Years ago my friend, Deborah Seuss, strongly suggested that I read the book Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change by William and Susan Bridges
. I was at a point in my work where I was spinning my wheels and not struggling to understand why things were so stuck, only to realize that if I looked at the problem from a perspective of being in the midst of transition
In the book, the authors make a distinction between transition and change. Change is situational. Transition is psychological. You can change something but everything can remain the same (until a real transition occurs).
The authors write:
They aren’t the same thing. Change is situational: the move to a new site, a new CEO replaces the founder. Transition, on the other hand, is psychological; it is a three-phase process that people go through as they internalize and come to terms with the details of the new situation that the change brings about.
And one of the best lines of the book:
“It isn’t the changes that will do you in; it’s the transitions.”
What I have noticed in congregational and organizational renewal work is that the focus is often on the change, getting to the symbolic outcome.
If we can only get that new leader in place everything will be fixed.
If only we can get this group of people to fall in line or cooperate.
If we can only implement this one policy or strategic plan then we will be on our way.
It always feels like there is not enough time to think about the process of transition that leads to change. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we only had more time to worry about that…” is a common sentiment.
So much of the good work we do - or set out to do - is undercut by a hyper focus on change at the disregard for working through the transition.
It works but only if you work it. There is no shortcut or magical formula. No amount of hunkering down and make the really “hard decisions” isolated from the rich environment of a transition will mean anything other than cruelty and short-sightedness.
Transitions are a time for discernment. It is a time to take information in. Practice deep listening to the whole of the community. Consider together all the angles. Lay the groundwork for the change that is to come. Transition is the runway that leads to change. Transition that is participatory, bottom-up, integral to the root of the community leads to positive renewal and real transformation of a community.
Transition takes seriously that for change to occur the culture around that community or organization needs to reflect the change you want to see.
Metaphorically, there are many transitions in the Bible: The Red Sea
, the belly of the big fish
, forty days in the wilderness, and being in the tomb for three days are just a few that come to mind.
Today, we are in the midst of a great transition on at least four levels: globally, societally, communally, and personally.
We’re experiencing a transition in terms of how we are handling - and not handling - our COVID19 response. The loss that we have experienced both in terms of death as well as economically, socially, and personally will be a collective trauma we will bear for years to come.
We’re experiencing a transition spiritually as we reckon with the legacy of white supremacy and face the results of generations of the distorted narrative of White Christian Nationalism that led to a climax in angry mobs rioting at the Capitol on January 6, seeking to kill other human beings while carrying Christian symbols with them such as the cross
We’re experiencing a transition in many of our institutions and organizations that have for various factors had to take a hard look internally and consider what the core mission is and whether it will continue to pursue that even as it costs us money and power.
I think we need to see this as a time of transition so that we can understand what it will take for us to come out of this transition in a better, stronger, and more healthy way.
And so we lift our gaze, not to what stands between us, but what stands before us…
…For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.
If we hope to get to the other side transition and experience some real change, we need to be brave enough to listen and learn in the midst of this transition rather than rush through it, ignore it, or deny it its power.
“Chaos is not a mess, but rather it is the primal state of pure energy to which the person returns for every true new beginning.” - Managing Transitions