Burn the Boats: Embracing Ministry Transition

This summer we made a significant move from a place I’d lived longer than any time in my life. It was not an easy decision to leave both people and careers that had been firmly established.

As we listened for God’s voice in our decision we sensed being led to this new place where we live and serve now. A gut wrenching surrender was required of us – one that I could not and have not fully absorbed yet. I would vulnerably confess that I am still in a season of grieving the move, and I am also celebrating this new place we’ve been planted.

Burn the Boats

This new place, while so thankfully familiar, is also brand new to us as we learn how to negotiate our life here with teenagers and rebooting ourselves in familiar forms of ministry. I am a Christian Counselor launching a new counseling practice in this new city. My wife is the Young Life Area Director still wrapping her arms around this amazing ministry. Even though she has 20 years of experience on the Young Life staff, this is a really big job.

Validating Grief

A friend of mine recently validated my grief. He described that he did not know many other people who were as deeply integrated into the life of our former city as I was. While I could argue whether or not that is accurate, he put his finger on something that resonates deeply. I am/was integrated into our community in some lovely ways that I will miss deeply.

I’ll spare you the details of all the many dimensions of integration but trust me when I say that I was fortunate to have been engaged so deeply with a diverse community of activists, entrepreneurs, artists, creatives, counselors, spiritual directors, pastors and priests. My wife grew up in that city and her parents were also deeply integrated in many forms of service, both professionally and civically.

Just last week I was back officiating a wedding when a couple in the same outdoors store struck up a conversation. They instantly knew my father in law from some business they had done together.

So we sailed away from the familiarity of our shoreline there, away from our “known world”. We pointed our vessel perpendicular to the coastline for the oldest city in the United States.

Our arrival was marked by celebrations with new and familiar friends. I took a much-needed sabbatical. Ruth Ann cannonballed into her work here while our kids spent the summer navigating the penetrating heat playing in both sand and surf.

We worked so hard to get here. What a gift to have this time over the summer to rest our way into the fall. And then the kids went back to school and my days are not as full. I’m more aware of the white space in my calendar than ever.

Then it hits me. We’re not on vacation. This is our new home.

No Turning Back

“Burn the boats” is a phrase I’ve overheard for years when referencing how to make a successful transition. The reference is to the French navy who, when arriving to the shoreline of a battle, would burn the boats to illustrate to their fleets that retreat was not an option.

This morning, in worship, we sang “No Turning Back”. And without warning, this past week, as the new signage went up in front of my counseling practice, a friend texted me, “no turning back, no turning back.”

Tears come forward as a refreshing reminder of what was and is a special place to have been given these last 13 years. And they honor what is happening as we attempt to open ourselves up to what God might do here in this new place, in each of us, in our family, in our respective ministries of evangelism, discipleship, spiritual formation and counseling.

Establishing a New Foundation

There are a handful of things that are helping us get grounded as we transition in this new place and we highly recommend them to you as well;

1. Cultivate a local community around you

For some this is dialing in your involvement in a local church while for others this may look like inviting an intentional group to get together, kids and all, for scheduled community time (pray, eat, laugh, play, sabbath, sing, commune).

2. Grieve well

Just like I allowed the tears to come forward, we can catch ourselves feeling the pain of what we’ve left or lost. Honor the pain and seek out someone to help you process the pain. For me, it has been immeasurably helpful to sit with a seasoned therapist who I’ve known for a couple decades. We’ve never met for this reason until recently but her willingness to sit with me as an attentive listener is helping. Tears are your friend as they will tell on you when you won’t tell on yourself.

3. Take self-care seriously

I shared this last week with a friend as I shared that I’ve experienced some evidence of depression in the transition. “I would say that self care is both to get outside yourself while remaining attentive to the inside of yourself.”

A great book by Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak masters the tension of these. Parker describes a clinical depression that he experienced and that may be helpful.

He describes going on outward bound at 40 in the middle of the depression. They went repelling in Maine and as he started his descent he got stuck … like froze on the cliff and could not move another inch. The guide yelled to him “you ok Parker?” He describes that a childlike voice spoke back “I don’t want to talk about it.” After a pause, the guide said something that helped unlock his brain…”Remember, if you can’t get out of it, get into it.”

That was the password apparently for hyper leaping his brain and making the remainder of the scary descent. He did not write about his depression for a decade just because it had been so painful and deep. “If you can’t get out of it, get into it!”

There is no bypassing hard, so don’t avoid it…embrace it!

Embrace the Pain of New

So, whatever transition you find yourself in (new job, new city, new baby, new marriage, new ministry…), I would encourage you to embrace the pain of new. One of my friend’s mentors and spiritual directors invites people to answer the question, “In all of your gaining, what’s been lost?”

Maybe honoring what’s been gained demands us to honor what’s been lost. Many people will discourage you to see only the gains but I would invite you to allow yourself to honor both.

So, in all of your gaining, what’s been lost? Or in all of your loss, what’s been gained?

About the Author: Hayne Steen

Hayne Steen - Kindred Youth MinistryHayne Steen is the Director of Counseling and Care at The SoulCare Project as well as a Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice with Elbow Tree Christian Counseling. Hayne grew up on surfing on the northeast Florida coast where met his wife Ruth Ann while attending Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL where they were both students and Young Life leaders together. Since then they both have been serving in full time ministry with Young Life and the local church all over the state of Florida, in Atlanta and most recently serving on the ministry staff of Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church and the Chattanooga Youth Network. Hayne and his wife continue to live on Signal Mountain with their three children where they enjoy living, playing and worshipping in an amazing community of family and friends.