Monday, February 10, 2014


Inauguration of the President. 
Passing of the Olympic Torch. 
Jay Leno's Tonight Show farewell. 
Ministries with staying power.

What do all these have in common?  They highlight the power of transition, the strength of tradition, and the importance of continuity.

As a children's pastor (and before that, a senior pastor), I knew that change was good.  Mix things up from time to time, add surprises, don't succumb to what Ronnie Caldwell termed "routine ruts."  I believed that then and I still believe it.  The church simply cannot lock itself into the past with a "we've never done it that way before" mentality.  Modern children's ministries get this, unleashing programs and curriculum that are far different from even the time I started in kidmin.  And while some churches and their programs may be stuck in ritualistic gridlock, I do know many, many churches that are experiencing the joy and freedom that comes from not doing it the same way over and over again.

But if I may add a corrective adjustment to the ongoing dialogue on change, I believe ministries that make an impact in families over a long term need to have the elements listed above: transition, tradition, and continuity.

Continuity.  Jay Leno may have been host of The Tonight Show for 22 years, but the show itself has been an institution on late night TV for 60-something years.  Although showcasing vastly different talents from its hosts, it's still The Tonight Show.

Although I loved to shake things up and bring wonder and surprise with the kids, I always made sure the basic core of our program ("Sunday Morning Celebration") was the same every week.  Kids took comfort in the fact that, even though there was something different happening (rearranging chairs, changing the set, lining up tables differently, special surprises), it was still their children's program.  They could count on it.  What we did 15 years ago was different than what we did in the present, but it was still "Sunday Morning Celebration."

Tradition.  Contrary to popular belief, "tradition" is not a dirty word.  The Bible is full of examples of ritual and repetition done for the express purpose of remembrance and teaching. I think there is a value in tradition that we often overlook.

Sometimes we have traditions that have lost their meaning or intent.  But other traditions serve as reminders of great spiritual victories, important lessons, or rich history.  Take weddings for instance.  I've seen some strange nuptials,  but for the most part, weddings have the same basic format.  As the couple exchange vows and the music plays, the couples in the audience lean a little closer together.  Why? Because whether they are consciously aware of it or not, they are remembering and reaffirming their own wedding day.  It's a powerful jump start to their memories.

Whether it is a nightly routine at home or a weekly routine at church, it is worth examining the traditions and rituals we have: what they represent and what they are trying to teach us.

Transition.  This is where continuity meets tradition.  Presidential inaugurations are a great example of this.  Every four years, there is a ceremony in which there is a peaceful transfer of power, often between staunch political adversaries.  This transition, with all its accompanying ritual, is important to show transition.

A sense of transition is important.  Barring matters of moral or doctrinal deviation, there should be a smooth transition when a volunteer or staff member leaves. A recognition, an opportunity to say farewell, and some kind of announcement is in order.  This not only provides a sense of closure, but a sense of assurance that, even though there is a change, the ministry goes on.  Some of the longest running, most stable churches with which I am familiar have a strong sense of transition.   Retiring volunteers are celebrated, memories made in an older part of the building are treasured before the building is renovated, and a major change in program is looked back upon fondly, even as the new program is anticipated with excitement.

What does your ministry do to provide for transitions? What traditions do you hold in your family and church? What kind of continuity do you have in your programs and departments.  I'd love to hear your comments below.