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How to Thrive in Transitions: 4 Things to Consider When Questioning it All

How to Thrive in Transitions: 4 Things to Consider When Questioning it All

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
- Leo Tolstoy


How does that quote hit? Change is an almost ephemeral constant in ministry and life. We often think of change as needed only when something is wrong or deficient. Once the necessary change is brought about, everything should be good for a while, right? Actually, nothing seems to stay as it was. Even you and I will change, and we must change. Immutability is one of God’s divine traits, not ours. He alone is perfect and capable of all things.

You might be in a weird place right now in ministry. Most student ministers are not student ministers for their entire calling in ministry. Few ministers spend their entire lives in service at one congregation. Most transition every 5-7 years from one congregation to another. More and more ministers find themselves stepping away from ministry to recover from burnout or heal from wounds sustained in ministry. How will the bills be paid, and what does this mean for a future in ministry? These transitions often come with a crisis of belief and identity. Who am I? What am I going to do? Remember, God has not forgotten you, and He is faithful. Philippians 1:6 says, “And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Here are a few things to remember when you feel God moving you into a time of transition.


1. Seasons Change, and So Do People

Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 is one of my all-time favorite passages. Verse 11 states, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, He has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” We acknowledge and enjoy the seasons God has established throughout nature. You and I know that without the changing of the seasons, there would be no balance and continuation in nature. It’s a rhythm that sustains all living things. What about you, though? Do you allow for change and continuation in your life and calling? Have we become so entrenched in “who we are and what we do” that we have left little room for considering what follows our next season in life? I can testify that the single, 22-year-old student pastor did things differently and had differing goals than the 37-year-old student/education/associate pastor I am today. 

Through the sanctification process and your own development, you should change. Perhaps God has developed a particular longing in your heart, and you realize it’s time to transition into another focus of ministry. Recognize that this isn’t a bad thing or a failure in your current situation. Rather, God is continuing in His beautiful work in your life and His calling. Inversely, you may be in a dark season where you question your calling and whether you can take much more. This, too, is a natural progression; everyone experiences crisis and chaos. Persevere in your faith and recognize this is not a forever time. Rather, it is an opportunity to plumb the depths of your identity in Christ and spend time crying out to Him.

2. Calling > Corporate Ladder

We’ve all heard it and thought about it. “What? You’re still in student ministry? When are you going to be a REAL pastor?” Ouch, that one stings a bit. I guarantee you’ve had some internal strife asking, “Is this it?” You glance across social media and see seminary friends or companions in ministry creating podcasts, publishing books, and speaking at conferences. Suddenly, where we are and what God has blessed us with seems lacking and unfruitful. More than ever, there is pressure on us to “progress” in ministry. Surely, we’re meant to graduate from a smaller church to a larger church, right? I recently had a discussion with the head of church/minister relations for a state convention. He said that many churches are now avoiding long-tenured candidates applying for ministry positions. The reason? Many churches have now adopted the “corporate ladder” mindset and see those who serve in a church for longer than 5 years as “unmotivated and complacent.” How heartbreaking is that?! Your calling is from God, and it always resonates with a particular people and purpose (1 Peter 2:9-10). Do not give in to the pressure to “succeed” in this corporate church conglomerate. If God has called you to serve and stay, enjoy digging deep into life and ministry with your people. If God has called you to serve in a small or rural context, go and count it all as joy. Do not thrive on others’ praise and expectations.

3. Consider Circumstances and Friends

Perhaps you have been struggling silently with transitioning in ministry. Where can you find some godly feedback and direction? Perhaps you could reach out to some of your local friends in ministry and ask for their opinion and help. You’d be amazed how many others have walked down a similar path and may have helpful input. Your denomination may have free counseling services to help you navigate this struggle. There may be a friend who has made a similar transition in ministry and life that can give perspective on what you’re considering. Do not be afraid to reach out. Ministers seem to struggle in silence more than most. Undoubtedly, it can be very difficult to have this discussion with your pastor (if you’re thinking of leaving) or other believers (if you’re hurt and need some time to heal). Yet, brothers and sisters in ministry can help you see things in your circumstances that you may not have considered. Ministry and life have their own natural ebb and flow, like the seasons. Taking time to consult godly counsel and plan well pays huge dividends in ministry.

4. Rest Well in Jesus

I serve on the Gulf Coast, and as such, we have seasonal hurricanes and tornadoes every year. This means that a great deal of energy and time goes into planning and responding before, during, and after a storm. A storm will come, and you must be ready for it. As men and women charged with God’s ministry on Earth, we must plan to rest and reflect well. William Vanderbloemen says, “Every pastor is really an interim.” He’s right. You and I are not capable of every task all of the time. Have you considered pulling away for a time to heal from wounds and plan what may be next? Consider your age, family situation, and capabilities while praying through God’s calling. Begin to look around for those who can succeed you and step into ministry alongside you for a time. Do you have “an exit strategy or emergency plan?” Take time to rest and think about what may be next for you. 

Share your thoughts with others in our YM360 community:

  • Have you, in the last 6 months, seriously considered a transition in ministry? What events/emotions have surrounded these considerations?
  • Have you thought about what it would look like to “leave well” in your context? How could you set up your current ministry context for success when you leave?

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Rich Douglas - November 15, 2023

I’m in that moment right now! Needed to hear this reminder today. Like a lighthouse in the storm, we must keep our vision focused, and not on the storm around us.

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