***There is a sermon link at the bottom of this page from a sermon I preached on Ecclesiastes 3, a few years ago.
Life is constantly moving from one thing to another and we are in constant transition. When you are born your body radically changes daily. From there it’s walking, potty training, eating by yourself, then eventually reading, writing, driving, Calculus, girlfriends, college, marriage, kids, mini-vans, thinning hair, kids start dating, kids leave for college, etc. At every stage, just when you have it figured out, guess what? It’s time to change to something else. If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that life is going to change, and rarely does it go back to being “normal.”
The following are a few mistakes that we can make in dealing with transitions.
Mistakes of dealing with transitions of life:
Moving Forward Too Fast
This is when we are looking toward the next transition too soon.When I was in seminary there were those that would max out the amount of classes they could take. They rarely (if ever) left their rooms except to go to class. If you did happen to see these recluses, and were able to squeeze in a conversation, they constantly talked about how they wanted to finish school as soon as possible (yeah, no kidding).
They were missing “the seminary experience” in order to get to the “real world” of ministry. The whole purpose of seminary was to equip them for the ministry they desired to do, but in their rushing through the experience they were short circuiting the process of being equipped in order to move to the next stage. They were checking the boxes as fast as they could.
At every stage of life and in every time of transition there are things we are to learn, life lessons to experience, and people that we are to meet and engage in life with. If you move from stage to stage, and transition to transition, with never stopping to engage in the moment, then you are going to miss something very important in your life. But seriously, “When have you finally arrived?” At what point of success will you slow down and concentrate on the moment?
Holding On For Too Long
The second mistake is the opposite of the first. This is when we try to hold on to the past so long that it keeps us from moving with the flow of the present. It’s like we are anchored to the past, and the swirl of the current of life roars past us. If Stacy London and Clinton Kelly have taught me anything, it is that people get trapped in a time of their lives then they were happy or at least felt safe. But when they aren’t able to move forward in life (like when someone dies, a divorce, or some other tragic event) their fashion/dress gets stuck and they don’t move on. This is a visual picture of what happens when we don’t roll with the transitions, but emotionally (which we can’t see) it make take the form of shutting down, not trying, or just trying to disappear from society. Life becomes this dance of grabbing on the present, while letting go of the past – moment to moment.
People Are Important
Another mistake people make in dealing with transitions is Not Developing Relationships As You Go. Life (and ministry) is all about relationships, people, and how we are all connected together. It took me until my adult life to realize that the people who have been in my life weren’t just there (as trees in a landscape), they were there for me to develop meaningful relationships with.
In our self-centered lives we tend to view people as ways to get us to where we want to go; they become tools we use to help us advance in our goals, visions, or careers. If they can’t be of help to us, we tend to marginalize them out of our lives. This is a huge mistake because even if you perceive that a person will be in your life for a short period of time, you still should make an effort to get to know them, love them, befriend them, and invest your life in theirs. Who knows where it might lead and what the future holds? But also, what if we are in one season of life much longer than we had anticipated?
Not Enjoying the Moment
There are moments in my kid’s lives that I will always treasure. I have loved leading Joshua and Caleb in Scouts, having lunch with Isaac and picking him up from school, or doing Hannah-Grace’s hair for a dance recital when her mother had to go out of town.
It sounds cliche, but “stop to smell the roses.” Our kids are only in their transition for a moment and then they move on to something else. Each day is a gift, and each new change is an opportunity to keep a great relationship, start over, or make things right.
Transitions cause stress in our lives. We feel the need to make decisions, and our focus can become completely consumed by this need to take some action, make a final decision, or the feeling to just do something. During these times of transitions (especially during moments like today) we are not sure of what we need to do. In that time of stress, life still moves on, it doesn’t stop because we are not sure what we should be doing.
Ministry involves emotional work. Like nurses or police officers, pastors regularly engage in activities as a part of their day-to-day responsibilities where they must deal with other people’s problems, emotions, and behavior. They are expected to express love, compassion, emotion, or they are expected to reserve that emotion, to be professionally distant and to control it all like a switch.
So as the years go by, if we are not careful, our emotion switch gets stuck or even broken. Numbness and callousness sets in like a whiteout in the winter. We stop feeling, caring, and everything goes on autopilot. We are so “professional” that we can fool everyone, even ourselves.
But if we are numb on the inside, then we miss those moments of transitions that our kid’s need for us to be completely present. If you are at this point, and you are not able to enjoy the moment then stop what you are doing, take a break, pray, and focus on doing whatever it takes to regain your sense of feeling. One of the ways that I have found to manage that professional numbness is to focus on today (you can’t control tomorrow). I don’t know what God has in store for me in the future, but today I have responsibilities, children who need a dad, a wife that needs a husband, etc. If I can focus on that, and only that, then I can fend off the feeling of paralysis by analysis.
All of these things deal with finding the right balance between moving and staying still, holding on and letting go, building up and moving on (Ecclesiastes 3 puts it much better; see below). I would also recommend “Didn’t See It Coming,” by Carey Nieuwhof. While it doesn’t completely offer steps to solve this issue, it does give you a point of reference on the topic (in other words it is a helpful place to begin the discussion with yourself and others).
I have found that it has been my relationship with Jesus that allowed me to find that place between true joy through living out one’s purpose without slipping into numb professionalism and feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude of life.
Here is a sermon on Ecclesiastes 3 that I preached at Daybreak Community Church, many a moon ago. It also deals with the issue of change and how life stinks sometimes.
Ecclesiastes 3 “A Time for Everything” (ESV)
For everything there is a season, and la time for every matter under heaven:
2 a time to be born, and a time to mdie;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
3 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
4 a time to nweep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to odance;
a time to embrace, and a time to rrefrain from embracing;
6 a time to seek, and a time to slose;
a time to keep, and a time to tcast away;
7 a time to utear, and a time to sew;
a time to vkeep silence, and a time to speak;
8 a time to love, and a time to whate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
Churches and businesses are drawing close to the time when they will begin to gather and open in groups once again. Pastors, staffs, and business owners are going to make decisions regarding reopening their doors and gather in groups. While they have gained new ways of doing things (Zoom meetings, social distancing, sanitizing, etc.) its’ natural tendency is to go back to “normal” — but they are in a day that their “old normal” just can not continue. Churches and businesses have to change, but it is the vision of the organization that will allow it move through these unknown and treacherous times.
Focusing on the issues and changes that need to be made will keep you away from the vision if you allow it, but one would do it to their own peril. The following are three things that many leaders get wrong — it is the vision that will allow them to navigate through these tough decisions.
1. Mistake#1 – Vision is Not About Fixing Problems.
Vision is not seeing perceived problems that need to be fixed and then designing a plan to fix those problems. Fixing problems is on the job description for a leader, but it is not vision. A skillful leader can fix problems all the day long but never show vision.
The leader who falls into this category is stuck in maintenance mode. Nehemiah did not fix the walls because they were broken. The broken walls changed how God’s people were living, so the walls had to be built so that people’s lives would be changed. When we are only about fixing problems we have actually lost sight of the vision. Casting vision and pushing it through the organization will cause all kinds of issues, it actually creates problems.
A good vision will allow people to clearly see where the organization is going, there will be people who don’t want to go on this trip, and others will want to get on the bus with you. But don’t expect it to be clean and neat, and that everyone will be happy.
2. Mistake #2 – Vision is Not a Group Project.
A vision can be shared, but it cannot be developed by the organization, it has to come from the leader. Visions spread and are adapted as they grow throughout an organization. They begin to take a life of their own in different ways, but it is a guiding force from the top of the organization.
The top leader has to constantly push the vision because it will get lost among the masses. The organization as a whole cannot push the vision forward without the main leader encouraging them to do so. God does not give multiple visions to multiple people, He gives one vision to the main leader. If He did there would be chaos.
This is not to say that counsel should not be sought after before developing a vision or even letting key leaders have input into the process. Proverbs 15:22 says, “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” But once they have been heard and their advice taken into account, it is the main leader who sets the vision.
3. Mistake #3 – Vision Is Not ALL About Making Changes.
Beginning something new, ending something that is not working, or making changes, is not vision. Changes are tools that allow you reach or achieve the vision. You can change how you are structured, hire or fire employees, etc. but these are changes that make organizations healthy and stable. Once the organization is stable, healthy, etc. you still have to ask and answer the question “Why are we doing this?” and you have to have an answer (and ask it again, and again, and again, ad nauseam).
All of my children at around the age of a-year-and-a-half became very annoying. They would abruptly and continuously yell unintelligible sounds. They would scream, yell, click their tongues, and make a cacophony of (did I already say annoying?) sounds. It hurt my ears, kept me awake when I wanted to be sleeping, and made social engagements very awkward. As my wife and I endured this time we would come across people who would say, “awww how cute; they are finding their voice” and “Are they twins?”
All people go through this necessary childhood developmental process and some even go on to be great orators, singers, musicians, preachers, etc. They use their developed voice for the good of mankind. They have honed the skill of their voice to harness the admiration and confidence of others. They draw attention to causes, things that need attention, or other noble purposes. That which was once annoying because it was underdeveloped has now become focused and highly useful.
But what of the adult who has not found their voice? What about those who squeak, stumble, and lack process of thought? Do we want to follow them? Do we want to follow their cause, or get-in-line to sign up to assist their efforts? No. Like a screaming child they give us a headache and when mom’s not looking we slip out of the room.
As a leader, here are a few things to think about in relation to your ideas and how you voice those ideas.
Annoying is not Cute.
Yes, I have been “that parent” on the airplane whose children were screaming. And no, I did not check Pinterest to get cute ideas of gifts to give those sitting around us. We were broke and exhausted and had no time or money to put together a hundred bags of candy or whatever you would put in a bag that says, “I’m sorry for making your life miserable on this flight.” They just had to suck it up, and take the hit. They drew us, and our screaming children, as their travel companions. No matter what we did, and how we had prepared for the flight the children decided to scream and cry. Joy. Those people who smiled and said, “oh, how cute” and “are they twins?,” those same people would not look at us as we got off the plane.
Annoying is not cute.
The same is true for those leaders who have not continued to develop their voice. Like screaming kids on an airplane, people get trapped into situations where they have to listen to them, praying that it will end (soon). People try to end the pain by helping the parents. They hand them crackers across the aisle, or offer up some business item to be used as a toy. Those who endure an underdeveloped leader try to help them. Do you really want to follow a leader for whom you feel sympathy? Leaders are to inspire, encourage, and (to say the obvious) lead.
In many ways we are all traveling on a journey together. Sometimes it’s your turn to lead, and sometimes it’s your turn to follow. So if you are on deck to lead, and people are listening to what you say, make sure it is pleasant to the ears. For those leaders who shrill and crack through their ideas, it is painful for those listening and trying to follow. Far too many of those suffering under a leader who have not found their voice try to stuff the hopelessly too small airline pillow into their ears only to discover no relief from their efforts. Those that lack a developing (or even developing) voice push people away.
Finding One’s Voice Takes Many Hours of Making Sounds
If you are a parent and its time for your child to find their voice then get some earplugs, turn up the stereo and endure it. It’s just like the potty training stage that’s on it’s way, or the taking an afternoon nap stage that just went away — it’s just a stage. Eventually your child develops the ability to speak and communicate. They learn to speak by imitating you, the characters in their favorite DVD, and all the other people in their lives. But there comes a time for imitation to cease and originality to begin.
The trap many leaders fall into is trying to be someone they are not. In Preacher Land (my Oz and where I hang out), many young preachers imitate preachers they respect and want to emulate. They copy their sermons, their illustrations, even down to their hand gestures and way of dress. They may even become exact copies of their idol, but they have not developed their own voice. They are more like the parrot in the pet store than people who add to life’s discussion. Don’t parrot others, speak for yourself — speak your own thoughts and ideas. If you do this there will many times when others poke holes into your thoughts, ideas, and beliefs. This only causes you to think even further (which is ok).
Eventually, with time and having enough of these experiences you begin to develop your own voice.
*For more discussion on this specific point, I would highly recommend Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers book, chapter two “The 10,000 – hour rule”
What If I Have Nothing To Say?
If you talk with someone who has a beautiful singing voice to name one of their favorite songs, and can they sing some from it, most will do it without a second thought. They have a talent that is developing and they enjoy sharing it with other people. It is only when we do not see the value of our voice that we try to keep it silent.
The fear of a young leader is that they have not lived long enough or had enough life experience to have anything of value to say. Or, they may think, “I don’t hold a position (with enough) authority, so why would anyone want to listen to me?”
Discovering our voice and what to say is a process. No writer sits down with pad and pen or computer and writes a first draft perfect essay, novel, or poem. Our thoughts have a first draft, then they are edited, rewritten, proofed, and many times at this point even sit on a shelf for further thought. This process if refined as it is thought through. Your voice is also refined as you use and exercise it. If you don’t begin the process, then you will never know where it may lead. If all you do is copy others then you will never discover how beautifully unique you are.
You have something to say, but you have to say it with your own voice, and that voice needs to be developed.
Jeremiah 1:6-10 “Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.’ 7 But the Lord said to me, ‘Do not say, ‘I am only a youth;’ for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the Lord.’ 9 Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”
Saying It Louder Does Not Make Your Idea Any Better
Poorly designed ideas are often hidden in the volume of defensive person’s voice. If someone can’t articulate why they disagree with you, explain their own thoughts, or are not willing to dialogue about something, they may simply try to talk over you or talk louder than you. They may exercise poor logic in their diatribe (like straw man, red herring, ad hominem, etc.) As a leader you have to guard against this fallacy in your own voice. Don’t talk louder if someone disagrees with you; just continue to rationally think through and explain your position.
Also, when people begin to raise their voices and speak over each other they become focused on what they are going to say next. They stop listening and discussion ceases. The fight may rage on but any possibility of winning a person over to their side is gone until things cool back down.
Your Voice Changes With Age
One of the most beautiful sounds is a senior adult choir in a church. It reminds me of days in my childhood when I would go to church with my grandparents. I would sit in between them on a stack of hymnals (so I could see the preacher). We would stand and sing the old hymns of Baptist tradition and I would hear my grandmothers and grandfathers voices. As they sang, “victory in Jesus,” and “On a hill far away . . .” their voices would shake because of their age. But it was beautiful none-the-less.
As we grow older our voice changes. From toddlerhood, puberty, from maturity, and to eventual old age, our voices change slowly over time. But it should never cease to speak. When you lead, speak from where you are now in your journey. As a thirty-something my voice is radically different than when I was in college, and as I approach fifty it is different even more. It is seasoned with a mortgage, children, marriage, and over twenty-five years of ministry. What I say now and how I say it, is different than when I was in college. But one should not wait until “maturity” or old age to say something. Each stage of life has something to add to the conversation. Just say it in humility — because we all have some more to learn.
So start putting original ideas out there, respect others but don’t copy them, and continue to refine your voice. You have something to say. Start talking. I’m listening.
 Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers, The Story of Success (New York, New York; Back BayBooks, 2008) 35.
I grew up along a rural road, in a rural county, in a state with some wide open spaces. There was no “my neighborhood,” it was more like, “my road.” Along that road children where peppered over ten miles – sparingly. So, in central Alabama it rarely snows, and when it does (trust me) it’s a big deal. But no one on “my road” had snow boots — why would they? Because when it did snow it was nothing more than an inch (at the most).
So we did what any frugal southerner would do when they wanted to play in the “snow.” We would tie plastic Piggly-Wiggly or Wal-Mart grocery sacks around our shoes, and off we would go. The smart kids would put the sack over their socks and then put them in their shoes, but that’s another issue.
Often when these storms would come, it would happen quickly and the snow would be gone within a matter of hours. So if you wanted to experience snow in Dixie, you had to move quickly.
“Mom, where are the Piggly-Wiggly bags!?”
This is often how life comes at you. Changes will occur, and you often feel ill equipped to handle it — why would you? You have rarely experienced “this” before!
Rick Warren says in his book The Purpose Driven Life, “Growth is often painful and scary. There is no growth without change; there is change without fear or loss; and there is no loss without pain. Every change involves a loss of some kind: You must let go of old ways in order to experience the new. We fear these losses, even if our old ways were self-defeating, because like a worn out pair of shoes, they were at least comfortable and familiar.”  So jumping off of pastor Warren’s metaphor of growth and shoes here are some things to think about.
Look down and see what kind of shoes are you wearing. If you happen to be in West Virginia, or live on my road in Alabama, look around you may not have seen any for a while, but they are in the house somewhere.
Hobo Shoes — You Have to Change, it’s Just a Matter of When.
In dealing with change and growth you may be (metaphorically) wearing different kinds of shoes. The first kind of shoes you may be wearing are Hobo Shoes. These shoes feel great. They breath when you wear them, even though those around you can’t. These shoes are well broken in. You know how they will feel, even before you put them on — that’s because there isn’t much shoe to put on.
These are the people who won’t change because what they currently have “works.” But let’s be honest, when people look at you, they are not going to trust you. “Why?” you ask. Because you look like a hobo. These are the people who say, “We’ve never done it just way before” or “If it was good enough for my daddy, and his daddy, and his daddy, and his daddy (you get the idea) then it’s good enough for me!” Why change — because the shoes you are wearing, have long since been worn out. If you wait too long to change you lose credibility. In the days of Covid-19 this this principle is especially true — how you led six months ago, won’t work now; and quit waiting for the good-ole-days to return because they aren’t (at least for a long time).
Track Shoes — As you Change, Constantly Evaluate.
Another type of shoe you may be wearing are track shoes. These people love to move, run, jump, and do hurdles. They are focused on moving forward (as fast as they can). They are focused, and they seek to improve their time. People who (metaphorically) wear track shoes keep their eyes forward, but they are listening for the sounds of pounding pavement behind them. The problem with people who wear track shoes while engaging change is that they are so focused on moving forward faster than anyone else, is that they fail to realize that they are running in circles.
Around and around they go, and never really going anywhere. it feels like things are being accomplished because there is movement. But in reality, the same issues keep popping up again, and again, and again. Track shoe people don’t like to stop and evaluate. If they stop, someone may get in front of them, and take their place. Their focus is the recognition, the prize, and the ribbons.
Kid’s Shoes — Keep Changing, Don’t Stop.
The last shoes are kid’s shoes. I have four kids and they are constantly going through shoes. It seems as soon as we buy a pair they have either “ragged them out” or outgrown them. So we are constantly changing shoes. This is the most healthy way of dealing with growth. When you are feeling the pinch of crowded toes, or the shoes are disintegrating, then get a new pair. Change your shoes.
You may get the wrong size, or they may not fit exactly right — that’s ok. Try them on in the store, give them time to stretch and break them in, and even exchange them if you need to. But never stop moving into new shoes.
Mom, where are the Piggly Wiggy bags? I think it’s starting to snow!
 Rick Warren,Â The Purpose Driven Life (Grand Rapids, Michigan:Zondervan, 2002), 220.
Update: 2/16/2021 While going through some old pictures I came across my piggly wiggly bag snow snows.