A year ago, some of our pastors and regional staff participated in the Transitional Ministries training by ABC-USA. One of the key lessons we learned is that change and transition are not the same thing. Change is something we all must face, every day. Right now, the road to our home has been torn up for road work. This morning, I had to take the longer way to the office because the shorter route was blocked off. It was annoying, but if it became permanent, I would learn to live with it. “Change is situational,” William and Susan Bridges write in Managing Transitions. “Transition, on the other hand, is psychological.” This is because transitions start at the end. A transition starts because something we know and depend on is ending. Something is coming to a close. Something is lost. We have to learn how to let go. In Managing Transitions, the authors explain that after the letting go, there is a “neutral zone,” before the new has come to be, where we are rethinking, or as the old GPS voice used to say, “recalculating.” Then we get to the beginning of something new. This transition phase is “Ending, Neutral Zone, and Beginning.” It is different than what we are used to. We can get hung up in this time when we rush transitions, or don’t think we need transitional time at all.
Your ABCWI region is starting a transition season. The Finance Committee of ABCWI has voted to put the Regional Office, 15330 Watertown Plank Road in Elm Grove, on the market. There are several reasons for this decision. The first is that we simply do not need this much space anymore. The top floor has seven office spaces plus a boardroom. The downstairs has two conference rooms plus two more office spaces that have become storage. We have parking lot space for 29 cars (you might imagine how much snow there is to remove!) Central Seminary closed their satellite campus in 2020, three years ago. Online learning and meetings have become the norm, whether we like them or not. While I would love to have more staff to provide more resources and ministries for the region, we would need to double our budget to do so.
The second reason is ministry. All our churches have had to tighten budgets. United Mission giving has steadily declined in recent years. As the number of staff has decreased at the region office, we have not replaced them. To put more money into the care of an office building we no longer need does not seem prudent. We would rather be able to support existing ministries, start new initiatives and support our churches and pastors. We have some options as to where the office will move to, and we will be exploring each one in prayer and with wisdom and guidance from the Holy Spirit.
Your Board of Managers has been at work this past year, beginning with a retreat in January, on developing a new vision and purpose statement and supporting scripture. We will share these at the Annual Gathering in October, but you can find our work in progress here: https://www.abcofwi.org/mission-vision/ This work will help guide us forward in our focus as a region in how we serve one another and Christ here in Wisconsin.
In the past, regions and churches often developed strategic plans for the next three to five years. We have learned from the pandemic that the best laid plans can be completely changed. There are a number of articles and books coming out in Christian leadership on leading through liminal spaces—in other words, leading when we don’t know what the outcome will be. This is unprecedented, as we keep saying, because we are heading into the unknown.
Just like the early church. When we go back to the book of Acts, we are reminded in the very first chapter that the disciples didn’t know what to do or to expect:
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” -Acts 1:6-8 (NRSV)
And they had to wait. Once Jesus ascended and the faithful gathered, their numbers were 120 persons (vs. 15). Besides finding a replacement for Judas, they did not do anything other than gather for prayer, worship, and fellowship. That’s exactly what they were doing in the second chapter, on the day of Pentecost, when suddenly the Holy Spirit came upon them. Peter recognized the work of the Holy Spirit, and that was when the church was born. Did they have a goal of how many people to baptize? Did they have a strategic plan of how many churches to plant? They had none of those things. Nonetheless, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they trusted where to go, whom to talk to, and what to do.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)
Perhaps in starting this time of transition we need to listen to the Holy Spirit’s guidance and see where the needs are in the world around us. It worked pretty well for the disciples. None of us can guarantee that three thousand people will be baptized (Acts 2:41) but we do know that when we trust in the Holy Spirit, we find that the measures of our success are not the numbers at the end, but lives transformed, including our own, by Jesus Christ.
It is Christ who calls us to serve in the world and proclaim the Good News in word and deed. May we worry less about numbers and plans, and seek instead to live into the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives and the world. As Your Regional Office staff and the Board of Managers, we are at the end of the old way of doing things, but we have not started the beginning. We are letting go of how we once did ministry as a region, and seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we live into today and tomorrow.
With you in these transitional times,
Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell