Every one of us experiences times of change. Few people like and embrace change. In fact, most of us, including church leaders, tend to run from change. We feel safe in the status quo. We feel comfortable in the way things are. Times of change can be unsettling for our church members. They might be going through a job change, changes in a marriage, changes in stages of life, changes as their children grow older, change in health status, change in financial status, or a change in family role as parents age and need care. During these times of change and transition, members turn to leaders for guidance and direction.
Helping your church members manage times of transition can be one of the biggest ministries any leader can offer. The emotional trauma affiliated with times of transition can be severe. People need love and support, a listening ear, and someone to give them ideas for survival. It becomes our duty as leaders to help them thrive during their times of transition, not merely survive. As we seek to serve our people with excellence, let’s consider a few ways we can help them move forward in their journey.
1) Be intentional.
Times of change and transition can be chaotic. They are fraught with extreme emotions and uncertainty that can monopolize all of life. However, to begin to thrive during these challenging times, church leaders can help those in transition slow down and be intentional in processing emotions before, during and after transition. There are a lot of feelings to examine. There are thoughts and attitudes that reveal so much about a person. Confusion and heightened anxiety that must be tackled. Encouraging people to make time to talk things through, to write in a journal, to join a support group, or to read a wealth of resources can help slow down the pace of life and bring emotions into focus. These things will not happen without intentionality. We can be the ones to make suggestions and give counsel, as well as hold them accountable for making the necessary time for positive life-processing activities. Intentionality will be the key to greater health within life’s experiences.
2) Manage expectations.
Venturing into the unknown during our times of transition requires stamina. We must have a willingness to look within ourselves and examine our feelings in ways we may have never experienced. As church leaders, we can help people deal with those emotions by helping them identify and manage their expectations with regard to the transition process. Identifying expectations is difficult work because people might not realize they had expectations until one of them is not met. Walking people through their unmet expectations can help them cope with their feelings productively.
What can people expect during times of transition?
1) They can expect pain and loss. Change brings with it inevitable times of sorrow and of saying goodbye to the old, comfortable ways of life. People in transition need to expect this kind of trauma and be intentional about admitting their mourning. They must find a way forward.
2) They can expect joy! Times of transition are not all bad. There are new people and experiences on the horizon that will bring happiness and enriching relationships into our lives. Reminding our church members that there is joy to be found in times of change will help them gain some much needed relief from their pain and will help them step forward, emboldened by realizing God’s goodness in their lives.
3) People can expect a lot of waiting during times of change and transition. Help congregants realize that a time of full transition rarely happens quickly. It will help them prepare for months or even years of unsettled feelings as they meander their way to their new season of life. Knowing that it will take time can help them realize that God is not finished with them and that there is purpose in their journey.
4) Those in times of transition can expect ambiguity. This may be the most difficult thing to conquer. As people who have been born and brought up in a time-based, certainty-based culture where schedules and concrete knowledge reign supreme, we have become accustomed to knowing everything. This is all turned on its head during times of change and transition. We may not know what tomorrow holds. We might not know why we have been forced into this time of transition. We may not have all the answers. However, if we can help those we are counseling know to expect times of ambiguity, they can take positive steps forward in faith knowing that God holds the future, even if they can’t see the way.
3) Get help.
As church leaders, probably one of the best suggestions we can make for people in times of transition is that they get some help in dealing with their emotions. We as church leaders, depending on our education and experience, can give counsel and walk with them through many challenges. However, there may be value in them getting some outside professional help from a licensed counselor or psychologist who can take their care to the next level. There is no shame in seeing a mental health professional. In fact, it is a sign of wellness that those in times of severe change are seeking help. Sometimes, we all need a little help and assistance. We can confidently point people that way.
4) Acknowledge God’s part in it all.
Finally (although this should probably be first), church leaders must encourage those going through times of transition that God has carefully created a beautiful journey for them. He is holding them in the midst of it. Reminding our people that God will guide, protect, and provide for them can be the inspiration they need to keep going despite the uncertainty, ambiguity, and trauma they are experiencing. As church leaders, we can continue pointing people back to God, knowing that He holds every moment of their lives. He has a purpose in growing us all to be the people God has intended. Times of change and transition are difficult and traumatic, but knowing that the Lord has everything under control can be just the thing to help members and leaders alike to thrive in His care and in plan for each of us.