“Change is not what we expect from religious people. They tend to love the past more than the present or the future.” 

  ― Richard Rohr


Loren Mead

You’ve reached the end of Standard Gauge. To journey further in life, you’ll need to get up and transition over to a different train. The future lays over the horizon and what got you here won’t take you there. Just like there are five stages of grief, there are also five intentional steps we can take to adjust to a new mode of life.

Back in the mid-1970s, an Episcopalian priest named Loren Mead did an in-depth study of congregations transitioning between pastors. Mead became convinced that are five steps (he called them developmental tasks) that guided healthy organizational transition. I think these steps can be adjusted to fit any transition. They differ from Dr. Kubler Ross’ Five Stages of  Grief in that they are not emotional states but intentional actions.

5 Stages of Grief

5 Steps for Individuals

5 Steps for Organizations

1) Denial – “I don’t see anything wrong with our train.” People have a hard time accepting that their current track has reached a dead end.

2) Anger – It’s natural when something challenges our core, our very self, our sense of who we are, to react with anger.

3) Bargaining – At this stage, we will make a deal with the devil in order to keep what we have. Accepting our loss only occurs to us after we have tried all other options.

4) Depression – One of the sure signs of depression is the inability to make the simplest decisions. Philosophers speak of the need to make an existential leap in order to care again about life.

5) Acceptance – It’s only when we reach this stage in grief’s transition that we even have a future.

blackboard of 5 stages of grief
The stages aren't always experienced in the same order. Grief often spirals around, forcing us to explore the same emotions on deeper levels. The 5 Steps are also not entirely sequential.

1) Face Current Reality – Admit that the standard gauge has ended. Figure out how the new narrow gauge works.

Does the track you are on take you where you need to go? Will you have to look for what you need in different places? (See “Who Moved My Cheese?“)

2) Reframe Identity – Go from being a passenger to being an explorer. Swallow your pride and take an honest look at who you were meant to be and where you left the track. Are you satisfied with the way others see you? How do you want to be seen?

3) Accept Grief and Loss – You have to let go of the old to be ready for the new. Grief and anxiety tend to make us risk averse. Until we deal with the fact that loss is normal, we have a hard time living courageously.

4) Make Appropriate Decisions – Transition teaches new problem solving skills. We learn that acquiring a heathy process for making decisions is more valuable than making any one decision right. We accept that we may be wrong but it is better to think for ourselves than to simply go with the flow.

5) Plan for the Future – It still lies over the horizon, but you’ve traveled far enough to grasp its outlines and accept life’s new challenges. It will require everything from you, but it will be worth it.

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1) Face Current Reality – What problem was your organization built to solve? Is that reason for being an organization still relevant? What information will you need to gather to develop a new mission geared for your current reality?

2) Reframe Identity – What is your organization known for? How are you different from similar organizations in your community? Do you appeal to a certain demographic? Do you want to become more focused or more widely known? Where do your clients or members live and is this the territory you are called to serve?

3) Accept Grief and Loss – There is nothing you can do to bring back the people you have lost. What do you now need to let go of? Have some of your buildings, leaders, or programs become liabilities? Has grief made you vulnerable to throwing good money after bad?

4) Make Appropriate Decisions – Now is the time to evaluate your procedures, financial rules, and committee structure. When you need to make a decision, are the right people consulted? Do you permit healthy disagreement? Are the early adopters and those who think outside the box given appropriate support?

5) Plan for the Future – An outside consultant might be needed to restructure the organization and develop a new mission statement. How equipped are our leaders for the role they will play in the future (see Card Tool)? Choose one: return to basics (spades), target the next generation (clubs), show more compassion (hearts), seek quality (diamonds). From Bill Kemp’s Reality Check 101

Face Current Reality

This page begins the transitional journey by confronting what has changed and what will never change.  Step this way…

Reframe Identity

Early in our journey we must choose to become a more authentic self. Ready? Then  Step this way…

Accept Grief and Loss

To go any further in our journey, we must release what we cannot hold and accept the work of grief. Step gently now…

Make Appropriate Decisions

The last step slowed you down. Now you can be more deliberate and think deeply. The journey is more important than the goal. Step this way…

Plan for the Future

We glimpse what lies ahead as we rethink our mission and values.Transition gives us new feet, designed for another life. Ready to think ahead? Step this way…

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