From time to time, churches go through transition. It may be a change of pastors, made more traumatic by the length of the exiting pastor’s term (more than 8 years), an over or under-functioning leadership style, or the presence of parish conflict. It may be that the church is changing locations or involved in a merger or parish realignment. It may be a transition to a different form or category of clergy leadership. These major changes require theological understanding and prayer. They are best undergirded by congregational study and a renewed emphasis upon the importance of worship and the sacraments.
I have found the book of Exodus to be a helpful study, for both the transitional leadership and the congregation. First because the name says it all. In transition, we exit one place and journey to another — we participate in a spiritual exodus. See Returning to Exodus.
Note the importance of the Sacrament of Baptism for the Exodus narrative. The little baby Moses is baptized in the Nile, passing through certain death within a protective basket that represents the church. Later, the whole congregation is baptized within the waters of the Red Sea. Even if the church doesn’t have a baptism scheduled during its transitional period, at least one worship service should be spent helping people to remember their baptism and be thankful.
The book of Exodus begins with an unfortunate change in political leadership. It is helpful, when churches undergo transition to remind people that the initiating trauma was not their fault. In transition, people tend to play the blame game. The feel ashamed for being plagued with difficulties. Change happens. Transition happens because the Holy Spirit knows we need to grow through the pain. See State of Maximum Mess.
The journey requires forty years in the wilderness. Every transition has its own time table. It can not be rushed. You will leave the wilderness when the Holy Spirit says that it is time.
Congregational life’s most important lessons are taught during transition. The people had to be out in the wilderness before Moses was given the Ten Commandments. See Hanging Ten.
God will provide. Daily bread was given to the people as they journeyed across the wilderness. This gift ended when the people crossed over into the promised land. No one wants the trauma that causes transition. We all, however, are thankful for the daily grace that we see in the desert and nowhere else.