I was recently asked this question: What has been the most valuable learning experience in your ministry and why? Here's my response.
Mission and transition are dynamically related.
When a faith community is intentional about discerning the mission entrusted to it and committed to engagement in that mission, it is also willing to be intentional about the transitions that are necessary. The dots have to be connected.
While considering leaving the parish I had served as rector for almost a decade, I was intrigued by the work being accomplished by colleagues who were intentional interim rectors. In conversations with them, I was encouraged to explore service to the wider Church through transitional ministry instead of as a settled rector in one parish. That discernment led to training in intentional interim ministry, during which I suddenly realized that all churches are in some sort of transition most of the time, although often unconscious of it.
Transition training should be core seminary curriculum. Transitions between settled rectors provide a unique opportunity to explore transition – remembering where we’ve been, clarifying where we are, discerning where God is calling us, making changes that are needed, connecting with the wider church, and embracing a new era of mission with a new spiritual leader. But that is not the end of transition!
During this epiphany, I recalled some words of Titus Presler: “Mission is not fundamentally something we do as Christians but a quality of God’s own being. It is not a program of ours but the path of God’s action in the world. The mission of the church, therefore, derives from the mission of God, and it has meaning only in relation to what God is up to in the universe. Already engaged in mission, God simply invites us to participate in what God is doing.”
The Church doesn’t have a mission. The mission has a Church. Everything we do as followers of Christ in community is related to and in the service of that mission. And God’s mission is constantly in transition. It became clear to me that when a church continues to function as if nothing has changed, the mission suffers. It also became clear to me that the mission suffers when changes are needed but are avoided or resisted.
So, intentional transition work in the Church, whether between rectors or at any time, must involve discernment about mission, participation in what God is doing for the sake of the world at our doorstep. Transition work matters only in relation to mission.
This insight guides my leadership so that after our interim time together, consciousness of the dynamic relationship between ongoing mission and ongoing transition will continue. Churches that are engaged in mission are healthier, happier, and more attractive to those who are seeking what Christ offers through them. In such places, transition evokes transformation.
I would like to leave a legacy of healthy, mission-focused, transformative congregations in my service to the wider Church.
O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(The Book of Common Prayer, Collect for Proper 10)