Having been in and around church life for the past four decades and also worked in three continents, I have come to realize that God seams to emphasis something new every decade. In the ‘50 it was the great Healing Revival, in the ‘60 the focus was on Discipleship, in the ‘70 we transitioned into the Teaching era, in the ‘80 it was all about Praise & Worship, in the ‘90 we saw the importance of the Local Church and after Y2K the emphasis was on Cultural Relevance (or how I like to call it: being real in a real world with a real God)
I don’t know about you, but planting or leading a church from one decade to the next, brings with it, its own bag of challenges. It was in these transition times that my questions began to pile up: What is God doing globally, nationally, locally and in my life. And, how does this all fit in with the next thing that I sense is ahead of us?
I compare Transition Time to a road trip in Europe, when you may have to transition from one ‘Autobahn’ to the next, in a city you are not familiar with and with signs that are in a foreign language. I want to share with you some of the lessons I have learnt:
Everything slows down.
Like it or not, you will not be able to keep up the old pace. Don’t fight it. To find the right exit on an unfamiliar highway, you will first need to get onto the slower lane and be OK with all the other cars and trucks (churches) you passed earlier, to get ahead of you. Increased talks between your copilot (spouse) and you, your GPS (Holy Spirit) and your good old-fashioned map (Bible) will get more intense. Its time to listen and stop getting frustrated or throwing around your opinions, because the bottom line is, … you really don’t know clearly what’s next. Remember that the flesh does not take change kindly.
Looking for Exit signs.
I did not know, after driving across the Swiss-French boarder in Geneva, that the French had a different color code for their Highway signs then the Swiss. So I ended up on the country road and added two more hours to my journey. Signs are here to help us, but the temptation to take the “best looking” sign, can easily put you on a detour. I also learned that if there is no sign where I think there should be one, not to go with my gut, but to continue with the direction of the last sure sign. I think you can read some of the spiritual principles out of this. In short: when you get direction, just obey. Nothing more, nothing less.
Details become huge.
Because I am trying to read every little board, I don’t know after a while what is advertising, what is important or what is just professional looking graffiti.
Pastor Ray McCauley, my first Pastor in the faith, once gave me the following advice: There are many things you could do, there are a few things you probably should do, but there is one thing that you must do. Find the must and you will be close to the heart of God. Someone once asked me how do I know which one is the “must do”? I told him: when not doing it makes you feel like you need to repent. Transition time is a great time to major on the majors and minor on the minors. Don’t let the details sidetrack you.
Luggage may shift.
A number of years ago, just a month after our re-launch, another church in town was in trouble and we received a bunch of people almost over night. The initial “full house” was a thrill until these new folks began to unpack their dirty laundry from all the hurts of the former Pastor. The full house came with counseling marriages; financial misuse by the former Pastor and the list of other stuff we were not ready for. It was like someone pulled the fire alarm in a new house and it took more then a year to clean up the mess.
During our recent transition, the luggage-shift was a former employee turning sour and rumors that tried to undermine the leadership team. Small things fit under the skin and can irritate the heck out of you.
Timing is key.
Some of the highways in Europe are toll roads and they are expensive. The measure the time you entered and when you left the toll road and are able to say if you kept the speed limit. If you were to fast, then they will include the speeding fine. The wrong timing can be expensive.
If God really can redeem the time, then why do we get in such a hurry?
God will only release you into the next level once you have passed the test, and the test will be about your character. He wants to know if your new destiny can be occupied and established with the non-negotiable core values you have been living by recently. (Can you really handle it?) The nice thing about God’s tests is that you get to take them again, and again, and again until you pass. God works in seasons and not in days, weeks and months like we do.
Did God say?
Every new level will expose new insecurities in your life. The last level became such a routine; that your faith muscles were not being used as much. But now, walking towards the not-so-clear tomorrow, it will force you to walk by faith again. The enemy will take advantage of this vulnerable time and just like in Eden, will try and feed the new insecurity by asking you an old question with a innocent sincerity: Did God say? If you cannot say yes as fast as a bullet out of a gun, you are in trouble. Go back and seek HIM not his direction.
In the eighties I was sitting with the late Dr. Lester Sumrall in a Pastors lounge in Africa, just before I had to lead him out to speak to the assembly. I felt a bit uncomfortable as a young minister with this Missions Apostle and wanted to break up the silence. We could hear outside how the congregation was singing the old song: They rush on the city, they run on the walls! So I asked him: Dr Sumrall isn’t this new militant praise just wonderful? With little emotion he replied: Yah, yah, it comes around every forty years.
I learnt right then, that I will have a lot of transition times in front of me and no matter how intense the Transition period, who HE IS, will always be more important then WHAT HE is doing.