Navigating Big Change

Today we did something that always marks a change of season for us here in the beginning of October. Today we put the canoe away. Typically when canoeing season starts in the spring, we bring the canoe out from wherever it’s stored, usually in the backyard somewhere, and we put it on the vehicle where it stays on the vehicle all summer.

If we go on some highway trip or whatever that we’re not using the canoe, we’ll take it off and put it in the front yard and lock it down. It’s a beautiful 17.5 foot, Kevlar Clipper Tripper, which people in the know realize they can steal it and sell it really quickly, so we lock her up and the canoe stays there to make it really easy to go canoeing. We love it on the vehicle, so if we have the thought after dinner, we might only have an hour, we can drive down to the lake or the river and jump in and go for a paddle.

So when we put the canoe away it’s definitely the change of season for us. Often it’s away earlier than this. I often lock it up at the start of hunting season because once hunting starts, we don’t often get out canoeing as much because hunting dominates. But this year we did a little bit of canoeing through September into the last week, but it’s done now.

It’s maybe a little more symbolic than usual for us because we’re in a season right now in the church we’re serving as transitional pastors, where we now have a candidate who’s been called. His first Sunday, his installation service, will be November 8th, so I’m in countdown mode. I’ve got four more Sundays where I’ll be the transitional lead pastor.

Then that’s it. I’ll be done the role here. I have a bit of an overlap with him as I typically do, which means typically about a week of work in a month where I meet with him and hand off documents, ideas, and I’m basically on call as needed. There will be perhaps a little more help that way with virtual services recording and video production, that kind of thing. But it’s really tapering off quite quickly.

The other church I’m serving as a transitional coach, remotely, I’ve only been there once since mid March, they actually now have a candidate locked down to come and candidate at the end of October. I will know by the end of October, whether they’ve got a called candidate there too. As soon as it happens, because that situation has an interim lead pastor in place, when that call happens, I’m basically done.

I have a message in my pocket called preparing our hearts for a new leader, which I always like to preach at the end of a transitional time and then that’ll be about it. So I’m probably about a month out from being mostly done both contracts.

As we are putting the canoe away in the backyard today, we realized we’re not sure if we’re going to be having to load it up and move off in December or whether it’ll be next summer. We have no idea how long we’re on-site here. We have no idea what’s next and that’s really been our pattern of living that’s happened to us every 18 to 24 months for the last decade as we’ve been engaged in this in this transitional ministry.

While it’s not as big a move as it is for a pastor moving from a long-term ministry into new long-term ministry, it’s still pretty significant. Where you’re plugged into a community and into a church and you’re immersed in it for a year and a half, two years, and then you uproot and move. I have to say it gets old after a while. It’s hard and we really like this community that we’re in right now. Probably have more friends and more contacts outside the church even than anywhere we’ve lived, so there’s some appeal to this community.

But one thing we do, and one thing I want to kind of flag as a practice for whenever you face your own big changes or big transitions, is retreat. We make good use of retreats of all different kinds: micro retreats and macro retreats.

For instance, here’s what we did last August. We had a two night retreat. We got a gift from our leadership team here to go to this wilderness resort for a couple nights and we went there and used that time as a retreat. I actually just spoke on doing personal retreats today in the church and I basically say that when I go on a retreat, it’s really about reading, thinking, planning and praying and just wrestling through whatever the issue is.

So for us, starting last August, it’s been about, “What’s next Lord? How do we finish well here? And what do we actually do next?” In addition to that August retreat, a couple of weeks ago I did what I call a modular retreat. I had one of those weeks where I didn’t have a lot that I had to do, but there was something every day that I had to do, so I did what I call a modular retreat, where I basically carved out a half day every day of that week to do as a retreat.

I spent a half day detached from actual work and I did my reading thinking, planning and praying, and it actually worked not bad. It made for an interesting week. It’s not the same as having an extended period of time blocked out, but it worked pretty well. Then this past week, because there’s this increasing sense of finishing up here, I took a course. It was a three day online conference, so it could be passive, although I usually like to take pretty good notes, but I use those three days. I detached completely from “work” and use that conference and those days in and around the conference and the breaks as a retreat time as well.

This week I’m heading out to a friend’s cabin near here that’s about an hour away. He’s going to be there and we’re going to be doing some hunting. Usually we do a morning and evening hunt, but then there’s the whole day. For me, this is going to be another type of retreat, a time to read and think and plan and pray and listen, and see how God may direct. My wife and I, in our regular prayer times and personal times and times praying together, we’re really asking what’s next.

But what we find is the bigger shift, the bigger change, the more important it is to carve out that time to get quiet and make sure that decisions are made from a place of rest, not a place of fatigue, not a place of panic, not a place of franticness. I find that retreats for me are the way to lower the RPMs.

I shared a story today of how one time I was doing a retreat, it was on the Athabasca River in Northern Alberta, where I paddle down the river for about 40 minutes to an island. I would camp there for a couple nights, then paddle down to the next bridge where my wife would pick me up. One year, one retreat, I was so tense and so wound up, I don’t know what all was going on,it actually took me the rest of the Sunday, all day Monday, until Tuesday morning when I finally started to settle down and get to a place where I could think coherently and move from a place of rest. It’s pretty amazing when you think of it.

There I was, sitting on an Island, sitting by a campfire, watching the river go by and it took me two full days. I don’t, I don’t ever want to get that wound up again and I actually don’t recall that I ever have since then, because I tried to inject these retreats more regularly; ideally four times a year. It doesn’t always happen, but ideally four times a year where I take the two nights.

So you may be looking at some big changes, whether it’s even just a change of season in your existing ministry, or whether it’s the end of a ministry or start of another one. Or maybe a change of life where you’re having another child or getting married or just some major shift. I just want to highlight that an important part of navigating these big changes is what we call retreat, withdrawing from the regular routine, quieting down and spending some time reading, think, plan, and then praying. Allow God to speak to you, to shape both who you are and where you’re going.

I encourage you to do that. I encourage you if you haven’t done a retreat for a while to try to carve out a half day, just a half day. Maybe from the time you get up in the morning until lunchtime, a half day to withdraw, to read, think plan and pray and allow God to shape what you’re up to.

Wisdom to you in whatever big changes you’re navigating. God bless and press on.

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