An enemy might defeat one person, but two people together can defend themselves; a rope that is woven of three strings is hard to break. Ecclesiastes 4:12 (NCV)
I live with Mr. Transition! My husband is Dan Southerland, author of the book, Transitioning: Leading Your Church Through Change. One of Dan’s favorite statements is, “The only person who really likes change is a wet baby.” Transition is hard but essential for the growth and maturity of any living thing. The Body of Christ is alive but many parts of it are not well, because they refuse to grow and they resist change. Change is difficult, especially in ministry. Why?
Change is uncomfortable. Traditions bring comfort but if we are not careful, those traditions can easily become the gravesite for obedience and submission. When God called Dan to pastor a small church in Florida, we had no idea that the journey ahead would re-define everything we had ever known or believed about ministry. Change and transition became the norm and I was not happy. I don’t like change. It causes conflict, creates problems and, in short, rocks my boat! On a morning walk, I found myself ranting and raving about all of the changes God had led Dan and the church leadership to make. While each change brought many people to Christ, each change also resulted in someone leaving the church. I wanted everyone to stay put. I wanted everyone to love Dan. I wanted peace, which I wrongly defined as a lack of conflict. God abruptly stopped me “mid-rant” with the thought, “Mary, you have mistaken religious tradition for spiritual truth. I am calling you to lay down every tradition and seek me.” The result has been a success in ministry that can only be explained by the power of God.
Change is costly. God-given vision is the result of a holy discontent with the status quo and always demands radical obedience. To become a fully devoted follower of Christ will cost us everything, including the favor of man. Some will oppose change because they don’t understand the reasoning behind the change and cannot see the vision. Our response to these people is to cast the vision - then step back and let God work. If they really want what God wants, they will either buy in or they will leave.
Others will oppose transition because it robs them of their power. They don’t want to understand the vision or hear the reasoning behind the vision; they just want to stop it. We must love these people, but Proverbs 4:14-15 tells us to avoid them. “Don’t follow the ways of the wicked; don’t do what evil people do. Avoid their ways, and don’t follow them. Stay away from them and keep on going” (NKJV).
Transition is a holy calling and must be carefully guarded. As our church exploded in growth, we quickly ran out of room. The local high school had just built an auditorium that would allow us to grow while building a new worship center. For weeks, Dan answered questions, led the church to pray and confirm God’s direction. A woman who had attended the church for years was against the move and soon became divisive as she spent her days making phone calls and her nights meeting with others who questioned the move. On the night of the vote, this woman walked into the auditorium behind me. “Well, we will just see what happens tonight, won’t we, dear?” she said with a smirk. After counting to ten, praying and counting again, I responded, “God’s plan will be done tonight. And those who can be a part of that plan will stay and those who can’t will have to leave.” I stayed. She left.
Any living thing that does not grow and change will eventually die. It is undoubtedly much easier and safer to stay on the shores of comfort than it is to swim through the rough waters of transition but those rough waters are easier to navigate if we are not in them alone. We need to recruit a support team that will run the race with us and offer encouragement when needed. Encouragement means so much more than we often realize.
Encouragement is God’s love in action, the picture of a spiritual cheerleader or one runner in a race shouting encouragement to another. Godly encouragement consistently calls us up higher, refusing to settle for anything less than God’s best. Sand hill cranes are great illustrations of Biblical encouragement. These large birds that fly great distances across continents have three remarkable qualities. First, they rotate leadership. No one bird stays out in front all of the time. Second, they choose leaders who can handle turbulence. Third, all during the time that one bird is leading, the rest of the birds are honking their encouragement.
We were created to need each other, a truth that when embraced, produces a spirit of humility that leads to God’s empowerment in life and in ministry. We need a support team that will hold us accountable while offering a fresh perspective. A support team is essential during the times of transition because a shared load is a lighter load and as women in ministry, we are constantly carrying a load and are in constant need of encouragement.
Book: Experiencing God's Power in Your Ministry
Author: Mary Southerland
Discover God's purpose and plan for your life and learn how to share it with passion.
CD: Divine Surprises
By: Mary Southerland
Discover 7 habits of a successful woman