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Transitions (Part 1)

I often jest when responding to the question, “What is your favorite verse in the Bible?” My response is, “The gospel of blank spaces and margins, those white spaces between and beside each verse that you wish you could peer into beyond the ink and see what happened between the poet and the written inspiration. In this space, I read the writer’s lament, repentance, and reward in five minutes. I hope five minutes would be all I needed for the poet’s same inspiration. But, unfortunately, it is an illusory time that has never come quickly in my life.” This illusory time is one way to describe the concept of being in a liminal space. Jim Branch aptly describes liminality this way:

So much of this life is lived in between, between the now and the not yet, between arriving and departing, between growing up and growing old, between questions and answers. Lord, help us not to live for the distant day when the in-between will be no more, but help us to have the courage to step into that sacred space of the in-between—knowing that this is a place where life is transformed.[1]

Branch challenges us to recognize both the reality of liminality in our daily lives and the mystery we must face courageously while navigating this sacred space.

The word “liminal” comes from the Latin word limens, meaning threshold. Yet, when we are in the liminal space, the in-between space, it never feels like a threshold. It feels more like a shut door, a wall, or an unmovable obstacle. In literature, liminality describes the space between an inciting incident in a story and the protagonist’s resolution. It is often a period of discomfort, of waiting, and of transformation. Liminality is when our characters’ old habits, beliefs, and even personal identity disintegrate until they have the chance to become someone completely new. Jeff Goins reminds us that we do indeed become in the waiting, but it is so hard to wait. He writes the following:

Life is waiting. Not just waiting in line at the grocery store or waiting to renew your driver’s license but waiting to love and commit and find the work you were meant to do. Our lives are full of inconvenient setbacks, not due to some great cosmic mistake, but because of some divine purpose we don’t comprehend. In the waiting, we become.[2]

Have you ever been in a liminal space in your life, ministry, and leadership? Have you ever been on what you believed is the threshold, but it takes seemingly forever to cross it? The forever may look like the in-between jobs or paychecks, prodigal children or spouses, the promise of a pay raise or promotion, or the waiting for the doctor’s report. For a leader, forever may look like the goal, the objective, the ministry, the organization’s growth, or the dream or promise that has not yet been realized.

For me, it feels like an often-traveled space in life and leadership, much like hanging in the air between the two trapeze bars. Gail Blanke, in Between Trapezes: Flying into a New Life with the Greatest of Ease, states, “For a trapeze artist to grab the next bar, she has to let go of the last one.”[3] However, we must learn that whatever has caused us to let go of the first bar, we must not so quickly grab what is next without recognizing that in the air between, we have an opportunity to become. It is in this liminal space that we can experience and embrace some of our greatest formation. Nevertheless, it is one of the places we try to avoid or move away from too quickly. I would like to boldly state, formation is never fast. Not many things of excellence or sustainability come in a hurry.

I love the following story found in John Ortberg’s book Soul Keeping, describing a formative moment in his life to illustrate the importance of pace:

Many years later I had moved to Chicago. Entering into a very busy season of ministry, I called Dallas to ask him what I needed to do to stay spiritually healthy. I pictured him sitting in that room as we talked. There was a long pause—with Dallas there was nearly always a long pause—and then he said slowly, “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” I quickly wrote that down. Most people take notes with Dallas; I have even seen his wife take notes, which my wife rarely does with me. “Okay, Dallas,” I responded. “I’ve got that one. Now what other spiritual nuggets do you have for me? I don’t have a lot of time, and I want to get all the spiritual wisdom from you that I can.” “There is nothing else,” he said, generously acting as if he did not notice my impatience. “Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” ⁠[4]

God’s loving pause during liminality helps us not only to understand that we must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives but also that we must replace it with ruthless pursuit toward a new depth in our formation and leadership found there. This elimination allows us to pause in the sacred place where God can grab our full attention, and we can gain all His intention. Let us remember that we are human, and we were not built to go fast for long periods. Samuel Chand’s Leadership Pain gives us a helpful reminder of this truth:

For those who want quick fixes, I have found there aren’t any—and there never have been. Casting burdens on the Lord, depending on how heavy they are, takes time. The heart knows its own bitterness, and a stranger doesn’t share its joy. Prayer and supplication are processes that require time. It takes time to reach down deep and bring hidden pains and fears to speech, especially when you believe it is a sin to admit you have hidden fear. For a long time, I didn’t allow myself to be fully human.[5]⁠

Liminality in our lives, whether intentional or thrust upon us, can lead us to new levels of spiritual formation and leadership development. It is an opportunity for us to lean in, learn, embrace, and not only navigate the trappings found there but also eventually to be a guide for others finding themselves there. 


[1] Jim Branch, The Blue Book: A Devotional Guide for Every Season of Your Life (Chico, CA: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016), 189, Kindle.

[2] Joe Bunting, “What Is Liminality and Why Does Your Story Need It?” The Write Practice, accessed January 2016, htttp://

[3] Kim Argetsinger, “What Trapeze Taught Me about Business and Life,” Kim Argetsinger, accessed February 2020,

[4] John Ortberg, Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 20, Kindle.

[5] Samuel Chand, Leadership Pain: The Classroom for Growth (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2015), 57.

[6] Walter Brueggemann, David’s Truth: In Israel’s Imagination and Memory, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002), 37.

[7] Bruce C. Birch, Walter Brueggemann, Terence E. Fretheim, and David L. Petersen, A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament, 2nd ed. Abingdon Press. ProQuest Ebook Central, 2011.

[8] All references to the Bible are from the NRSV, unless otherwise noted.

[9] Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1998), 1, 10.

[10] Dallas Willard, Great Omission: Rediscovering Jesus’s Essential Teachings on Discipleship (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2007), 17, Kindle.

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