not be rushed. It is helping them birth something new, and, as
someone once said, it takes nine months to make a baby no
matter how many people you put on the job.
Bridges’ work was expanded by C. Otto Scharmer, who
charted the flow of dialogue and the tasks of the transitional
process, all in the shape of the letter “U.” I have incorporated
and modified their approaches into a multi-layered process
with considerable success. There are three layers of the “U”
from simple to more complex: The Flow of Dialogue During
Transitions, The Transition Process, and The Tasks of the
Transitional Process. All three processes are active at the
same time at each level. The challenge is in normalizing the
processes to those going through them and gaining enough
time and commitment to complete the various tasks.
1. LETTING GO OF THE PAST
Perhaps the most important task at the beginning stage is
to unload or let go of the past; that is, to identify, acknowledge, release, and mourn what is being lost. Very few faith
communities do this with intentionality; instead, they tend
to whitewash the blemished past in the hopes the overall communal narrative will survive intact. The dialogic flow
during the early stages of change tends to be polite and
non-reflective shared monologues, with blame placed
on the past and now-distant people to justify a proposed
future. Multiple concerns must be addressed simultaneously: Where do I fit in? Will there be room for me? Will I still
have a role? What will change? What if we don’t get along?
These anxieties inevitably cause resistance and even active
pushback until answered satisfactorily.
There are seven tasks to be completed in the beginning transitional stages that the Peacemaker can guide them through: 1)
name their fears and discomfort, 2) accept that time-honored
rituals will change, 3) acknowledge their losses, 4) expect and
accept grieving, 5) mark the endings, 6) expect overreaction,
and 7) ensure the continuation of the important.
Successfully navigating these steps greatly eases offload-ing patterns of the past. Helping them accept that what they
are experiencing as normal and that they are on this journey
together will greatly help in suspending the angry voice of
judgment and redirecting the discouraging voice of cynical
resistance towards positive engagement.
2. MANAGING THE NEUTRAL ZONE
The Neutral Zone is the indeterminate space between two
clear borders, where false security is found in routine. There
is a certain dull safety in routine that requires little of us. It is
neither life nor death, but a gray place with little variation. Con-
gregations in transition often find themselves in this undefined
borderland, believing themselves alone and separated, unable
to cross over the chasm to the new land. But if they have been
prepared for it, and they know that the important functions are
continuing, their borderland experience can also be accepted
as a normal, though difficult, part of transitioning.
The dialectic of politeness that marked the outset is here
replaced by more straightforward, even accusatory, conversations. This is where facilitation skills become particularly
useful in keeping the flow going in the right direction, while
also creating a safe space that allows people to honestly
express themselves. Normalizing their uncertainty and
resulting tension is one way to make it acceptable.
The tasks of the Neutral Zone are: 1) sensing a new calling, which requires examining their current reality and
identifying ineffective or outmoded practices to jettison;
2) redefining their mission and core values, which is their
best opportunity to redefine who they feel led to become,
declared through their new core values and a mission statement that defines their trajectory; and 3) creating a culture
of transparency in all things.
There is a pause of sorts here as the fourth and most
challenging task confronts them: co-becoming, which is
the process of reunification on the new path. It requires
that they be fully present in all ways as it is largely a time
of silence, meditation, and prayer as they seek the heart of
God rather than answers. In fact, co-becoming seeks questions in response to a question: What questions lie at the
heart of who we are called to be? This existential question
has no clear and concise answers. As the question itself
states, it seeks deeper questions of who they are as a community of faith; and finally, 5) action planning and launching
the new beginning.
3. THE NEW JOURNEY
Journeys into the unknown can be unsettling or exciting,
the difference between them being planning and attitude. The
dialogue shifts from inquiry to flow, a generative dialogue that
creates as it goes, and where all are welcome. Energy levels
again are high, and the new journey is enacted with the voice
of passion. It incorporates new ideas and dreams into the
larger narrative, and which gains solid form in the new goals.
This obviously is a shortened synopsis of a process that
appears more complex than it is. I bring it forth because it can
easily become a major time of contention and few have working knowledge of it. I have applied the integrated process to
faith communities with great success and I urge others who
would work with churches to consider doing so as well. I am
currently writing a book on the subject called Small Wars:
Holistic Interventions in Faith Community Fights.