Transitions: Leading Churches Through Change is an attempt to provide church leaders with wisdom for helping congregations deal with change in their personal lives, in their churches, and in society at large. Some chapters contain intriguing research on leading change and related topics. Other chapters feature moving testimonies from leaders who succeeded and sometimes failed in their change efforts. Some of the chapters even contain sermons that pastors could use to help their people deal with particular transitions. As I read the book, I found practical advice that would serve any church leader well. At times, I was inspired to take a certain action through a testimony or sermonic admonition.
Even though I found some good insights in Transitions, I faced three major challenges as I read the book. First, many of the authors of the book’s 26 chapters write from a Christian faith tradition very different from my own (e.g. many are part of the United Methodist Church). Some of the examples reflect a fairly rigid denominational hierarchy that has been largely absent from my church experience. Because of this significant contextual difference, some of the recommendations seemed inappropriate for my church situation.
Second, I found it frustrating that certain chapters seemed disconnected from others. It read as though the authors had considerable freedom in choosing their topics, resulting in some chapters or sections that seemed, in some cases, divorced from the overall theme of the book.
Third, it seemed like some of the chapters were written from a functionalist perspective. A functionalist approach would say that if a person carries out a specific action, then a particular result will occur. I’m not convinced life is that simple or straightforward. It seems to me that our personal lives and church systems are often considerably more complex and messy. Pulling a particular lever will not produce the same result in every context or even in the same context over time.
Despite these challenges, I found several chapters to be particularly helpful. Chapter 1 is an excellent look at how pastors can treat their predecessors honourably and prepare their churches for their successors.
Chapter 5 is almost worth the price of the book. In this chapter, W. Craig Gilliam looks at the characteristics of anxious churches, triggers that may stir up anxiety within churches, and suggestions for helping churches through anxious times. These insights will definitely find a place in my leadership and in the “Power, change, and conflict” course I teach at MBBS Canada!
Chapter 10 was a heartwarming conversation on the topic of marriage and divorce between a husband and a wife who had been married for 64 years.
In Chapter 14, Thomas H. Troeger expounds on Deuteronomy 1:6, where God tells the Israelites that they have stayed long enough at the mountain. Troeger writes “the words from Deuteronomy remind us that we cannot remain forever in one place no matter how holy it is.”
Chapter 20 focuses on how we can respond to resistance during a change process. Robert Stephen Reid masterfully describes seven levers that can help people change their thinking. Even though the notion of pulling levers to achieve certain results is overly simplistic, as I mentioned earlier, we can still add these kinds of tools to our change-management toolbox and pull them out when appropriate.
Transitions: Leading Churches Through Change is not the kind of book that will keep you glued to its pages from cover to cover. However, it does make some helpful recommendations you may not readily find in other “leading change” books. The chapters mentioned above certainly make the book an important read for church leaders who desire to help their congregations transition well.