You may remember that some weeks ago I posted an entry entitled “The Challenge of Transition” in which I talked about how times of transition are difficult places to be and yet they are opportunities for much growth. This post was itself followed on from another post which I provocably entitled “Saying goodbye to student ministry?“. In that earlier post I talked about how I felt God was asking me to hold student ministry with an “open hand” and being willing to respond to where the LORD was leading. In many ways I feel that my thoughts on future direction have been the ‘elephant in the room’; something clearly there but for a number of reasons not something I have often spoken about. I will return to this later (so please read on) but suffice to say that through a number of ongoing conversations with each of the respective parties involved, the elephant in the room is well and truly out of his box!
One of those meetings was with my colleague Thompy where I was presented with the feedback from my 360 degree review which had been collated and processed into a number of reports. I must confess that this process was far more challenging than I had imagined but having had some time to process the feedback I now feel incredibly touched and very encouraged by all of the feedback I received. There is much to be thankful for. My gifts in building community, leadership, admin / organisation and teaching were well celebrated. There were also a number of things for me to consider and think through, not least the question of the future. I would like to say that the review provided a clear picture of the way forward but in all honestly that was not really the case. There was a clear sense that student ministry was a good fit for my gifts but there were also different ideas about what I should do next.
More of that in a moment but I want to spend some moments reflecting again on transitions and transitions are a part of life we all face. Today I dropped Naomi at school for what is the third in a series of visits to her new school. She will start at infants school in September and this was a chance for her to be there on her own, continuing to get to know her new teacher and explore her new school. She was excited and eager for Daddy to go; we are so proud of her and she is doing so well transitioning into this next phase of life!
I have been reading a book a friend recommended called “Transitions” by William Bridges. In his opening chapter he observes three phases of transition; endings, the in-between place and beginnings. Within this framework he identifies four principles that arise from our transitions;
- When you’re in transition, we find ourselves coming back in new ways to old activities
- Every transition begins with an ending – we need to let go of the old thing before we can pick up the new one
- Although its advantageous to understand our own style of endings, some part of us will resist that understanding as though our lives depended on it
- First there is an ending, then a beginning, and an important empty or fallow time in between just as there is in the order of things in nature.
I would first like to share some reflections on these principles and then I will return to my so-called elephant in the room;
Firstly I am very grateful that I have had the space to process the significant ‘ending’ I had with the student ministry back in the Autumn. Most people would simply not have been able to have space from work/ministry as I did. As I mentioned in my previous post it was very difficult for me to let go and some have reflected that I perhaps would not have done so had the decision not been effectively taken out of my hands. A relational disciple-making, life-on-life ministry lends itself to very blurred lines between work and friendship. Letting go had a significant impact on only upon my work but upon a whole host of relationships as well. This ending was abrupt, unplanned and in many ways for me quite unwelcome but that is how God seems to have led us and I would have to say that this ‘ending’ has yielded much good in our lives.
Secondly although the transition has been quite confusing and very uncertain (not an easy place to be) it is clear that this fallow period has been an opportunity for much growth and reflection. Back in the summer of 2013, the aftermath of James’ death and Debbie becoming unwell led to a number of lifestyle changes and a necessary reorientation for me from ministry to the family. I would have to say that without those changes, this past year and the challenges that it brought with it (e.g. Debbie in hospital for 3 months) would have been far, far more difficult. That year I also built a sauna in our garden importing a little Norwegian/Latvian culture to our lives and it has proved to be such an invaluable place of space and a source of much hope. Yes its been a place where much fun (and ministry) has happened but it has also been a place where I spent many evenings with Jesus renewing my strength in Him.
Thirdly, I see that whatever comes next the role I previously held has effectively come to an end. The ministry has moved on and is in a different place. To return to the student ministry has to be seen as something new rather than a return to what I was doing before. It needs a new approach for a new time. For those who know me well it will come as no surprise to hear that over the last few months I have had a growing conviction that grass-roots ministry is where I feel God wants me to be. There are a number of secondary / support roles that I have been asked to consider (some of which may well form part of a new assignment) but both myself and Debbie are clear that the primary focus of any new role needs to be grass-roots ministry.
This year Debbie and I celebrated 10 years of marriage but this year also coincides with my 10 year milestone working with as a Representative of the Navigators and 10 years since we first took leadership of the student ministry. The reason we gave up our jobs to work as self-employed, God-funded representatives was to be involved in seeing people come to Christ and grow as disciples. Our determination to be involved with that has not changed, it might look a bit different as we age but essentially at its heart it is the same. Some might argue that its time to take a role watching/supporting from the stands but for me I am clear that I want to be on the pitch amidst the action. My conviction is that our best years of making disciples are most certainly still ahead of us and I (bearing in mind the need to keep on prioritising the family) am ready step back into front-line ministry.
Decisions about our future are expected shortly. They still feel very much out of our hands but ideally things will be a little clearer before we head off to Norway. I do feel a certain contentment that God is at work and helping me to focus on the right questions especially in relation to what will best help to grow others and grow God’s Kingdom. What future assignment for us will best serve Christ, the existing student ministry and those who have courageously stepped up to lead at a significant personal cost/sacrifice?
What we are clear on is that such an assignment should focus on a grass-roots ministry that will allow us to use our gifts. It will need to be local (given where we are at and the support network we have in place), it will need to involve minimal travel (this is not the time to be travelling lots) and it will need to be inherently something new. By something new, I mean either in how we approach leadership (if we were to return to the student ministry) or in context (if we were to do something new). One way another what is next will surely be a new beginning.
Please do continue to pray for us, for our leaders and for those currently in leadership within the student ministry that the decisions that are made would best serve the Kingdom of God. I trust that this insight into my endings, my period of transition and my future beginning has been helpful to you in understanding where we are at. Please do get in touch of you have questions or would like to chat further and I would love to hear of your experiences of going through challenging transitions.