Life and Ministry Transitions

By Dr. Ron Woodworth

Every person, minister and ministry encounters times of major transitions. Try as we may, you and I will never be able to escape the inevitability of key life changes. These “sea changes” in a life or ministry direction generally occur from 3 to 5 times in the life of an active Christian. Reassignments requiring a geographical relocation, difficult health and family issues, affiliation changes, promotions and higher levels of opportunity, resignation, and retirement are a few of those times of significant change—not to mention death.

Such seasons of change1, difficult enough to discern, must be even more cautiously approached with much wisdom and grace. Unfortunately, most major changes come upon us suddenly and involuntarily, sometimes causing us to react to others rather than to respond to the Lord. Our personal fears and insecurities, and dare I say carnality can cause many of our God-intended times of transitions to be very hurtful times of regret rather than reverent times of release.

Not only are we personally caught off guard by failing to discern a season of transition—so are those with whom we labor. The wise and godly Christian (and leader) will seek to make their personal transition as gracious and gentle as possible knowing that it can be troubling, if not traumatic, for others involved when it is time for them to move on.

My own recent retirement from 27 years of pastoral ministry has convinced me of the need to come along side of ministers and ministries in their own time of major transitions. Having personally failed (and been failed by others) a number of times before, I can honestly say that the last two times (in 12 years) of major changes in my life and ministry have been the most gratifying and rewarding!

As a result, I can recommend at last three requirements, personally and corporately, for a Spirit-guided transition process:

  1. Godly character (the entire process will be a time of testing for all involved)
  2. Experience-based wisdom (reflecting on past approaches and results can help redemptively guide present responses)
  3. Knowledge of an effective transition plan (A practical plan or “how to’s” can keep the process on target)

Such a transition process is further facilitated by recognizing the need for:

  1. Personal retreat(s)—time to pull aside and prayerfully reflect and journal your thoughts.
  2. Personal counsel—trusted and objective spiritual advisor(s) in whom you can honestly confide without fear of reprisal. Someone outside of the ministry context.

If in a church or ministry context…

  1. Board retreat(s)—time to pull aside to prayerfully reflect on the implications of major changes in the ministry.
  2. Board counsel—to help objectively guide discussions and decisions to assure honesty and honor. Must be from outside the ministry context to avoid conflict of interest.

Though much more is involved, this article should help to identify a number of important considerations when the time comes for your next season of major transition.

The Serenity Prayer

(By Reinhold Niebuhr)

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

May the Lord be magnified!

Dr. Ron Woodworth