christ, your emotions, your fears, and celebrations." Yes, I am! Why? Because I heard a gentleman say one time, "Authenticity is 'the apologetic' for the 21st century." I can be transparent (appropriately so, there's wisdom to this leadership style) because I have grown and matured in my experiential and biblical understanding of sonship (See Romans 8, Galatians 4). My former pastor once coined the phrase, "You know you are secure in sonship when you feel that you have nothing to prove and no one to impress." Of course, I felt pressure to impress people. I felt like I had to prove I could lead the church out of a difficult season into her glorious future. I would feel afraid. Deeply afraid. I would weep under the pressure. I would hide emotionally when I could (often on a golf course :)). I would whisper prayers before meetings with members of the church, unsure of why they wanted to meet with me. My insecurities often caused me to believe the worst about each meeting before they actually happened. I made a choice to be transparent because it's what Sons do. They live in the light with nothing to prove and no one to impress. Over and over again I would hear the Spirit whisper, "Just lead the way a much loved Son would lead. The church needs to see a "Sonship lifestyle" so just burn passionately in love with me." I tried to do that over and over again and I humbly admit that I think it has had a profoundly positive impact on our church family. I also made the church finances available to church members. We hold regular member meetings and produce quarterly financial reports. We will answer any financial question to the best of our ability (except salaries.)

3. I communicated bravely. I talked about this in part 2 and how I needed to learn better communication skills in my relationship with my family. But as with all of us healthy communication skills are not just for the family, but they are key to being successful. In certain messages or certain meetings I would say, "Just remember, my name is Lance and I'm your friend." That was code for "something I am about to say may be strong, but I love you." I try not to use "you" statements because they usually make people defensive. I try to actively and reflectively listen well. I try not to assume. I stay curious. I ask more questions that people may be comfortable with. I try to demonstrate redemptive / win-win confrontation. I value safety in relationships. I value empowerment and accountability. These ingredients are essential to communicate bravely towards effective and empowering relationships.

4. I communicated vision. I leveraged the pulpit, writing, meetings, videos and social media to scatter seed among our church family for the building blocks of our culture. The first series I did at Gateway was called, "The Church Anchored in Hope" based upon Hebrews 6 telling us that we serve a God that does not change and are a given a word that does not fail. Since then, we have worked hard at staying focused on our mission, vision, and values, continuing to educate, inform and deposit these cultural truths to our church family. A significant part of this process leads into the next point....

5. I allowed the church to mourn, reflect and celebrate her past without allowing us to live in the past because we had a bright future. This was not easy. Gateway is 40 years old and I love her history. I am DEEPLY HUMBLED by the fact that God allows me the opportunity to shepherd and lead this family. The three previous pastoral couples are powerful, loving and gifted people. How Gateway was started is for another article, but needless to say, it's nothing short of a miracle. I love the previous pastors. I know all of them. I have met with them and talked with them. That being said, for whatever "glory" Gateway had experienced in her past, she had lost her voice, her running legs and her sense of prophetic direction. Therefore, when I realized that November 2015 would be her 40th birthday as a church, I worked with our pastoral team, Board of Directors and key volunteers to have a 40-year birthday celebration. We invited all the previous pastors, their spouses and honored them. I washed their feet, prayed for them and told them publicly, "From this moment forward we will not relate to you in any other way than as a Father and Mother in this house." We were very generous to them and they felt loved. Much healing happened that weekend. Papa spoke and told us, "The debt of honor has been paid." Since then we have experienced a remarkable uptick in the Spirit's moving. People are experiencing hope and feeling alive. People are being saved. God is doing things before we even ask, or even know to ask. We wept with those that wept, we celebrated with those that celebrated and at the same time we continued to remind them that we had a brilliant future and required us to lift our heads up and look forward.

6. I took responsibility. I admitted when I blew it. I admitted when I made unsound or unwise decisions. I admitted to the church that I was not sure what we were doing, but if they would follow me, we would see something amazing as God led us. Taking responsibility was easier because not long after arriving at Gateway I told our family that I did not want to be called the Senior Pastor. That was my title, but I changed it to Lead Pastor. One day in prayer I spoke without really thinking and said, "Jesus we labor in vain if we build the church. You will build your church (Ps. 127, Matthew 16) and it will be successful. We want to lift you up because that's a great attraction. Jesus, you are the Senior Pastor of Gateway and as you anoint me, empower me and give me wisdom, I will be responsible as the Lead Pastor. I like that partnership because all the pressure is on him. Ministry can be what my friend Banning Liebscher calls, "Pressure Free Ministry."

7. I build a family. Bill Johnson once said and I hope I never forget it, "If you forsake the concept of the family, you have forsaken the concept of the Kingdom." That settled it for me. I am not leading a church. I am leading a church family. We are not an organization. We are an organism. We are not a business. We are a family with a budget, values, priorities, and policies. Yes, of course, we have to do certain business things, but our mindset is that of a family. Gateway has responded. A former pastor friend of mine who was visiting one weekend (actually the 40th Birthday Weekend) was shocked by our diversity and the fact that people did not want to leave the church building when service was over. People hang around for an hour, talking, praying, laughing and connecting. This friend of mind said, "Lance, the noise of the world can't be heard in your building." YES! I LOVE THAT! It's because we are building a family whose supreme value is hosting Papa God above all things. Families were God's idea for reproduction. I want a reproductive movement that brings the Kingdom of God near cities so that cities can live under the righteous prosperity of God. That's not a political movement or social justice movement, although those movements should be influenced by the Kingdom. It's a Kingdom movement that looks like a family. I am not Gateway's father. God is. But I can love them paternally because I am a much-loved son.

8. I lead collaboratively. The government, whether it be federal, local, business, family, church, etc. has two meta purposes. One, to protect or create safety. Two, to empower. I lead over the church family to provide safety, security and provision as God empowers and enables. I come underneath my family to serve and empower them. I try to stay close to our key leader's hearts and hear their voice & their perspective. I take risks. I take chances. I do so within the context of wisdom. But I don't do it alone. I don't lead well alone. Therefore, I am friends with all of the pastors on our team. We laugh together, cry together, celebrate together. We consistently meet with our church leaders, supporting them and serving them. Ministry belongs in the hands of our church family. There is no separation between clergy and laity. We are one family, each with unique responsibilities within the family.

9. I care for the church. I try to be aware of how many of our church family are in the hospital, battling sickness, experiencing loss, etc. Our church is too big for me to know it all, but we have developed a culture within our staff of responding quickly and lovingly to those in need. Our church feels, generally speaking, loved and cared for. I get that feedback over and over again. I'm grateful for the team I serve with, pastors, administration assistants, Board of Directors and key volunteer leaders because they are some of the most loving people I know.

I'm sure there are other things I have done, but these 9 things seem to capture the vital aspects of my relationship with Gateway that have helped me and continue to help me trust Gateway, love Gateway and experience trust and love coming from her.

If you are leading a church in transition, into her preferred future, you can do it. Establish healthy practices and rhythms in your relationship with Jesus, your family, and your church. You will not only survive, but you will prosper.

Resources: (1) Bridges, William (2004-08-10). Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes, Revised 25th Anniversary Edition (p. 11). DaCapo. Kindle Edition.

(2) Bridges, William (2004-08-10). Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes, Revised 25th Anniversary Edition (p. 8). DaCapo. Kindle Edition.

(3) Gateway had been searching for months and processed hundreds of resumes. I heard of the position and submitted my resume just before the window of opportunity closed.