First Third Conversations

Framing Ministry in Transition

autumn leavesA blog post by Kris Borke

Image Credit: Red Leaves for Autumn by Dan Foy on Flickr

As if first third ministry wasn't hard enough in today's culture, how do we not only survive, but thrive in transition? Being part of a ministry in transition, especially when it affects those in the first third of life, is a little like trying to sweep the floor in a dust storm. Once you get one area clean another breeze comes. When faced with trying to “clean in a dust storm,” consider the following small steps that can lead to fruitful, systematic changes.

You don't need to be the solution. Our impulse "for the sake of the kids" is to jump in and continue the ministry just like it was, by ourselves. I've seen more frustrated, sad, burned out, ready-to-leave-the- church-completely volunteers making this error. Resist the urge to jump in with both feet. Take a moment, breathe, and pull together other invested people.

Less is more. You are in transition. Do you ask a pregnant woman to continue the same responsibilities in the transition from pregnant to parent? Of course not. So think of yourself as pregnant with possibilities. Get clear about short-term priorities. Take your group of people and think about the next month's calendar, then 3 months. Ask for a meeting with the pastor stating you want to be part of the solution. Let some things go. Feel the transition gap, knowing change is a part of life and a way to grow deeper (even though it often doesn't feel like it).

Don't hurry. A lot of churches want to fill the void as fast as possible. I think this is perhaps the greatest mistake, which can lead to a snowball of challenges. Because the anxiety in the congregational system is so high, the pastor, parents, and/or the youth want to hire the next available bystander looking for a ministry job. This isn't life and death, so you don't need respond like it is. "One size fits all” attitude for children, youth, and family ministers will not be in your best interest. Consider your current congregational culture and the specific young people you serve when considering staffing candidates.

Listen. Take time to reflect by asking, "What do we celebrate about the previous time/person? What do we want the same or different as we move forward? This reflection time with people invested in first third ministry will pay off with interest. Give space for positive and negative comments about the reason for the transition. We all just need to blow off some steam from time to time. Listen without fixing or defending from your position whatever that is: council, parent, volunteer, or invested other.

Pray. I know, I know -- it's what we are supposed to do, but how about praying for the person you will be inviting to lead the ministry in the future, even when you don't know who it will be? When I serve in interim settings and we meet as a transition team, we always pray for who is to come: that God would be preparing them with the necessary skills for our setting and a heart for ministry and young people.

I encourage you on your journey to move from merely surviving to thriving in the inevitable transitions that happen within the lifecycle at churches everywhere. Blessings as you walk in the courage of the Gospel to provide a model of healthy transition. The surprise will be in discovering that you have grown as well.

Author Bio:
Kris serves as the co-founder and co-director of InterServe Ministries. InterServe provides transition solutions for congregations that experience staffing changes in children, youth, and family ministry by providing interim staffing as well as discovery tools that assist leadership regarding how to live into their ministries based on their congregational mission.

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