We’re all in transition!
After serving two long-term pastorates over 37 years, I spent my next nine years as an Interim minister serving in four churches.
In those interim positions I came to realize something I had missed seeing in my long-term pastorates – all churches and ministers are in transition all the time.
Actually, no matter how settled we think we are, every one of us is in some kind of transition whether it’s personal, vocational, or spiritual.
We all come to times of deciding what to keep and what to let go.
Looking back over my life through the lens of transitions, I have become aware that life is all about managing our transitions – even when there’s not a pandemic destabilizing everything!
When I came to that awareness, the twists and turns, the roadblocks and potholes, the peaks and the valleys no longer felt like final destinations but more like stops on my journey.
I no longer felt totally responsible for the outcomes, rather my challenge was to assist a congregation (or a person, or a family member) navigate the transitions with their God-given strengths.
That awareness helped me in my role as a Pastoral Facilitator at nine Wellness Retreats over the past seven years offered by Ministering to Ministers to people who were in the midst of unpleasant transitions in their church vocations.
I would offer my stories of the transitions in my life and ministry as a way to frame our life’s journey.
I was privileged to see healing begin and hope rekindled by those participants as they shared their painful stories with each other in a safe setting.
That awareness also helped me in my role as Board Chair of the Ministering to Ministers Foundation, as we began a transition in 2020 from an independent non-profit to becoming a program at the Center for Lifelong Learning at Columbia Seminary in March 2021.
In that process we examined what the Ministry would hold on to, what it would be letting go, and what it would be adding.
We felt that there was a strong match between the missions of Ministering to Ministers and the Center for Lifelong Learning.
I was privileged to be part of that transition which will allow Healthy Wellness Retreats to continue for those ministers and spouses who are in unhealthy and painful times of transition.
This is no new insight in the world of ideas.
The writer of Ecclesiastes wrote (probably 30 centuries ago): “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven… a time to keep, and a time to throw away (Ecc. 3:1-8).”
The 13th-century Persian poet Rumi wrote: “Life is a balance of holding on and letting go.”
A first century rabbi, Jesus, whose resurrection we recently celebrated, said to his disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid (Jn 14:27)” — words that would help those disciples in a significant time of transition.
And the apostle Paul also knew about living through transitions when he wrote: “…but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil 3:13-14).”
I believe that the only time a living organism (or person or family or minister or organization) isn’t in transition is when it’s either stuck or dead!
Our challenge is to grow in our times of transition.
As we move away from all the necessary limitations and changes we’ve endured for over a year with COVID-19, know that we’re all still in transition, and remember that life is a balance of holding on and letting go all the time for all of us.
Thanks be to God that it is, and thanks be to God that we don’t have to navigate it alone!
Rev. T. Floyd Irby, Jr. (Skip) is a native Virginian and a graduate of the University of Virginia (BA in History) and Andover Newton Theological School (M.Div., Boston, MA).
He has served as the pastor of two Virginia Baptist churches: Nomini Baptist Church (1974-86) and West End Baptist Church (1986-2011). Since 2012, he has been an interim minister with four congregations (three Baptist churches and one Disciples of Christ church). He is currently “retired and working” as a Sunday supply preacher in the Tidewater area of Virginia.
He was the Board Chair of Ministering to Ministers (a non-profit providing hope, help and healing to ministers in crisis) when it became a program of Columbia Theological Seminary’s Center for Lifelong Learning in March of 2021.
He and his wife Chris reside in Suffolk, Virginia and have five married adult children and twelve grandchildren across the country. He can be reached, wherever he may be, at firstname.lastname@example.org .