Abschied ist ein bischen wie sterben
Roy Oswald, running through the thistles:
"Running Through the Thistles: terminating a ministerial relationship with a parish" is an essay written by Alban Institute consultant Roy Oswald. When in 1988 the time came for Donna and me to leave our first congregation, the First Universalist Church of Rochester, N.Y., it was recommended to us. I assume many of you have read it too. Roy recounts that when he was a young boy "growing up in rural Saskatchewan" the quickest way home from school "was over the fields." "It was shorter ... but occasionally we would come upon enormous thistle patches." ["Running Through the Thistles: terminating a ministerial relationship with a parish," Roy M. Oswald, The Alban Institute, 1978, p.2] He and his older brothers either had to walk around or find the narrowest gap and sprint across. He writes: "I can still vividly remember the experience: running full speed in bare feet across 20 feet of prickly thistles yelping in pain all the way through." At the end there were always a few thistles stuck in his feet, but the ordeal was over. This, Oswald claims, is how many of us manage our departure from a congregation. We deal with our farewells by steeling ourselves, then plunging in. We know it is going to hurt so we rush full tilt ahead hoping to get it over with. The quickest burst of speed I've seen was a colleague who announced his resignation on the way out the door to GA, and had left both his congregation and his fiancée by the end of June.
Roy Oswald encourages us to model effective closure. He writes:
"[It] involves being able to live deeply into the human side of death --; the death of relationships --; the death of roles and functions and responsibilities --; the death of that special relationship a pastor has with a parish. At times we may discover ourselves having more difficulty letting go of the role we play than the people themselves... Dying to the parish involves dying to our role with people, as well. Our failure to die to this role with congregational members gets us involved in pastoral acts with them long after we've left. Our hanging onto these roles is our bid for immortality. We allow ourselves to be indispensable with people, insuring our ability to live forever in their lives." [Ibid. p.11]
five tasks he outlined:
"Take control of the situation,"
"Get your affairs in order,"
"Let go of old grudges,"
"Say thank you,"
and "Be honest about why you are leaving."
Finishing Strong, Ending Well
Alban Institute Senior Consultant
Most clergy who are approaching their last years in the ordained ministry want to leave at the top of their game, feeling a sense of celebration in what they have accomplished, and entering retirement with a feeling of closure. Those who have served the same congregation for many years may also wish to remain in the community and become a member of the congregation they once served and with whom their lives are deeply entwined.
There is a way all these goals can be accomplished, but the process is not an easy one—nor one with which many ministers are familiar. A congregation I recently took through this transition process is St. Michael's and All Angels, located in Lihue, Hawaii, on the island of Kauai. The rector there, the Rev. Jan Rudinoff, has been with St. Michael's for 30 years and plans to retire in February 2004. He asked me to work with him to ensure that neither his retirement nor the manner of his departure adversely affects the congregation, and to make it possible for him and his wife Paula to return to St. Michael's as members in a way that works well for all concerned.
Prior to my first visit with St. Michael's, I asked the church board to appoint a transition committee, as well as a second committee—a strategic planning task force. By working with these two committees for three weekends within a six-month period, I was able to prepare this congregation for the transition it faced.
I began by coaching and training the transition committee on its role and function, and then worked intently with the strategic planning task force, using a process outlined in Discerning Your Congregation's Future, a book I coauthored with Bob Friedrich. One of the key functions of the task force is to develop a strategic vision, which may sound strange to people in congregational life since no one wants to saddle a new pastor with a strategic vision that he or she had no part in developing. I agree with this; the strategic vision needed at this stage in the congregation's life is one that simply takes it through its transition period.
We have discovered that, following a long-tenured pastorate, it is a good idea to have a long-term intentional interim pastor serve the congregation before the congregation calls a new pastor. Congregations appear to need a cushion of time between the departure of the beloved outgoing pastor and the arrival of the new pastor. This goes contrary to what happens in the corporate world, where the old CEO remains in place for a while after the new CEO is hired in order to coach the new CEO on how to run the place. This model has not worked well within congregations that have tried it.
Given that insight, I recommended to St. Michael's church board members that they think in terms of a long-term interim pastor who would serve the church for 18 months to two years. This would mean putting off appointing a search committee for at least the first six months after Rev. Rudinoff ends his ministry at the church. Since it is also a good idea to give the new pastor a chance to get to know the congregation and establish some type of power base for himself or herself, we asked that Jan and Paula Rudinoff stay away from St. Michael's during the interim pastor's stay and for at least a year into the pastorate of the new permanent pastor. That means Jan and Paula will need to leave the congregation for at least three years before they can once again attend services at St. Michael's.
To put this plan into action, we developed a four-way contract. Rev. Rudinoff, the bishop of the diocese, and the vestry are to sign the contract, which eventually includes the interim pastor, and later the new pastor as well. This contract spells out the period of time for which the Rudinoffs are to stay away from the congregation, as well as ways they can become involved after the new pastor has been in place for a year. Following retirement, some clergy can easily thumb their noses at the bishop or church executive and do what they want. After all, what power does a bishop or church executive have over a retired pastor? But when the governing board is included in the contract, the new pastor can shift the responsibility to it if the former pastor involves him/herself inappropriately.
Why Closure is Important
There is an additional advantage to the period of "exile" imposed on the outgoing pastor. When the members of a congregation know that the pastor and her/his spouse are going to remain in the community and join them as members of the congregation, they do not do their closure work. Instead, they think, "We don't need to say goodbye. You aren't going anywhere and we will likely see you every Sunday in the pew, so why would we say goodbye?" In actual fact, a death does occur when a pastor retires but decides to stay. She or he will never again be the pastor to this group of people. She or he can continue to be a friend to members of the congregation, but congregants now have a new pastor to whom they should take their pastoral needs. It is the death of the pastor-congregant relationship that needs to be acknowledged, celebrated, and ritualized.
Former research at Alban has revealed that when a congregation does not do its closure work well it can get stuck in the past. We all know of congregations in decline that have not yet gotten over a pastor who left them 10 years ago. This is where "ending well" becomes an important part of this process. I instruct the transition committee to plan a series of events that celebrate the life and ministry of the departing pastor. At St. Michael's, the committee planned one event for each of the last five months of Rev. Rudinoff's ministry to celebrate his time with them. We know a congregation has done its closure work well when members finally say, "Enough of these goodbyes already, get out of here!" One single concluding event at the end of a long pastorate simply does not do the job.
Departing pastors also have significant work to do during the last six months of their ministry. During these months, the minister needs to focus his or her attention entirely on closing with individuals and groups within the congregation. (In Running Through the Thistles: Terminating a Ministerial Relationship with a Parish, I have outlined a type of process that the pastor and individual members may go through as they give thanks for their time together in this relationship of pastor to congregant.) Just as congregants need to acknowledge and ritualize the death of the pastor-congregant relationship and what that means to them, so does the minister. Concentrating on this task during the last six months of ministry is recommended because this work is tiring and demanding. The departing pastor is likely to have the emotional strength to close with only a few groups or individuals on a given day, so this work must be done over time if it is to be done well and to completion.
While all of these closing activities are going on, the strategic planning task force should be engaged in developing some goals it wants to see achieved before the new pastor arrives. One insight that came from our research on interim pastors is that most do not function with any type of specific contract as to what needs to be accomplished during the interim ministry. Most interim pastors are simply expected to keep the place running and take care of emergencies. However, there are reasons to ask more of an interim pastor. For one, a prospective new pastor will be far more impressed with a congregation that continues to grow and thrive during the time between called pastors than one that simply maintains the status quo. More importantly, there are times when some difficult matters need to be attended to, and the action that needs to be taken may not be popular with the congregation. For instance, the congregation may have an incompetent employee on the payroll who is also a member of the congregation. It would be suicide for the new pastor to come in and fire such a staff member. It is much better for the interim pastor to take the actions necessary to put the congregation onto a healthier footing, even if it means losing favor with the congregation. By playing a strong role in the transition, the actions of the interim pastor allow the incoming pastor to spend the first 9 to 12 months of his or her new ministry learning the history of the congregation and getting to know the congregants.
Strategic Vision: Three Segments
Once a congregation has a strategic vision in place, those plans can be divided into three segments: what the congregation wants the current pastor to do before departing, what the interim pastor should accomplish, and the congregation's goals for the new pastor. The answers to these questions are likely to be quite different from one church to another. Outlined below are St. Michael's responses to this inquiry.
1. What are the things the congregation wants its current pastor to complete before he or she leaves? At St. Michael's, the vestry asked Rev. Rudinoff if he would concentrate on retiring the debt on the building before he leaves. He knows the wealthier people in the congregation and has the kind of relationship with them that makes him the natural one to ask these individuals for a significant donation to the church, over and above their regular giving.
2. What are the things the congregation wants its long-term interim pastor to complete before leaving? At St. Michael's, the vestry plans to ask the interim pastor to recruit, train, delegate, and supervise a "Care and Calling Team," consisting of laypeople who have a call to pastoral work and are good at listening and praying with people. This task will enable St. Michael's to move beyond functioning like a pastoral church when it is at program church size. In addition, since the Sunday school at St. Michael's has never really gotten off the ground, the task force decided to change the congregation's worship schedule to include a Sunday school between services. To accomplish this, the congregation will ask the interim pastor to hire a part-time children's worker and a part-time director of youth ministry.
3. What are the congregation's goals for the new pastor? The remaining set of goals will be turned over to the search committee. Since search committees are always asked by their middle judicatory to do a self-study before developing a job description, this self-study will already have been completed through the work of the strategic planning task force. In short, the search committee will be asked to find a pastor who can take the congregation where it needs to go to complete the goals outlined in its strategic vision.
More and more, as pastors retire or interim pastors go on their way, I am finding myself being called upon to facilitate the transition between one pastor and another, and the processes I have outlined above are those I have found most effective. I hope they will serve as a model for how other congregations can make the most out of a transitional period. With sufficient time, strategic planning, and acknowledgement of both the loss and the opportunity that the transition brings, it has been my experience that these transitions can be a time of growth, accomplishment, and connection for retiring pastors, interim pastors, newly assigned ministers, and congregations. The rewards of finishing strong and ending well are not only for those who have moved on, but also for those who begin their work from a solid platform of completion and vision.
In Running Through the Thistles: A Guide for Ministers Leaving Congregations, the author Roy Oswald makes the startling claim that how we say good-bye says a great deal about how we will probably die. Is our leave-taking full of sturm und drang, is it conflictual, do we avoid our good-byes, are we excessively dramatic?
It seems excessively dramatic just to make such a comparison, but it does help to make the point that good-byes are significant, especially when the relationship has been of long duration or of great meaning to us.
And this has been a relationship of great meaning to me. The minister’s relationship with a congregation is often compared to a marriage. It is a comparison I resist, because it implies that ministers should give their lives over to a congregation. Nevertheless I understand why people think of it, for it is a significant relationship. It has been my privilege as your minister to be present at some of the most significant moments of many of your lives.
For some families I have performed both weddings and memorials, dedicated children and watched a loved one die. I’ve talked with you about your personal struggles, your professional dreams, your desire for deepest meaning. I’ve watched you grow and change, both old and young, and have grown and changed myself as a result. We’ve made difficult decisions together, we’ve had some arguments, tolerated our differences, laughed and cried and simply sat together. We’ve celebrated major milestones in the life of the church, said good-bye to some old friends and said hello to some new ones. It has been a great gift to me to be able to share all this and more with you. The trust you have shown me and even the challenges you have presented to me have made me stretch myself in ways I never would have thought possible.
And -- best gift of all -- you’ve let me know that you understand and support my decision to leave, showing me that you care about me beyond your desires for the ministry of the church. Your kindness has made this a very healthy leave-taking, one that bodes well for all our ultimate good-byes.
I will miss you and carry you in my heart always.
WHEN A PASTOR LEAVES
by Abe Funk
The Pastor/Church relationship is special. To what can we compare it? It is certainly a lot more complex and goes much deeper than an employer/employee relationship. The best illustration I can think of is a marriage. Both have deep commitments. In both instances it takes a lot of work to make it work--by both parties. Deep hurts and scars are left when the relationship breaks down, or is severed.
The departure of a pastor is a very significant event in the life of a church. When the relationship has been strong, there may be a feeling of hurt and being let down--even betrayal. If the relationship has been less than happy, there are sometimes feelings of guilt and disappointment. These are all very natural responses to a deep and complex relationship; the deep and complex relationship of a pastor and a congregation.
It is, therefore, very important that care be given in moving through this transitional period.
A New Chapter
If a new and exciting chapter is to be written in the life of the church, the last chapter must be carefully closed. If any negative agenda items are carried over into the new chapter and a new relationship, they will seriously and negatively impact and hinder that relationship. Dr. Lyle Schaller even goes so far as to say, "How a pastor gets along in a church depends on his predecessor." Outstanding negative issues, hurts and guilt must therefore be cared for and healed before a church and a new pastor can work together unhindered.
This process must begin as soon as a pastor submits his resignation. This includes a carefully planned farewell program. It should be a major event and give everyone in the church an opportunity to participate and to express their appreciation to the departing pastor and his family.
Resources Are Available
The Conference personnel is prepared and available to assist a church in this process. Outside counsel can often give this intense experience a certain amount of objectivity. This is even more important if the relationship has been less than satisfactory, or if the pastor's departure has been complicated by illness. A church should think of their departing pastor as entering into a new ministry and then seek to help him make the transition and the move in as positive a way as possible. The church can greatly assist a pastor and his family who is experiencing the loss of "family" and friends as well. Make sure that all items like salary and vacation pay are taken care of. If help is needed in the physical move, try to offer a helping hand. I have seen times when a church has totally withdrawn from a pastor and even left him and his family to move entirely by themselves. By going beyond the normal call of duty, the difficult and sometimes hurtful process can be greatly helped, so that both the church and the pastor can look forward to new chapters of effective and exciting ministry. Additional information for both the pastor and the church is available at your Conference office.
Begin now to close this chapter well, so that a new and exciting chapter can begin in the life of your church.
Planning a Farewell
A formal farewell for your pastor, done with a positive attitude, will do much to leave last memories as lasting memories.
A farewell is an official expression of gratitude on the part of the church for the investment of life given by the pastor.
Two procedures are generally followed:
1. A formal service followed by a reception. During this service there would be expressions of appreciation from the various departments and leaders of the church. There may be a review of the pastor's ministry in the church with slides and a variety of special music. You may also give an opportunity for informal, spontaneous expressions of appreciation for the pastor's ministry.
2. An informal evening, like a supper and a program around the tables. The program could also include some of the items listed in No. 1. Other suggestions include singing the pastor's favourite hymns and reading his favourite Scripture passage.
The Master of Ceremonies should be alert to not let things get out of hand emotionally. The singing of a hymn or a change in the program may help to relieve the pressure.
Often a church presents some kind of gift as a token of their appreciation. A gift of money may be the most helpful.
You may want to invite other pastors to attend the farewell service or program. You should invite the District Executive Minister if he is available, and also give him a brief part in the service for expressions of appreciation for your pastor's ministry in the District
Written by Mitch Martin
To make this "Star Diagram" the background image on your computer's desktop click here to open a larger image. Then right click the image and choose "set as background."
Several years ago I would have said that a leader must be visionary, an effective communicator, a skillful change agent, enthusiastic, or whatever the trend was at the time. But I now believe the most essential quality for a leader is character.
Leaders with character can learn other aspects of leadership. However, if a person is morally handicapped, eventually his flaws will be discovered and his influence will wane.
We all want someone trustworthy and believable. Give me a leader I can respect as a person because I know he is consistently moral, honest, and true. Leadership is built on trust and trust comes from ethical character. Therefore, a leader must focus on character development to be effective.
Leaders with character consistently demonstrate moral, ethical, and spiritual strength. It is who they are at the most basic level. Character is who you are when no one is watching. It is the real you!
In the Pastoral Ministries component of LifeWay Christian Resources, we speak of six aspects of character every church leader must guard. These six aspects comprise the balanced character that is essential to worthy leadership.
1. Relationship with God
Character development begins with a relationship with God. Notice in the above "Star Diagram" that one’s relationship with God is central, touching every part of a person’s character. The surest way to safeguard your character is to make sure your relationship with God is healthy and growing. We never become too holy for private devotions and a personal encounter with God.
People of integrity integrate their lives, public and private. They are whole, not divided. They do not act differently in private than they do in public. Spiritual leaders may be tempted to pretend to be something they are not.
Do you secretly abuse sex, money, or power? The Bible says, “Be sure your sin will catch up with you” (Num. 32:23). Don’t jeopardize your ministry with hypocrisy. Be real and authentic, not phony or pretentious.
3. Marriage and Family
The New Testament says that church leaders must be good managers of their own household. How can they take care of God’s household, if they can’t take care of their own?
The minister’s marriage and family must take precedence over ministry and the church. Set and guard calendar times for being with your family. Raise future champions for Christ and show your spouse that she is your priority. Don’t become another statistic with a wrecked family. Guard your home.
4. Physical Health
If you lose your health, you lose your ministry. Due to advances in medical technology, the average life span is steadily increasing. With a little bit of discipline and care, church leaders can potentially become like Caleb and be active in ministry even into their 80s. Additionally, if you take care of your body you will feel better, look better, and be happier. Nutrition, exercise, and rest are critical.
5. Emotional Health
Make friends. Laugh often. Listen to others. Play every day. Get a hobby. Have fun. Guard against bitterness. Don’t become programmed. If you take these actions, the journey will be more enjoyable for you and for those around you. People are inclined to follow church leaders who are emotionally pleasant.
6. Financially Responsible
Jesus taught more about money than He did about heaven. Nothing reveals your character more than how you handle money. Materialism, greed, and indebtedness can derail even the most promising ministerial career. Guard against covetousness. Be a good steward of all that God entrusts to you. Strive for diligence and contentment.
Strengthen Your Weakest Area
Identify the one or two areas that you are currently deficient in and take immediate steps to address them. Give yourself regular checkups, striving to be strong in all six areas. Display the star diagram in a prominent place to remind you of what’s important. You will find instructions on how to make the star your computer's desktop background at the top of this article.
What Will They Remember About You?
In Acts 21:5, Luke described a poignant farewell scene with men, women, children, and the Apostle Paul. Years later those children certainly remembered they once met the famous missionary, Paul. What did they remember about him? I don’t think they remembered Paul’s teaching or strategies. I suspect they remembered his heart. They remembered what kind of person he was and how he treated them. They remembered his attitude and spirit.
Those who serve churches discover that people don’t remember sermons or strategies. They remember our hearts, our laughs, our ways. In short, they remember our character. The loudest sermon you will ever preach is the life you live. Enhance your character; make it strong and pure, solid and true. God will bless your ministry and people will remember that you were a godly leader.
After the church service a little boy told the pastor, "When I grow up, I'm going to give you some money." "Well, thank you," the pastor replied, "but why?" "Because my daddy says you're one of the poorest preachers we've ever had."
A pastor places his order at the pet store: "I need at least 50 mice, 2000 ants and as many of those little silverfish you can get." The clerk replies, "We can probably do that, but it might take some time. Mind if I ask why you are placing such an unusual order?" The pastor replies, "I've accepted a call to another church and the congregation council told me to leave the parsonage the way I found it."
This morning the pastor will preach his farewell message after which the choir will sing BREAK FORTH INTO JOY.
In 1978 during the firemen’s strike in England, the British army took over emergency fire-fighting. On January 14 they were called out by an elderly lady in South London to retrieve her cat. They arrived with impressive haste, very cleverly and carefully rescued the cat, and started to drive away. But the lady was so grateful she invited the squad of heroes in for tea. Driving off later with fond farewells and warm waving of arms, they ran over the cat and killed it.
1 Kings 2 When the time drew near for David to die, he gave a charge to Solomon his son.
2 “I am about to go the way of all the earth,” he said. “So be strong, show yourself a man, 3 and observe what the LORD your God requires: Walk in his ways, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and requirements, as written in the Law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go, 4 and that the LORD may keep his promise to me: ‘If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel.’ 
Joshua’s Farewell Speech
Joshua 23 The Lord let Israel live in peace with its neighbors for a long time, and Joshua lived to a ripe old age. 2 One day he called a meeting of the leaders of the tribes of Israel, including the old men, the judges, and the officials. Then he told them:
I am now very old. 3 You have seen how the Lord your God fought for you and helped you defeat the nations who lived in this land. 4-5 There are still some nations left, but the Lord has promised you their land. So when you attack them, he will make them run away. I have already divided their land among your tribes, as I did with the land of the nations I defeated between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
6 Be sure that you carefully obey everything written in The Book of the Law t of Moses and do exactly what it says.
7 Don’t have anything to do with the nations that live around you. Don’t worship their gods or pray to their idols or make promises in the names of their gods. 8 Be as faithful to the Lord as you have always been.
9 When you attacked powerful nations, the Lord made them run away, and no one has ever been able to stand up to you. 10 Any one of you can defeat a thousand enemy soldiers, because the Lord God fights for you, just as he promised. 11 Be sure to always love the Lord your God. 12-13 Don’t ever turn your backs on him by marrying people from the nations that are left in the land. Don’t even make friends with them. I tell you that if you are friendly with those nations, the Lord won’t chase them away when you attack. Instead, they’ll be like a trap for your feet, a whip on your back, and thorns in your eyes. And finally, none of you will be left in this good land that the Lord has given you.
14 I will soon die, as everyone must. But deep in your hearts you know that the Lord has kept every promise he ever made to you. Not one of them has been broken. 15-16 Yes, when the Lord makes a promise, he does what he has promised. But when he makes a threat, he will also do what he has threatened. The Lord is our God. He gave us this wonderful land and made an agreement with us that we would worship only him. But if you worship other gods, it will make the Lord furious. He will start getting rid of you, and soon not one of you will be left in this good land that he has given you.
Joshua’s Charges to Israel
Joshua’s farewell addresses in chapters 23 and 24 provide a fitting conclusion to the book as a whole. A comparison of chapters 23 and 24 suggests that chapter 23 was spoken specifically to the leaders of Israel (23:2), whereas chapter 24 was to the whole assembly (24:1).
In chapter 23, Joshua rehearses the mighty acts of God on Israel’s behalf in giving them the Land of Promise, and he exhorts the leaders to continued faithfulness in the future. Chapter 24 constitutes a covenant renewal ceremony in which Israel commits herself to serve the Lord and to reject the worship of all false gods. The form of the covenant here, as well as in Deuteronomy, has been recognized as based upon a common ancient treaty formula.
The formula contains a preamble (“Thus says the Lord God of Israel”);
a historical prologue (vv. 2–13);
covenant stipulation and requirements (vv. 14, 15);
warnings against covenant disobedience (vv. 19, 20);
witnesses (v. 22);
and a depositing of the covenant document (v. 26).
22:1 Then Joshua called the Reubenites, the Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh, 2 and said to them: “You have kept all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, and have obeyed my voice in all that I commanded you. 3 You have not left your brethren these many days, up to this day, but have kept the charge of the commandment of the Lord your God. 4 And now the Lord your God has given rest to your brethren, as He promised them; now therefore, return and go to your tents and to the land of your possession, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you on the other side of the Jordan. 5 But take careful heed to do the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to keep His commandments, to hold fast to Him, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul.” 6 So Joshua blessed them and sent them away, and they went to their tents.
7 Now to half the tribe of Manasseh Moses had given a possession in Bashan, but to the other half of it Joshua gave a possession among their brethren on this side of the Jordan, westward. And indeed, when Joshua sent them away to their tents, he blessed them, 8 and spoke to them, saying, “Return with much riches to your tents, with very much livestock, with silver, with gold, with bronze, with iron, and with very much clothing. Divide the spoil of your enemies with your brethren.”
9 So the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh returned, and departed from the children of Israel at Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan, to go to the country of Gilead, to the land of their possession, which they had obtained according to the word of the Lord by the hand of Moses.
This is a story of transitions.
Transitions are difficult in the best of circumstances. Transitions signal the end of one era and the beginning of another.
I recently was musing with several friends about the psychological dynamics of change. For some of us, change comes as a violent shock to our systems. One woman bluntly stated her own experience in making the fifty-mile move from Los Angeles down to Newport Beach. “As excited as I was about my move, it took me five years after coming to Newport Beach until I got over leaving my old home and began really to love my new house. The move wasn’t easy.”
I have also observed this phenomenon as I have moved from one part of the United States to another. I spent the first fourteen years of my life in Boston, Massachusetts. When my family moved to Wheaton, Illinois, I looked forward to the change only to find that the adjustment took longer than I expected. As a teenager abruptly removed from my environment, I dreamed nightly for months of my friends back home in New England. My moves from Illinois to Princeton, New Jersey, after eight years, then to Tulsa, Oklahoma, after three years, and then to Key Biscayne, Florida, after three more years, came with less difficulty. But yanking up the roots after six years of established family living and moving to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, had its difficulties. And the move after five years to Newport Beach, California, as marvelous a beach community as this is, had its way of tearing at the fabric of our family’s existence. I don’t ever want to move again. I hope it is not just because I am getting more and more conservative the older I get, but just that change and transition are painful.
I’ve watched as our congregation moved from our old sanctuary into our new sanctuary. We worked hard to make this move possible. It was a twenty-year goal of St. Andrew’s, but the change wasn’t easy for some of us. The longer one has been here the more difficult the adjustment has been. As one who worked hard to make this change possible, I, too, had my struggles during the transition. I met with a young couple for their first premarital counseling session prior to their forthcoming wedding. At the end of the meeting, they mentioned that they had been attending St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church regularly for the last three months. They asked, “Whatever happened to your old sanctuary?” I said, “It’s still here. It’s that A-frame brick building.” They responded, “Oh, that. We thought that was the chapel. You mean that was the sanctuary?” Their response administered a momentary shock to my system. I couldn’t quite believe that these two very sincere people had arrived so recently on the scene of our church’s life that they had no connectedness with the substantial part of our historic past that was fleshed out in the old sanctuary. Something within me felt a sense of loss. Actually, this was why we built the new sanctuary—to reach out to new people in growing ministry.
Transitions obviously involve more than a change in physical surroundings. They also involve changes in relationships. Some are quite apparent, such as those brought about by death, illness, financial loss, or divorce. Some are much more subtle, such as transitions brought about when a person begins to look introspectively into himself or herself. When one member of a family goes through therapy, what initially appears to be a very smooth transition can end up producing major changes in that family’s dynamics.
Transitions are both a high point and a low point in the life of a person and of a community.
Transitions are a high point in that they are celebrative moments. We see this in what happened as Israel began its demobilization at the end of the formal military conquest. Moses had allowed the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh to occupy the east bank of the Jordan. He had done it on the condition that the warriors of those two and one-half tribes would cross over the Jordan and help the other nine and one-half tribes conquer the land. We saw specific reference to this situation in Joshua 1:12–18. Their faithfulness to this promise was confirmed as under Joshua they fulfilled the commitment made to Moses. They crossed over the Jordan with Joshua and won their badges of courage. They refused to take the easy way and sit out the conquest with their wives and children in Trans-Jordan.
Now came the transition. Joshua summoned the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, releasing them from any more military service. He affirmed them for their faithfulness and sent them home to their wives and children with honor medals for the way in which they stood by their brothers and sisters in the toughest times of battle. He noted their obedience in a sort of commencement address.
Commencement speakers usually wax eloquent in telling of commonly shared past joys and sorrows. The ceremony becomes a celebrative moment mingled with a touch of nostalgia as the graduates go home and then on to other places. The school will never be the same. Commencements, installations, and commissionings mark both an end and a beginning. This is why we have farewell banquets and why we have charges and challenges articulated by guest speakers. Our comings and our goings do have great significance.
Not only did Joshua thank these tribes for a Job well done, but he also called on them to continue to obey the commands of the Lord. He said:
And now the Lord your God has given rest to your brethren, as He promised them; now therefore, return and go to your tents and to the land of your possession, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you on the other side of the Jordan. But take careful heed to do the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to keep His commandments, to hold fast to Him, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul (vv. 4–5).
Then Joshua blessed them and sent them away. They went to their homes in Trans-Jordan.
It was in this final blessing and charge that Joshua inadvertently sowed the seed of a future problem. He had warned them not to forget the Lord God as they returned to their families on the other side of the Jordan. To us, the miles are not too many between the hills of Judea and the hills of Trans-Jordan. The Rift Valley, which goes right down the heart of the Middle East and on into the continent of Africa, makes a major divide. The hills on either side of the Jordan River go up to about thirty-five hundred feet above sea level. The Jordan itself empties into the Dead Sea at thirteen hundred feet below sea level. In that day, those miles, which can now be covered by car in a couple of hours, seemed like an eternity.
Joshua wanted to be sure that the tribes living in Trans-Jordan remained faithful to the Lord. In this celebrative moment, he urged them to share the wealth—the cattle, the silver, the gold, the bronze, the iron, and the clothing that represented the spoils of their battle—with those who had stayed behind. He was articulating both the importance of community and the willingness of those in prominent leadership positions or who have received great material blessings to share their gains with others whose tasks are less noticed. It was a high point of celebration as those Reubenites, Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh marched from Shiloh, where they had been demobilized by Joshua, down through the Judean hills into the Jordan Valley and back up into the hills of Gilead. They couldn’t wait to get home. You can imagine their sounds of celebration.
But transitions also are a low point, because things can often begin to come unraveled. Unity is a great oneness that is often present when men and women are drawn together by a common task. When that task is completed—the athletic season is over, the battle is finished, or the academic year has ended—the team or the army or the student body disperses. The family breaks up. This is why those of us who occasionally lead tours to the Holy Land always have a final banquet the last night of the tour. I always share verbally the obvious fact that we never again will be together in quite the way we have been during these intensive days of travel. So now is the time to say what the group members want to say to each other so as to freeze forever in their memories what was special about this event. I warn them that the minute they hit the ground in the United States they will grab for their luggage and head through customs no longer with a group solidarity but as forty to forty-five separate individuals.
It is the common task that keeps the group together, as Israel discovered when they conquered the Holy Land. Israel continues to discover the reality of this truth, boxed in as it is by Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and the rest of the Arab world. When Israel was trying to establish its national identity in the late 1940s and early 1950s, there was seldom a word of dissent. Each individual Jew had his private opinions. Those opinions were subordinated to the ultimate good of recovering from the Holocaust and establishing a national identity, a homeland for their scattered people. Decades later, Israelis are no longer the little minority standing alone but together against the world; now they are seen as powerful, one of the world’s greatest fighting forces. Their incursion into Lebanon and their years of running battles with Palestinian militants have caused a disruption of national unity. Opinions on domestic and international policies within Israel vary widely today.
The key is to recognize that it is impossible to stay always on a war footing. A people cannot be mobilized forever. But some dictators, who want to stay in power, refuse to acknowledge this fact. To them, national unity is much more important than peace. So they continue to antagonize other nations and to agitate their own population into a constant frenzy directed at an external foe so as to maintain a national oneness that ensures their leadership incumbency. In short, they always have an external enemy so as to orchestrate peace at home.
Some live forever in the fear of transition and do everything they can to maintain the status quo because it is comfortable. Transitions are the high points and the low points in the life of any family. A wedding is celebrated with laughter and in a way is mourned with tears. Things will never be the same again. We tell ourselves, “We’ve not lost a daughter, but we’ve gained a son.” This is often our way of trying to reassure ourselves that we will survive the transition.
This biblical story in Joshua 22 demonstrates both the celebrative aspect of transition and the ways that transitions rip and tear at the fabric of normal existence. The moment those two and one-half tribes headed east and crossed the Jordan River, something changed in Israel. The nation would never again be quite the same, because, no matter how emphatic had been the charge of Joshua, the farther they got from the altar at Shiloh, the farther they might end up from the presence of God and the unity of His people who lived on the other side of the Jordan. Perhaps they might even forget about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
John 14 28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 
Morgan, Robert J. Nelson's Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations, and Quotes. electronic ed., Page 283. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000.
The Holy Bible : New International Version, 1 Ki 2:1. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984.
t 23.6 Law: See the note at 8.30–32.
American Bible Society. Holy Bible : Contemporary English Version. Includes indexes., Jos 23:1. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995.
Nelson's Complete Book of Bible Maps and Charts : Old and New Testaments. electronic ed. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997, c1996.
Huffman, Jr., John A., and Lloyd J. Ogilvie. Vol. 6, The Preacher's Commentary Series, Volume 6 : Joshua. Formerly The Communicator's Commentary. The Preacher's Commentary series, Page 220. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1986.
The Holy Bible : New International Version, Jn 14:28. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984.