A Theology of Transition

Transitions are a fact of life in the church of Jesus. There’s the transition from one pastor to another, from Sunday worship to the workaday world, from the printed page to projection on a screen, from whatever was to whatever will be.

Helping churches and pastors negotiate their transitions makes up a great deal of our work in Pastor-Church Relations. One of our most hopeful efforts is the work of specialized transition ministers who assist churches as they navigate the transition between one pastor’s tenure and the next. These specialized ministers can help a church own the past, be clear about the present, and think intentionally about the future.

What if we considered times of transition as more than merely “in between” times? What if we recognized transitions as especially strategic and noteworthy occasions when God chooses to make himself known? How might this impact a pastor in transition, a congregation in transition, a denominational leadership cluster in transition?

The story of Jacob offers a lovely paradigm. The most memorable and powerful moments of God intruding into Jacob’s life occur when Jacob is on the move, experiencing major upheavals in his life. Jacob’s dream, in which he sees that stairway to heaven with angels ascending and descending and the Lord God speaking to him, occurs when he is fleeing the land of promise and heading toward his Uncle Laban’s home for refuge. Utterly alone, Jacob is at an “in between” place. And God there makes himself known powerfully and gracefully.

During another pivotal moment in Jacob’s life, he is confronted by a stranger in the night, with whom he wrestles. Once again, he experiences the power and grace of God and his own frailty when he is in transition—this time he’s fleeing Laban and is about to come face to face with Esau. But in his fear, Jacob is surprised to come face to face (Peniel) with God first!

Transition times encourage us to keep our eyes open to what God is doing here and now, as well as what God has done before and what God will do next. “Making all things new” is the transitional context that informs, anchors, and enriches every transitional season. Transitions call for testimony: “Surely, the Lord is in this place!”


Our worst upheavals can yield a treasure we could never have imagined.

—Margaret Silf

About the Author

Rev. Cecil Van Niejenhuis is pastor/congregational consultant for Pastor-Church Relations.