Have you ever watched a trapeze act? The most thrilling part is when the artist builds momentum on a one trapeze and then lets go and launches herself through the air to be caught by a person on another trapeze. This requires physical agility, synchronization, and a bit of faith!
When this happens, the trapeze artist is in a state of liminality. Alan Roxburgh introduced me to this sociological term. Liminality is the condition of being in transition between two states. It is the transitional time between what is known and what is unknown.
Few people like being in such an indeterminate state, but we have all done it at various times in our lives—leaving home to attend college; resigning from one job to take another; getting married and leaving behind the single life for a new relationship; retiring from a comfortable job and entering the uncertainty in leaving the workforce. We do this because we hope for a better future, want to face a new challenge, and have faith.
Some fear during this transitional stage is expected but we accept fear as part of the process. We are committed enough to the future that we have the courage to face the unknown. Nelson Mandela is reported to have said, "I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it." We face our fear and press on.
Whether churches wish to admit it or not, many need the courage to enter into a liminal state, embracing change and the uncertainty it generates while hoping for a better future. Remaining in a place of comfort often leads to discomfort due to contextual changes or unmet expectations.
In subsequent posts this month, I will suggest a process that churches can adopt as they address change.