Thursday, December 11, 2008

Permission to Transition

In January it will be one year since I left full-time staff with InterVarsity and moved to ¾ time with my church. I think I am still realizing how hard it has been for me to live with one foot in each world, transitioning from the parachurch to the Church, and that realization has been hard, yet refreshing. I thought the transition would be seamless. I had already served as an elder at Grace for over a year, my IV office was upstairs at Grace, and I was friends with most of the church staff people that I would be working with. I had been at Grace for 10 years as a member, and I had led many outreaches and worked closely with ministry leaders at the church. In my mind, I was merely changing addresses, leaving the Youth Offices for the administrative offices on the first floor – I even had the same commute from 3 blocks away. But in reality, I was changing so many things.

For fifteen years (counting my undergraduate days), I have been on a college schedule, which has nice ebbs and flows and ready-made breaks every 4-5 months. I was used to the rhythm of having seasons of very busy times and seasons of a more relaxed pace. But in the church it feels like every day is pedal to the metal, something that I think is not unique to Grace and something that I would love to see change. In church, Sunday comes every week whether you are tired or not, and those that you serve don't go home for Christmas break or graduate after 4 or 5 years. In church, finding time to meet leaders and invest in them requires schedule juggling and is mostly limited to the hours of 7:00 am – 8:30 am and 11:45 am – 1:00 pm, unless you want to add a dreaded night meeting s. In IV, I had so much freedom to change directions in ministry, to try new things with fewer consequences, whereas at church, every decision must go through several filters and affects hundreds of people, some of whom have very strong feelings about what you are doing. I was very good at what I did with IV – I knew how to develop student leaders (I don't know how to develop adult leaders yet); I knew how to connect with the hearts of students who were ready and available to learn and grow (it's hard to find time to connect with adults at church); I knew how to cast vision for ministry on a college campus and had folks who were eager and willing to risk and try new things; I knew how to love IV staff and equip them to love their students. I was on campus at UNCG the other week to meet with one of my after school tutors, and I had a wave of emotion come over me, remembering the hours and years I spent on campus there and how much I love working with students.

I didn't leave IV because I didn't like the work or because I thought that moving to church was the next rung in the vocational ministry ladder. In fact, I loved my job as Associate Area Director, and I was getting good at it. I left because I felt (and feel) called to Grace and the ministry God has for me and Diane there. But because the parting was from calling, not burnout, and because the transition has not been as sweet and smooth as I hoped, there is a real loss to leaving full-time IV staff. And while I left IV (except for part-time), I was not forced to grieve because I wasn't really going away.

So my soul has been heavy here at our IV Regional Staff Conference, because I am grieving and feeling a bit out of place amongst my peers. Not that they treat me any differently, but rather our worlds and what we primarily think about are so different that I just feel like an outsider during ministry strategy sessions.

As you can tell (if you are still reading), there is a significant transition that has occurred, though on the surface so much seems the same. Eleven months at a new job has not erased or replaced the fondness of eleven years at my other one. Eleven months at Grace and I still don't feel like I have much direction or vision for what it means to work at church (I probably have more than I give myself credit for – it just still feels a bit foreign). And I am not sure that either of my places of work really understand how I don't quite fit either place right now. Interestingly, I felt somewhat like this for a couple of years after moving into Glenwood, not comfortable in my poor neighborhood because I was the richest guy on the block, yet not comfortable amongst my peers because their life and neighborhood was so different from my reality. The good news is that tension has mostly gone away now; the hard news is that the transition took time.

I need to give myself permission to grieve, permission to transition, and to receive grace and patience as I learn. I don't have it all together, though I think people expect me to. Grace and peace. Grace and peace.

1 comment:

Allen F. said...

Marshall, you are definitely in my thoughts and prayers bro. Transitions always seem harder once we start than when we look to them, But I know that God calling you to Grace means he is going to grow you to a point where you can have an influence and honor him as his son using the gifts he has grown in you with your time in IV...

And that is going to be an awesome day!