“Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” Genesis 12:1
If you are a United Methodist, there is a good chance you will hear the word “transition” every year between January and July. Some pastors are preparing for a life of retirement. Other pastors have received new appointments. Churches are saying their goodbyes and preparing to receive a new pastor. Transitions are happening everywhere in the United Methodist Church right now.
While I couldn’t find the word “transition” in any English Bible translations on my shelf, it seems to be the norm in the Bible. It’s also a present day reality, and not just for United Methodist clergy. Consider Abraham, who faced geographical, religious and family transitions when he left his father’s house.
Geographical. God told Abraham to pack his gear and relocate. Unlike United Methodist clergy who are transitioning, he was not given a moving service (Abram likely would not have complained about the 15,000 pound limit) or a destination with a warm welcoming party. However, he could probably relate to the sense of being a stranger in a foreign land. What is there to do around here? Where can I find a good dentist? Where do I find raw milk (while escaping the watchful eyes of the state)? Transition means adapting to strange new surroundings.
Theological. Abraham left everything familiar, including his religion. No more impressively built ziggurats, and no more moon gods to provide blessing and prosperity. He would now be a monotheist, worshipping an unseen God. While United Methodists share a common heritage, doctrine and structure, they have diverse opinions about political, social and theological issues. For United Methodist pastors, a new appointment doesn’t require changing religions, but it may require seeing things from the other end of the theological spectrum.
Family. Abraham didn’t have any children when he left Haran, but he did leave with his father’s household, his wife, his servants and his nephew. The transition affected them as well. Abraham likely had strong family ties that were painfully severed when he left town. Transitions can be challenging for clergy families, and churches can become like extended family to pastors, their spouses and their children. While United Methodist clergy are excited about their new opportunities, they also experience the grief of saying goodbye to family members.
As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to give up everything in this world with which we’ve grown comfortable, including our expectations of this world. Like Abraham, we sometimes have to leave the familiar in order to go where God sends us. We’re not told that God let Abraham know where he was going. God just told Abraham he would travel with him and bless him.