Embracing the in-between

Posted Nov 04, 2016 | Pastoral Excellence Network

By Lawrence Peers

It’s unavoidable. In almost every conversation and every observation of the religious world today—it is present. We’d rather skip over it, rush through it, get over it but it is there. We are in a time of the “in-between”—the discomforting, uncertain period between what has been and what has yet to emerge.

Many congregations, denominational organizations, seminaries and the profession of ministry itself are in this “in-between” period. Not only are each of these institutions realizing that they need to do what they do differently, they also recognize that they have to think differently about what it is they are doing. There is a siren song that lures us into thinking or hoping that somehow, someway we can return to “the way we were.”
Yet, we know—in our bones, that we can’t.

William Bridges, in his work on personal and organizational transitions, articulates three stages of transition: “endings,” “the neutral zone,” and “new beginning.” Most transitional or interim ministers know his work, since it gives a perspective on their own work. He explains the specific tasks and the necessary journey of doing the inner work of each of these stages as we navigate transitions. What he calls the “neutral zone,” I call the “in-between”—simply because for me “neutral” sounds too bland, too passive, too, well—neutral. In my experience, this “in-between” phase can be the time when we are most alive to the deeper questions, the broader possibilities, to a range of emotions and to “what wants to emerge.” 

Yet, we live in cultures and we have personalities that often want to avoid the discomforting time of the in-between. We often imagine we can “just get over it.” We are uncomfortable with not-knowing what’s next, what we should be doing, or what we have to let go of in order to move fully forward to what’s next. The in-between times are when we ask the deepest questions of ourselves. These are the times when a part of us just wants to move on to something—anything with the comfort that we imagine that might bring. Yet, another part of us knows that this is a time beckoning us to deeper spiritual, personal and communal discernment.

The in-between times of our congregations, seminaries, other religious organizations or our own lives call us toward some different practices rather than just the familiar routines. In recent years, my study with Otto Scharmer, the developer of “Theory U,” has allowed me to understand some of the vital personal, spiritual and organizational practices that can inform what we do during these times of in-between. He has allowed me to understand the distinctions between what he calls “presencing,” rather than the cultural tendency toward “abscensing” in the midst of uncertainty. When we choose to no longer simply, as Scharmer says, “download from the past,” we hear all the voices within and around us that want to lure us back to what is familiar rather than what wants to emerge. 

What would it be like for us to truly embrace the work of the in-between?

I will share some of these perspectives and practices in the next PEN Talk, “Transitions: Living Toward What Wants to Emerge” on Thursday, November 10, 2016. Sadly, this will be the last in this series of almost monthly free webinars hosted by the Pastoral Excellence Network, as PEN will conclude its work at the end of this month.

Join us, if you can, and invite others, if you will, on Thursday, November 10, 2016 from 1:00-2:00 pm Eastern Standard Time at https://cpx.adobeconnect.com/pentalknov2016/

Lawrence Peers, Director of Learning of the Pastoral Excellence Network (PEN), trains clergy group facilitators, new clergy mentors, and clergy coaches. He brings a broad experience of working with clergy across many faith traditions and in every season of ministry. 

The Pastoral Excellence Network at CTS seeks to connect and nurture groups for clergy at all stages of ministry. To request permission to repost this content, please contact wsordillo@cts.edu.



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