Church transitions: The bus is leaving, make a decision

A few days ago I was involved in some lively and some times heated conversation with a seasoned senior pastor and a missionary pastor recently returned from the mission field.  The conversations took place in a car as we spent more than 20 hours traversing the highways of the Northeast and as far away as Toronto.  The subject matter was diverse, but almost all of it was ministry-related.

Conversationally, I’m not sure the trail we followed to get there, but we wound up talking about the explanations people use when they choose to leave a church.  We then talked about the role transitions of leadership in local churches play in people finally making a decision to leave.  And of course, how those transitions also bring people to the church that probably wouldn’t have come unless a transition had been made.

My seasoned senior pastor friend said that the concept of a bus provided a good analogy and I agree with him.  He helped me to think about the numerous ways a bus, its driver, its passengers, its stops, and its destinations provide some insight into the flow of the life of a local church:

1.  A local church is in motion and there is a purpose for that motion, like a bus.

2. It has only one driver at the wheel, but it’s following a route pre-determined for it by someone that isn’t actually in the bus in the same way all of the other people are.

3.  The bus driver has some freedom to deviate from the route, but he has to hit the stops that have been pre-determined for him.

4.  There are pre-designed times for people to either get on or off….the required stops.

5.  Some of those that get on will ride for a little while, realize they’re on the wrong bus, and then get off at the next stop.

6.  Some will get on, understand where the bus is going and then strike up conversation with the others who also know they’re on the right bus, relationships will be built between them, and also with the driver, but he is concentrating on the driving.

7.  Of those that get off, some will do so because their ride on the bus is over.  It’s taken them as far as they wanted to go.

8.  Very few of those that get off, actually get off because they don’t like the way the bus driver is driving.

9.  When a new driver sits down at the wheel, some will get off at the next stop.  Not necessarily because they don’t like the driver, but usually for the same reasons people have always gotten off the bus.

10.  If the new driver is given a new route and destination for the bus, some will get off, but a whole new group of people will get on board and want to go that direction.  For those that get off….no problem….it’s not personal, just not where they desire to go and the stops along the way to get there aren’t helpful to them.

Every analogy ultimately breaks down if you ride it too long, including a this bus.

Hopefully the ride has been at least a little enjoyable.



3 replies
  1. Kellen Criswell
    Kellen Criswell says:

    Really helpful illustration, Jeff. Thanks for sharing this. It’s a blessing to glean from conversations like this. Thanks for letting us be a fly on the wall. I think we’ve talked a lot about unhealthy transitions on this blog, and sometimes not enough about amoral and even positive transitions. I’m sure that’s because most transitions seem to be petty and consumeristic. Nevertheless, this isn’t always the case and we don’t always need to freak about about people coming and going.

  2. Trip Kimball
    Trip Kimball says:

    Jeff, I was thinking of how city buses have a circuit they run on & eventually they come back to where they started (closed loop). Other buses are more destination oriented or have a specific travel route (charted or task oriented).

    What about the toll or fare? OK, this is my stop…gotta get off this bus.

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