How are you doing today? Seriously. How are you feeling? Since you are asked that question, in one form or another, several times a day, it should be an easy question to answer. Yet, it is difficult when you attempt to answer the question honestly.   

Even when you ask the question, you don’t always wait for an answer. If you are honest, you either don’t wait for an answer or you receive a perfunctory answer.  Neither your question nor the answer is offered seriously. So, let me ask again, “How are you feeling today?”  

How are you feeling?

You might deflect your feelings and hide behind figures of speech. When you are asked, “How are you doing?” Or “How are you feeling?” you might say, “On top of the world,” or “If I were any better, there would be two of me,” or “About half,” or “I’m down in the dumps,” or “I’m blue,” the list goes on.

Each statement allows you to evade having to confront, plainly and exactly, what you are feeling. Even though they are creative and descriptive, they often create a distance between your feelings and your words.  Thus, creating a false perception of a relationship. 

Over the past several weeks I have begun to be more aware of my emotions. I am learning that my feelings direct my thinking and if I am not honest with my feelings, I may not be making the best decisions for myself, my family, or for the people entrusted to my care.   

Emotions in Scripture

Feelings are not foreign in the scripture. You do not have to look far in the Bible to see examples of people letting emotions lead them down certain paths. For example, Adam and Eve and their desire to be like God. Cain’s jealousy over God’s favor toward Abel’s sacrifice. Jesus’ anger when he overturned the tables in the temple. 

What about King David and his lust for Bathsheba?  His emotional needs led to the death of Uriah and ultimately to the death of this first child. It was only after David dealt with his selfish actions that he became “a man after God’s own heart.” 

There are stories of strong emotions that led to life-changing decisions for the better. Mordecai’s public display of grief over the plight of his people and Esther’s courage to tell the king of a murderous plot. There were emotions like passion and anger to do good for others. 

Saul of Tarsus, later Paul the Apostle, is an example of how negative emotions of anger and hatred can be transformed into positive emotions of love and leadership. He encouraged early followers of Jesus to live with positive emotions like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control as opposed to negative emotions of jealousy, vengeance, and anger. He encouraged them to be forgiving and to deal with others with the love that Jesus had dealt with them.  

 Identify, Understand, and Express Emotions

We could go on.  The scriptures are filled with stories of how feelings become thoughts which become actions expressed in both negative and positive ways. 

With that in mind, during this stay at home order, you have time to identify and understand your feelings and to express them in positive and appropriate ways.  You also have time to listen to the people with whom you are related, whether they be family or people in the church. As a leader, identifying, understanding, and expressing your feelings are important in developing trust and confidence in your leadership.   

I’m not trying to add anything to your “to do” list, but I am suggesting that you look at your emotional condition. While you are at home these next few days, take time to reflect upon the following: 

  •  Recognize your feelings.

    • Take a moment to stop and to discern your emotional current reality. When you are willing and able to recognize your own feelings, you will be able to recognize, more accurately, the feelings of others. This provides an opportunity to be curious and to listen more honestly.
    • Your world has been turned upside down.  You are stepping into a new normal. You might have feelings of sadness or loss. Even anger or disappointment.  Once you have recognized these feelings within yourself, you will be more able to recognize the emotions in the people entrusted to your care. Your self-awareness will make you a better leader.
  • Understand your feelings.

    • Why do you feel the way you feel? Understanding your emotions is an adventure.  As you begin to understand “why” you feel the way you do, you also learn to understand “why” you react or respond to the feelings of others. This provides the opportunity to become vulnerable and to build trust in your relationships. 
    • Once you begin to understand “why,” you will be able to empathize with the people around you. Through understanding and empathy, you will become a better leader, as well as a better spouse, parent, friend, student, and colleague.
  • Express your feelings.

    • This is where you not only have the courage to be honest, but you begin to express your feelings in healthy and productive ways. It is in the “give and take” of expressing your feelings that relationships are potentially strengthened. 
    • Again, it is important to know yourself.  As you express your feelings you understand that you are stirring up feelings in someone else and vice versa. But the potential of understanding one another is there.  This provides you, as a leader, the opportunity to be sensitive as you listen, share, receive, and respond.
  • Choose one emotion to work on this week. 

    • Write it down and intentionally focus on it. Give yourself permission to name it and to feel it. Ask a friend to partner with you. Then, ask for feedback on your growth. 

You are more the leader God intends for you to be when you are emotionally healthy.

I once heard Mike Tyson say, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” What is true in the boxing ring is true in leadership.  So, along with permission to feel, give yourself permission to fail. When you start recognizing, understanding and expressing your feelings, there will be moments of joy as well as anguish.  When you lash out in anger, take a deep breath, and start again. 

For you to become who God created you to be, you will need to be vulnerable and courageous. You will need to be kind to yourself and apologize when you fall short. The payoff is worth it: better health, better decision making, better relationships, and a better you. 

So, let me ask again, seriously, “How are you feeling?”  I’ll be looking for an answer next time. 

 

You’re invited to hit play and listen to this post, instead of read it. If you choose to read it, read it as you’re listening

Good Friday

Today is Good Friday. It’s a day we pause and remember the crucifixion. 

As we are journeying through Holy Week, I was asked to respond to two questions:

1) What is one message of care or comfort you’d like to provide?

2) what’s one thing you’ve learned already in the midst of the pandemic?

A Message of Care

Here’s the message of care I’d like to share with you this Good Friday

As I consider sitting at the foot of the cross, standing in the crowd watching what was unfolding, or simply hearing the news of Jesus’ death, just as the first disciples did, I pause at these words from Matthew’s gospel.

From noon until three in the afternoon the whole earth was dark. At about three Jesus cried out with a loud shout, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani,” which means, “My God, my God, why have you left me?” Matthew 27:45-46

Even Jesus was expressing grief.

And that’s what I’d like you to consider today. The grief you’re experiencing. Yes, the grief we encounter in the cross. But this year, likely more than any other year, consider the grief you’re experiencing because of the pandemic. And before you say, “I’m not grieving..” I invite you to go with me as I journey through what grief sounds like for me right now.  It’s likely different for you, but I pray, as you sit at the cross with Jesus today, you’ll experience both the reality of the cross and the outstretched arms of a Savior’s love.

You, Grief, and Good Friday

This was the quote that got me thinking about you, grief, and Good Friday.

“We are all dealing with the collective loss of the world we knew. The world we knew is now gone forever.” – David Kessler

Wait, is he speaking of Good Friday or the pandemic?

The message seems to hold true to the message of the cross as well as the message of the pandemic. 

He was speaking of the pandemic.

But when I heard those words and like anyone who has ever experienced loss, I wanted to place my hands on his shoulders, look him in the eyes, and say, “No. no. no. no. no. no. no.” 

But he wasn’t with me. I was hearing those words on a podcast. 

Can I imagine what the disciples must have felt? Yes. I can sit at the cross. Or maybe I would have left the scene. Would I have been busy trying to tie together loose ends or holding a space for others to grieve. 

I wanted to reverse what he said.“No, the world we knew is NOT gone forever.” I still live in the same place. I still have meaningful work. Jesus, tell me, how is this happening?

I still…

And then I realize I’m bargaining. If I can just prove what is still the world I knew before this pandemic, I won’t have to accept that it’s gone.

A little voice in my head says, “Bargain much, Sara B?” Sara B, that’s what my mom calls me. The words are gentle and loving and confrontational all at the same time. 

You see…Bargaining is a classic part of grief.

Dang it.

The World We Knew Is Gone Forever

I hit the “back 15 seconds” button on my podcast player and hear the words again, “The world we knew is now gone forever.”

Who are you, MR. Grief Expert, to tell me “the world we knew is gone forever.” I don’t care that you worked with Elizabeth Kubler Ross on the stages of grief, written books on loss, and making meaning of loss. You’re making me mad. If I’m honest, I’m tossing and turning in bed, angry that you’re keeping me awake. Angry that I’m thinking about this now. I’m trying to go to sleep. Why are you doing this to me?

Go ahead, laugh. Ask the question you’re asking. Ok, I’ll ask it for you, “Who hit the play button on the podcast as you got in bed?” 

Of course, there is only one answer. I did. 

Who has been avoiding listening to this podcast for a week?

Again, I’ll raise my hand and fess up, that was all me.

Who didn’t want to hear the words, “We are all dealing with the collective loss of the world we knew. The world we knew is now gone forever.”? 

Here I am, raising my hand…again… that’s me.

So instead, I’ll toss and turn and try not to feel what I’m feeling. I’ll get all judgemental at the podcast host, Brene Brown, for interrupting her guest. I’ll judge David Kessler for trying to give words to my feeling because then I can offload the hurt I’m feeling. “Judgment demands punishment.” Heck yes, that I can get on board with, and right now, that judgment is directed at the podcast, at your words, at the actions you’re taking.

And right about here, if I could, I’d insert the sound of screeching brakes.

That’s What Grief Does

If all of that sounds horribly unkind, yeah, I know. It does to me too. But that’s what grief does. I bargain. I get angry, feel depressed, and have fleeting moments of acceptance. But mostly, right now, I want to deny this is happening. 

It’s easier to hold it at an arm’s length distance. Just look at the Good Friday passages of scripture. You’ll see it there too.

And that voice I want to silence with the largest muzzle I can find says to me, “Sure you do. But it’s not easier…. Because if you don’t name it as grief, you can’t feel it.”

“Exactly.” I want to respond sarcastically. 

I don’t want to feel it, I say in my best teenage judgmental voice.

Here’s the thing. 

Comparative Suffering

I’m in a relatively good place. I still have work, a home, I have food (albeit my cooking!). What I’m experiencing isn’t like a nurse, a doctor, a parent of the class of 2020. Who am I to feel grief?

“Who are you not to?”

Dang it.

Stop. 

Isn’t it great how our brains have the magnificent ability to recall information? 

I grumble beneath my breath.

Shush. I say to that memory.

“You can’t shush me.” It responds.

You see, I know better. 

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, it’s the scaffolding of grief. I see it all around me. There’s no shortage of the scaffolding that makes up grief right now. 

I see it in…

  • teachers.
  • the class of 2020.
  • Moms and Dads trying to work from home and teach kids at home.
  • friends’ posts on Facebook and Instagram.
  • Zoom calls and text messages and I hear it in colleagues’ voices.
  •  grandparents standing outside windows.
  • pastors praying on Facebook.
  • Governors, Directors of Health, and Grocery store clerks.
  • Doctors and Nurses.
  • wives and husbands.
  • aunties and uncles and sisters and brothers.
  • my neighbors drawing with chalk on the sidewalk.
  • the husband and wife having groceries delivered by their daughter.
  •  tv, social media, and in my email inbox.

I see it…when I look in the mirror.

And, dear one, so do you.

The world we are accustomed to is gone. Forever.

Collective Grief

We are collectively grieving.

Said simply, “Grief is the death of something.” And, “just like every other loss, we didn’t know what we had until it was gone.” (David Kessler)

So as I coach Christian leaders, pastors and church leaders, it would be easy to say “This is what you do.” You lead others through loss and longings all the time. Yes, I do. So do many of you. But, this collective grief requires that I hold space for a virtual hug while recognizing there is no way I can get through this without you doing the same for me.

So what has changed?

Everything and nothing.

I still teach people how to leverage their strengths. I still am facilitating Brene Brown’s courage building curriculum, Dare to Lead. I’m still podcasting and blogging and attending Zoom meetings and posting a daily devotional to equip people to follow Jesus every day. 

But what has changed is this: I’ve come to recognize that the work I’m doing is now happening in the midst of massive, collective grief. And to deny that reality is to deny the people I lead and serve the space to be human, to be whole, and to become who God created them to be. 

Pause. Sit. Experience Transformation

So, maybe, this Good Friday you’ll pause a little longer. Maybe this Good Friday you’ll sit at the foot of the cross a little longer. 

And maybe, as we move into Saturday and celebrate the resurrection on Sunday, you’ll experience transformation with the disciples.

My to-do lists to meaningful moment lists. What do I mean?

Instead of focusing on getting a task done, I focus on how this task facilitates a meaningful moment for people. I don’t always get it right. Because, like you, I’m experiencing loss. But here are a few of the meaningful moments I’ve tried to introduce to hold space for a virtual hug.

A daily email that arrives at 5:00 am inviting people to read a passage of scripture, reflect on a written story, respond in prayer. At 8 p.m., I post a question on Facebook, inviting people to name and remember how is God is with them. Sometimes the question is for one person. Sometimes for 25. The number doesn’t matter.

There are now weekly Facebook lives that are becoming meaningful moments to share, talk, and celebrate where God is moving. The podcast, emails, and three blogs a week are what we’re doing to hold space for others to make meaningful connections with one another, with God, and with their community. 

Because what I know this Good Friday is this: the only way we’ll truly experience the transformative power of the resurrection, is if we hold space for one another to experience the reality of Good Friday. 

Every blessing to you as we journey through these next three days and live into the promise of Easter. 

 

In times of crisis, there are two things every leader must keep in mind. It doesn’t matter the number of people you’re leading – whether it’s your family, a small congregation, a staff, or a large congregation.

These two things are also essential for self-leadership.

What are these two things?

First, you must face the brutal facts of your current reality. Second, you must maintain hope that you’ll make it in the end. These two things provide a springboard for five considerations for Christian leaders navigating the current crisis.

Stockdale Paradox

Admiral James Stockdale, a prisoner of war for seven years in Vietnam, endured torture and solitary confinement. When asked how he survived, he responded, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be.”

Popularized as the Stockdale Paradox in Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great, it reminds us in order to make it through difficult circumstances we have to simultaneously do two things: 

  1. Confront the most brutal facts of our current reality.
  2. Never lose hope that we will prevail in the end. 

Scroll to the bottom of the page to watch a video or listen to a conversation Tim and I have about the Stockdale Paradox. Or, keep reading!

“Brutal Facts” and Hope

Consider for a moment these brutal facts:

  • You’re living in a pandemic.
  • You can’t worship in person for at least another month

As of 1:08 p.m., Sunday, April 5…

  • Over 1.2 million people have contracted COVID-19 globally
  • 67, 260 people have died
  • The highest number of confirmed cases in the United States are in New York, New Jersey, Michigan, and California.

Those are a few of the “brutal facts.”

How about hope?

Here is the hope I continue to hold onto: We are the body of Christ.

For over 2000 years, faithful people have endured persecution, pandemics, wars, and much more. Still, our faith in Jesus continues. I believe we will get through. I trust our resilience is growing exponentially with each passing day. Finally, while much of our daily life is disrupted, Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

With these “brutal facts” and hope anchored in the love of God you know in Jesus, there are at least five areas to consider as a leader. This is not an exhaustive list. Some of these things you’ve likely already cared for. They’re included here as a jumping-off point.

If you don’t have the facts about your current leadership circumstance, the potential to focus on fear, fatalism or unrealistic optimism increases exponentially.

Use these five considerations to gather the information you need, have conversations, and confront your “brutal facts” while maintaining hope.

1) Foundation

First, remind yourself of the foundation of the church. The foundation is the mission, or purpose, of the church. Whether you articulate the purpose as “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” or in another way, remind yourself of the church’s purpose.

With that in mind, ask yourself if you have what you need to lead people to live into the purpose right now. Likely, your immediate answer is “no”. Consider, however, the following. Don’t get bogged down in how it is happening. Simply ask yourself if the following basic functions of the Christian community are happening:

  • Worship
  • Discipleship
  • Missions
  • Pastoral Care 
  • Administration

Are the basic functions of the body of Christ happening? If yes, great. Keep going and stay encouraged as you continue to learn new ways of being the body of Christ. If no, what do you need to make it happen? If you’re stuck, reach out to a colleague and have a conversation about how they’re navigating this time. 

Now, ask yourself: What does this new reality make possible? Talk to God about what this new reality makes possible. 

2) Services and Supplies

There are services you rely on to keep the physical church building functioning, the body of Christ active, and the community connected to Christ and one another. As you consider the basic functions I named above, what services do you rely on every week or every month? Who cares for these items?

One church I served had a meal ministry, where eggs were delivered for Sunday breakfast every Saturday morning. Another had boxes of paper delivered every month. And another had a piano tuning service scheduled each quarter.

As you consider the services and supplies utilized, is there anything you need to pause, pivot, or plan in a different way? This will help you consider cost savings and also identify essential services.

If you can’t quickly identify service providers from accounts payable, it may be time to do an inventory. Consider everything from utilities to computer programs. Here are a few things you might consider:

  • Computer Programs 
    • Worship planning center (or similar program)
    • Quickbooks or a financial software program
    • Zoom, YouTube, Social Media accounts
    • Graphics
  • Physical Services
    • Garbage pickup
    • Mail services
    • Cleaning services 
  • Supplies – Delivery and Standing Orders
    • Paper delivery
    • Cleaning supplies
    • Communion elements
    • Food distribution
    • Nursery supplies
    • Candles
    • Giving/pew envelopes and attendance pads
  • Discipleship and Pastoral Care Supplies
    • Prayer shawls
    • Quilts
    • Children’s bulletins
    • Sunday School and small group curriculum

Once you have the facts, ask yourself, what does this make possible? You may be thinking, “NOTHING – it doesn’t make anything possible. That’s the challenge!” Give it a day. Live with that question and see if your answer changes after talking with God and a close colleague.

3 ) Leadership and Processes

You may be the pastor, a lay leader, member of a ministry team, or faithful participant in the church. To navigate this season, leaders need to have clarity and consistency. Yes, you’re likely doing some things in new ways. That’s why having leaders work together is essential. Together, you can identify new processes, if needed while making sure current processes continue. Something as simple as checking the mail is important.

Further, as you encounter needs, communicate with the congregation clearly and consistently. The congregation can’t read minds. But, they have many skills. You might be surprised who has the skills to help.

As you consider your leadership structure, whether it is staff or chairpersons, a few things to keep in mind include:

  • Is your team (paid and unpaid) working remotely and do they have what they need? Have you asked?
  • Are you cross-training leaders? Is there a backup for everything that needs to happen? Who are you training to do what you do if you should get sick?
  • Do you have a realistic picture of the financials?
    • Do you have a plan for what happens when savings hit certain levels?
    • Have you implemented online giving?
    • Are you providing clarity to the church about basic financial needs?
  • Have you explored the Care Act? 
  • What other aspects of leadership and processes need to be considered?

Again, what does this new reality make possible?

4) Congregation and Community 

As you think about the congregation and your local community, it’s likely you know someone who is serving on the front line of this pandemic. Now more than ever, recognizing the spiritual, physical, and emotional needs of people in the congregation and the local community is essential. If you’re already serving the community through a feeding ministry or care program, keep going!

If you’re uncertain how the church can respond, it’s time to ask. Talk to city/community leaders, first responders, and teachers.  One month ago, who would have thought quilting groups would be so needed in our communities? Yes, we love our quilters. But, suddenly, their sewing machines have a new, life-saving purpose. As the need for cloth masks grows, a tangible way churches are helping is through their quilting groups.

Questions to Consider

Once you have identified needs, consider these questions as well:

  • What is the perception of the church right now? 
    • Is the church essential? Optional? Off the radar? Important?
  • How are you serving the congregation and community in their time of need?
    • Again, do you know the needs of your local community?
  • If you’re worshiping online, how are you welcoming new people? Are you?
  • What new communication needs to happen and what needs to stop?
    • Remember to overcommunicate in this time. Attention spans are dwindling and the rapid pace of changing protocols necessitates consistent, clear communication.
  • In every communication piece, including in your Sunday message, have you made sure it’s not “tone deaf”? While everything you do right now does not have to revolve around the pandemic, it does need to acknowledge what people are experiencing and feeling. If your communication is tone-deaf, you’ll be tuned out and turned off. 

Again, consider, what this new reality makes possible. If you haven’t picked up on it by now, asking this question is what will propel you towards a future with hope. Don’t gloss over it.

5) Context 

The first four groups were things you have the ability to lead people to change, adapt, pause, or pivot. There are things happening around you that are also out of your control.

You do not have control of these things, yet often these are places where worry and fear take root. Sometimes, it’s also where worry and fear get out of control. Your role in helping hold the tension between the brutal facts and hope-filled future is this: don’t get consumed with what you can’t control. 

The following items are things out of your control. Being aware is not an invitation to be consumed by fear or worry. As a leader, it is wise to acknowledge the circumstances out of your control.

  • Consider the stock market and interest rates
    • How will fluctuations impact giving and confidence?
  • In Ohio and in many states there is a “Stay At Home” Order in place
    • How does suspending in-person worship, social distancing, limiting the number of people in stores, etc. impact the congregation?
  • Utilities
    • Do you have everything you need? Does your community? Something as simple as an internet connection going down can change a lot right now.
  • Social media
    • What are you communicating, how often, and by whom?
    • Again, communicate clearly so as to not spread misinformation.

Here’s your final opportunity to look forward with hope. Ask yourself, “What does this new reality make possible?”

Your Next Step

While this may be a long list, it’s far from an exhaustive list. What brutal facts are you facing and how are you facing the future with hope? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

God is with you as you navigate these uncharted waters.  Confronting the brutal facts and having the hope that you’ll prevail in the end may feel like a paradox. But, it’s the paradox that will help you stay grounded in current reality while following Jesus every day. 

As you ask questions and uncover whether you need to pause, pivot, plan, or proceed, know that Tim and I are here to assist you in navigating this season of ministry.  

 

Watch a conversation about the Stockdale Paradox

Listen to the conversation about the Stockdale Paradox

Sign Up for the Daily Devotional, “God is With Us”

God is with Us a Daily Devotional for all God's people Navigating COVID-19

You have just experienced your third Sunday with worship outside the church building. You are starting the second week of the “stay at home” order.  You are working from home and discovering new ways to be socially connected while being physically distant. So, how are you doing with this new normal?  

Maybe a better question is: how are you caring for yourself during this disruption?

Here are four things to remember regarding self-care and the care of others.

1. Be Curious

  • When you are curious you ask questions and learn about people, situations and circumstances. Learn as much as you can about Covid-19 so that you can manage your own thoughts and feelings as you assist others in managing their thoughts and feelings. The more you know the better equipped you are to rely on the facts.
  • Learn as much as you can about the people who are researching the virus and who are leading us through the shrinking the curve.  By listening and learning, you are more able to assist the people who are entrusted to your care.
  • Your curiosity leads to creativity. The more curious you are, the more you learn; the more you learn, the more you can find ways to care, connect, and communicate. Be curious, but don’t be consumed by the media.

2. Be Aware

  • Be Present. Become aware of your own thoughts, feelings, and surroundings as well as the thoughts and feelings of the people around you. When you are present to what is unfolding and happening, you are more able to pay attention to the reality of the moment.
  • Appreciate Current Reality. When you are able to see things clearly, you are more able to lead in these uncertain times. Your calm and peaceful leadership is anchored in your appreciation of reality.  
  •   Keep the End in Mind. As you lead in the reality of the moment, remember that there will be an end to this crisis. Keep moving forward with the assurance that you will make it through.
  •   Be Grateful. As you become present to the reality of the situation with the assurance that you can and will make it through, you will become more aware and more connected to life, to the people around you, and all the new and different expressions of life emerging. Make time to give God thanks.

3. Develop A Routine

  • Routines create high achievers. Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not on act, but a habit.”  
  • Routines help you achieve more, think clearly, and do work that matters. They keep you from stumbling through your day and make sure you get the most important things done. 
  • If you have not done so, it is important that you develop a routine that works for you.  You might consider the following:
    • Getting up at the same time every day
    • Participate in God is with Us
    • Exercise
    • Eat healthy food
    • Remember and reflect on the day’s activities and achievements
    • Give God thanks for the moments you experienced God’s presence
    • Get plenty of rest/sleep

 

4. Have Realistic Expectations

  • The balance between realism and optimism, in times of uncertainty, is a key to survival.
  • In times of uncertainty, expectations centered on the future must be realistic.  Check out the Stockdale Paradox for a greater understanding of the balance of realism and optimism. 
  • Stockdale explained, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end, which you can never afford to lose, with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

Your Next Step

You might think of it this way. 

  • (Be Curious) What can you do to help with Covid-19?  Regardless of all you might have to offer, you can pray. As a Jesus follower, pray is part of your life.
  • (Be Aware) Who are people you can pray for? There is no shortage of persons for whom you might pray. At this point in time, you can pray for the doctors and medical personal who are on the front lines, exposing themselves to the virus as they discover ways to keep the rest of us safe. 
  • (Develop a Routine) When can I pray for them? You can pray for them every day as you pray for your family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors. 
  • (Have Realistic Expectations) How should you pray for them? You can pray for their well-being as they offer themselves in service and compassion for their local hospitals, communities, and the world.

As you lead into and through this disruption, it is imperative that you know the facts, name current reality, keep moving forward, with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of current reality.

Know how grateful I am for you and your leadership. Take care of yourself so that you can be the leader God has created you to be.

Know also that you are not alone.  We (Sara Thomas and Tim Bias) are available to help you care for yourself as you care for others.

Sign Up for the Daily Devotional, “God is With Us”

God is with Us a Daily Devotional for all God's people Navigating COVID-19

 

 

For Such A Time As This

You have everything you need to navigate the COVID-19 crisis. Your relationships, experiences, and education, both formal and informal, are coming together to equip you for such a time as this. Although you might feel ill-equipped, it is your time to step up and out in leading people through this, never-before crisis the world is facing.

Truthfully, that’s the problem.

You have never faced anything like this before.  Your normal routines, how you approach your family, your work, your church, and your community have changed drastically.

Everything Changed, Instantly

If you still have employment, you are working from home. The schools are closed, the children are home, and you don’t know whether to even let them go outside for fresh air. The church as suspended services. The only contact you have with others is at the grocery store, where you can’t find what you need. The situation is so surreal. You can’t help but asking, “Is this really happening?” Yet, there is another part of you that feels you must protect yourself and your family.

When you listen to the press conferences and updates, you are glad there are people making decisions. You just wish it were different decisions being made. In your quiet moments, you are asking yourself, “How long will this continue?” Or, “I wonder if we will go back to life as we knew it before the virus?”

Draw on the Resources You Have

Although I have never faced this kind of crisis, I know the feeling of not knowing exactly what to do. On the morning of September 11, 2001, I had to mobilize staff to lead a congregation and, ultimately, a community in making sense of terrorist attacks. As I was trying to make sense of the tragedy, I had to help people grieve, address rising anxiety, and interpret reality in the swirl of misinformation and fear.

I responded the only way I knew how.  I had to draw upon the resources I had to address the moment. Because of 9/11, I found that I had more strength and resources than I had been using.  I discovered I was equipped to lead through the anxiety and uncertainty because of the relationships, experiences, and education that had shaped my life up to that point.

I am sure you have been equipped to lead for such a time as this. You are living in a new normal. How will step into and lead amid this time of anxiety and uncertainty?

Take One Step

Over the next few days, make one of the following opportunities a part of your work:

  1. Reflect upon what makes you who you are.

    • Who are the people who have impacted your life? What experiences and/or events have shaped your thinking, feeling, and living? What have you learned from relationships, experiences, and education that equips you for this moment?
  2. Claim what you have to offer.

    • In the midst of the limitations you are now facing (working at home, sheltering in place, suspended worship), what do you have to offer? This is your time to be creative. You have had ideas that you have wanted to implement but you haven’t for one reason or another. Is now the time to use those ideas to create something new?
  3. What are your strengths?

    • How do your strengths complement the strengths of family members? How do their strengths complement yours? Now, more than any other time, you can strengthen family relationships and offer the same to the people God has entrusted to you.
  4. Learn to use technology and social media.

    • It is strange that what connects us with people around the world has disconnected us from the people closest to us.  Learn to use technology to reach out and make a connection with the people you lead and serve.  If nothing more than a phone call, text, or email, you are staying connected.  Take a risk and use Zoom or Skype to connect with people you are accustomed to seeing on a regular basis.  Record or live stream worship or bible study. Maybe you can experiment with one or two forms of technology or social media and discuss these questions/opportunities.
  5. Stay present in the moment.

    • You are your best when you are present. If you spend too much time in the past upon what you have lost or what you should have done, you lose yourself in regret.  If you spend too much time longing for the future, wishing for something different, you lose yourself in worry.  Stay in the moment and take one step at a time.  Offer to walk with others who are lost in regret and worry.  Assist them in staying in the moment and stepping into a new day with hope and courage.

You Have Everything You Need

Now, decide which one of these opportunities you will address first. Be intentional.  Invite someone, either a member of the family or a colleague, to journey with you. Make the time to master that one before moving to another.

By the time you have completed the list, you will discover the strengths and resources that you didn’t know you had.  Those strengths and resources are exactly what is needed to navigate the anxiety and uncertainly of these days.

You have everything you need to lead for such a time as this.

Know that you can reach out to Sara Thomas or to me (Tim Bias) for assistance or direction.  Here are a few things that you might find helpful. Again, expect to hear from us regularly as we navigate this season on ministry.

Sign Up for the Daily Devotional, “God is With Us”

God is with Us a Daily Devotional for all God's people Navigating COVID-19

 

In Gratitude

I commend you on coming through your first Sunday disruption regarding the coronavirus. Thank you for finding new and different ways to communicate and to connect with your congregation. 

As you know, this disruption is not over.  In fact, we are entering a new normal. For how long? Who knows. But when was the last time you and your spouse were working from home, while the kids were home from school?  When was the last time you did not have extra-curricular activities, one, two, or three nights a week? The normal rhythms of life are being disrupted. 

COVID-19 is a serious global pandemic.  All necessary precautions should be taken. Thank you for stepping up to do your part in addressing this crisis. But just as you had to find new and different ways to communicate, you will now have to find new and different ways to lead your congregation and community. 

What we Know

Here is what we know: 

  • Although COVID-19 is a new virus, we, as a human community, have successfully faced and overcome similar crises in the past. 
  • For example, the plague in London, the flu epidemic in 1917, the Poliovirus in the 1950’s, and HIV/AIDS in the 1980s. We have survived the atomic bomb, two world wars, a Cold War, wars in Viet Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan, global terrorism, 9/11, not to mention the assignation of a president, a civil rights leader and presidential candidate, natural disaster, cancer, STD’s, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, the list goes on. 

We will face and overcome this serious virus as well.  But you will need to step up and lead the people around you through the anxiety and confusion.

  • Because COVID-19 is a new virus, it is frightening. We can’t control it. Precisely because it is new and we don’t know how to control it, we are being asked to take precautions, that for some seems drastic and unnecessary. Regardless of what you think or how you might feel about the situation and circumstances, we are in a time of great anxiety and stress.

It is in the midst of this anxiety and stress that you are needed to step up and to be a calming voice and presence.

Sara Thomas is trained to coach people during times like this. Reach out if you need someone to be in conversation with about your own anxiety, leadership, and navigating this disruption. Coaches don’t have an agenda, they hold space for you to discern what is needed. We’re here to help. 

Things to Consider

Here are some things to consider:

  1. Be the leader that you need and want. 

  2. Communicate with the people in your congregation.                                      

    • Since information sharing and communication on Sunday mornings is out for a few weeks, identify the ways you will connect with people in your congregation? Email, text, phone, Zoom? You have an opportunity to develop some new patterns of communication and new habits for connecting. 
  3. Lead by example 

    • You have the opportunity to use technology to pray, teach/preach, lead meetings, etc. It is only inconvenient because it is not your normal pattern. Make it your normal pattern so that you can continue to be the leader you need and want. 
  4. Live your life as a follower of Jesus

    • There are people around you who are afraid.  They need to know they are not alone and that someone cares for them.  This crisis provides you the opportunity to point people to God’s love in Jesus. Be the presence of Jesus in every situation and circumstance. Watch for an email about a daily devotional that we’d love for you to contribute to and share with your congregation.
  5. As a follower of Jesus…

    • You already know that whatever happens, you will be okay because “nothing, absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus…” Offer such assurance and hope to the people God has entrusted to your care. 

Again, thank you for your leadership.  God is not done with you yet. In the midst of the crisis, you are being shaped as the person and the leader needed for these days. Step up and become who God is creating you to be.

Please know that Sara Thomas and I (Tim Bias) are available to help navigate these uncertain times. 

During the moments you find yourself in crisis and you are questioning your faith, in whom do you place your faith? As you explore your faith, see if one of the following scenarios feels familiar:

Scenario 1

You have a strong faith. It has been growing since you were a teenager and has served you well through your young adult years, marriage, and starting a family. Then, the unthinkable happens, you lose a child to sudden infant death, or a family member is killed in a form of violence, or there is a betrayal of a close and trusted relationship. Walking through the reality of the grief and pain of that experience does not allow you the option to pretend you are fine. In fact, you finally admit that you have not been fine for quite some time.

You have kept the questions, good Christians aren’t supposed to ask about their beliefs, below the surface, but now they are bubbling up out of your control. Up to this point, you have avoided facing them head-on. You feel fine until you experience grief on a deeply personal level. The devastation has you facing your doubts and you realize your system of beliefs is no longer adequate. 

Scenario 2

You have been a Christian for over 30 years. Your faith has formed every aspect of your life, your wedding vows, the raising of your children, your relationships at work, your participation in the church, and your leadership in the community. It has formed you as a coach in the youth basketball league, your position on the town council, and as a volunteer in a service club.

You have a conversation with your most trusted friend. You say out loud what has been churning in your mind and heart for years. “I don’t really believe there is a God. Whatever faith is it does not work for me.”

Until now, you have been able to control your thoughts and emotions, but you do not want to wrestle with them any longer. You don’t want to seem irresponsible but going through the motions of your faith has you questioning your integrity. There’s something inside you that says, “I just want to feel normal, to be known for who you really am, and to have some inner peace with myself.” 

Transitions of Faith

If any of what you just read feels familiar, you might be one of the many persons going through a faith transition. Mike McHargue, known as Science Mike, has gone through a faith transition from believer to atheist, and then back to a believer. He has wrestled, intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally with his faith.

He writes, “Sociologists tell us that 43 to 44 percent of people will go through a major faith transition at some point in their lives.” He continues, “And that’s any faith transition. So that can be from one Christian denomination to another denomination; that can be from belief to atheism; that can also be from secularism to some form of religiosity.”

“The more rigid your faith structure, the more drastic the leap of faith required to start asking questions surrounding it.” He points out, “To ask one question will lead to a lot more.”

So, why would I want to bring up such a subject? As a pastor or a leader, you are surrounded by people who are wrestling with faith. Whether it is in the pew or in the community, people are looking for authentic experiences of care, compassion, and belonging.

You and I find such authentic experiences in Jesus. 

So, the question is, why would anyone want to transition from Jesus to someone other than Jesus? The answer is, they are not transitioning from Jesus but from the objects that keep them from Jesus. Below are several of those objects. I name the following challenges, recognizing some might elicit controversy. I also recognize until we name the challenges, I cannot lead people in addressing the challenges. 

Objects of Misplaced Faith

1.The Bible

The written word of God points us to the Word of God, Jesus. Jesus is the Word made flesh. Jesus is the center of faith. The Bible points us to Jesus.

Today, many Christians overstate the importance of the Bible. For some, the Bible is the focus or object of their faith. 

But remember, our faith is in Jesus. When your faith is in Jesus, then you are able to have open and safe conversations about the truth of the Bible. There can be questions raised about inconsistencies and contradictions, discrepancies and mistranslations. 

Raising questions about scripture does not make the Bible less important. In fact, the questions lead to the truth the writers of the biblical texts give witness. In the end, the Bible, with all its debatable mistakes and misquotes, still points us to Jesus, God’s love and our hope made flesh. 

But when the Bible becomes the object you worship, when what you worship is the Bible, not Jesus, a conversation about scripture is a threat. Once you start questioning the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible, the rest of your faith soon crumbles.

Faith is centered on who you trust, not centered in what you believe. Jesus never asked anyone to have a belief in God, but he did ask people to love God and to love their neighbors. Jesus called people to a way of life. He said, “Follow me, be my disciples.” Living life as a Jesus follower is different than saying I believe in God or I believe in Jesus. 

Belief is important, but what you believe is not the focus of your faith. Jesus is. So, I say again,

people are not transitioning from Jesus but from rigid beliefs that keep them from Jesus. 

2. The Pastor:

A good spiritual leader is essential. Having someone you trust to walk with you through periods of doubt, despair, and discouragement, who can help you keep your eyes upon Jesus, and who models God’s love feels unbelievably good. 

But your pastor is not the center of your faith. Your pastor points you to the person who is the center of your faith, Jesus. 

When your faith is in Jesus, you are able to listen to and follow the persons gifted and called by God to love and lead in and through the church. Regardless of gender, race, age, politics, or status, when a person is gifted and equipped by God to love who God loves, then Jesus is at the center of all relationships. 

But when your faith is centered in the pastor, you focus more upon what the pastor believes than upon Jesus to whom the pastor is pointing. Once the pastor does not believe what you believe or act the way you want him or her to act, then your faith begins to wander. 

When your faith is centered in the pastor, then only a certain kind of pastor will do. Or, even more misdirected, only a certain, handpicked, interviewed, and approved pastor will do. So, your allegiance is centered on the pastor and not in Jesus. 

Pastoral leadership is important, but your pastor is not the focus of your faith. Jesus is. So, I say again, people are not transitioning from Jesus but from our misplaced allegiance that keeps them from Jesus. 

3. The Church

It is the church, as an institution, that gets in the way. When the church as a system of hierarchical control with political entanglements, abuse of authority, lack of integrity, becomes the center of faith, pastors leave their pulpits and people leave the pews as well as the faith altogether. 

Jesus is the reason the church exists. So, when Jesus is not the focus of the church, what is the use of the church? 

When the church is an instrument of pointing people to Jesus, nurturing them in the faith, and sending them out to love and serve, then people are drawn to Jesus and to Jesus’ followers. People need such institutions as instruments or conduits of faith.

But when the church becomes nothing more than a club where membership has its privileges, where an open and safe conversation is discouraged, where people are received based upon their acceptability, and where the building has more value than the people to whom the church is called to love and serve, you have a problem. 

The community of faith, the church, is important, but the church as an institution, as a building, as a special club is not the focus of your faith. 

So, I say again, people are not transitioning from Jesus but from the lack of care, compassion, and belonging in a Christian community. 

Navigating the Objects of Misplaced Faith

So, what are you to do as people attempt to navigate the objects of misplaced faith? How will you respond as people search for authentic expressions of faith? In the midst of crisis, doubt, and transition, your leadership is needed. I challenge you to do the following: 

  • Be clear within yourself in whom you place your faith.

Is your faith in the person of Jesus? If not Jesus, in whom or what do you place your faith?

  • Provide space for persons to question, explore, and discover their faith.

People need non-judgmental space to ask their questions and to explore. Your church is a place where everyone is welcome. It is also a place where people, all people, can wrestle with doubt and find the faith for which they are desperately searching. 

  • Be a person of authentic care, compassion, and acceptance 

You don’t have to be an expert, but you do have to be authentic. Both humility and vulnerability are needed in assisting persons in exploring faith. Pay attention to what others are learning from their exploration. It will help you become more who God created you to be. 

  • Continue to point people to Jesus.

People are searching for deep and meaningful relationships. Be aware of appropriate moments when you can point people to Jesus, your deepest and most meaningful relationship. 

The people in our communities and in our churches are looking for authentic experiences of care, compassion, and belonging. I find such authentic experiences in Jesus. The Bible, the pastor, and the church are instruments through which people discover, experience, and follow Jesus. 

In the midst of such uncertain days of exploration and transition, in whom do you place your faith?

It is the second week of Advent. It’s time to explore the courage of two more characters involved in the birth of Jesus. This week, through the LeaderCast, we will look at the Courage of Elizabeth.  Today through this blog, we will look at the courage of Zechariah.

Zechariah and Elizabeth are married and have been for years.  They are an older couple who approach each day with the same activities, the same people, and the same thoughts as every other day. They have no children and because they are older, they are past their childbearing years. In the culture in which they are living, being childless is a disgrace. Yet, it is with this older couple, that the story of the birth of Jesus begins. 

Zechariah has been chosen to be the priest to burn incense before God.  It is not only a special opportunity to perform such a high priestly function, but it is a privilege to enter the Holy of Holies where the tradition of experiencing God is too real to be true. Because of his position among the priests, he takes advantage of the opportunity and privilege.  

Read more

What great work does God have for you to do?  You know the desires of your heart and the stirrings in your soul.  You also know the tensions and anxieties of living into who you know God created you to be and the pressures of the work and world around you.

So, how do you respond or react to the tension?

As you reflect upon that question, let me ask you to be honest with yourself. Read the following statements. Which statement describes you?

  • You live alone. Even though you have a family and you are surrounded with friends and colleagues, you live separated from the benefit of others speaking into your life.
  • You feel more comfortable with isolation than you do with letting people get close to you. Keeping your personal distance protects you.
  • You know what to do with your isolation and you are intentional in developing the relationships that feed your soul.

Which of the three statements best describes your mode of operation?  Be honest. No one knows but you.  Which one?

Lonely Leaders

Lonely leaders are everywhere.  Although you are surrounded by people, you can’t seem to connect in meaningful ways. So, you have entered a self-imposed separation.  It is easier to disconnect from people than it is to risk being vulnerable.

Bruce Thrall, one of the authors of The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence, did research around “deception” as a leadership dysfunction.  The title of his project was “Everybody Lies, But Leaders Do It Better.”

He interviewed leaders who had deceived and been publicly caught, from the fields of medicine, journalism, law and law enforcement, the church, etc. The interviews exposed isolation as the primary reason the leaders gave themselves permission to lie.¹ Although these leaders were constantly around people such as family, friends, and colleagues, they were isolated, fearful, and alone.

Isolation robs you from becoming who God has created you to be. So, how do you and I overcome the isolation that threatens to keep us from the authentic community and courageous leadership?

An Example of Leading with Vulnerability

Let’s look at the life of a vulnerable leader.  His name, William Wilberforce. As a popular member of Parliament in Great Britain, Wilberforce liked the power and prestige of his office. Even though his personal life was not of the highest character, his political career looked promising.

Through the encouragement of a college friend, Wilberforce began to take a serious look at his life, which lead him to an encounter with Jesus.  After some personal struggle, he trusted God with his life.  As he considered the implications of his decision, through personal study and reflection, Wilberforce wrestled with the idea of leaving politics and becoming a minister. Here is one place he became vulnerable.  Instead of moving forward with a decision, he first went to several trusted friends, asking for their counsel.

Allies and Friends

He approached William Pitt, the soon-to-be prime minister of Great Britain.  Pitt wanted Wilberforce as a political ally, especially with his improving reputation.  So, he asked Wilberforce to stay in politics. Wilberforce was not convinced.  He knew what he wanted while he listened to his trusted friends. As he continued to wrestle with his conscience, he sought out John Newton, the author of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” himself a convert to Christ.  Surely Newton would understand his desire to pursue the ministry.  Instead, Newton encouraged him to use his political position and knowledge as his ministry.

I can imagine that no one knew how much Wilberforce struggled to open his life to his colleagues and friends.  But knowing myself, it could not have been easy. He knew what he wanted, but he chose to become vulnerable, listening to those who knew him and loved him.

What are the Desires of Your Heart?

Let me ask you, how many people have you shared the desires of your heart, asking them to help you make sense of those desires?  How many people have asked you for direction regarding their lives?  How many people do you know who have gone as far as Wilberforce, following the advice of others even while disagreeing with their advice?

Sometimes our resistance to vulnerability comes after a profound experience of God’s love.  Once we come to the point of trusting God, we jump to conclusions about our calling in life, choosing to do things inconsistent with our capacities and character.  I know some people who have been encouraged to leave their careers and enter into a more “spiritual” work when it might have been the opposite of God’s purpose.

Choosing Vulnerability

Choosing vulnerability is tough work. You might not like what people say.  You might even disagree. But recognizing God as you focus upon your purpose, allows you the courage to listen, discern, and enter into dialogue with the people around you.

Here are some things to remember:

  1. Know who you are and whose you are. Whether you agree or disagree with others’ advice, choosing to be vulnerable cannot happen without trusting who God has created you to be.
  2. Find colleagues and friends who can be trusted. As hard as it might seem, becoming who God has created you to be is not a casual practice done in isolation.
  3. Vulnerability does not mean transparency. It is more than disclosing yourself at times and in ways that are convenient for you. Vulnerability is deliberately submitting yourself to the strengths and influences of trusted friends and colleagues at times that might be inconvenient.
  4. Vulnerability means you choose to let others have access to your life, teach you, and influence you. To the degree that you become vulnerable with others is the degree to which you will experience the love of others.
  5. Vulnerability invites trust. The trust others have in you depends upon your level of integrity. Your vulnerability expresses and sustains such integrity.

What Great Work Does God Have for You?

For Wilberforce vulnerability was not a passing fad.   He chose vulnerability over and over again.  After a time of doubt and reflection, he decided to stay in politics. He chose vulnerability when he asked is friends and colleagues to help him choose which issues to focus upon.

Slavery was the issue at the top of the list. He decided to recruit others to assist in his fight against slavery.  He met with groups of people regularly to listen, to develop mutual vulnerability, and support.  Vulnerability became a pattern of his life as he consistently opened his heart to the influence of others.  As a result of choosing to be vulnerable, Wilberforce is remembered as a great reformer whose work led to the abolition of slavery in the British Empire.²

So, I’m wondering, what great work does God have for you?  To become who God has created you to be, you need to start with vulnerability.  What one step will you take to get started. Consider the following:

  • What one thing will you do to address your isolation?
  • In what relationship(s) are you willing to become vulnerable?
  • What relationship(s) will you develop that will feed your soul?

Our families, our communities, our jobs, our churches, need vulnerable leaders, leaders who are willing to take the risk of opening their lives to the influence of others. Who knows what God has in store for you as you open yourself to the care, compassion, and influence of trusted friends and colleagues?

Choose vulnerability and become the leader God has created you to be.

 

 

Notes

  1. Thrall, Bruce, The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence, page 76.
  2. The story of William Wilberforce was adapted from The Ascent of a Leader

You are a person of influence. You might not see yourself as influential, but there are individuals and groups of people you influence by your relationships, interactions, and decisions. Your influence gives you the opportunity to be a leader.

Brené Brown writes, “A leader is anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.” Whether you hold a position in a corporation, a company, a church or you are a parent, a teacher, a dance instructor, or a little league coach you influence people by finding and developing potential in their lives.

The question is, do you have the courage to be that kind of leader?

Ordinary Courage

The word “courage” comes from the Latin word for “heart”. It originally meant, “to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Over time, the definition has changed. Today, courage is more synonymous with being heroic. We certainly need heroes. But courage has a deeper meaning.

I want to know if you have the heart to be vulnerable with the people you influence. Do you have the heart to be vulnerable? I like the way Brené Brown expresses it, “I think we’ve lost touch with the idea that speaking honestly and openly about who we are, about what we’re feeling, and about our experiences (good and bad) is the definition of courage. Heroics is often about putting our life on the line. Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line.”¹

Putting Your Vulnerability on the Line as a Disciple

I experienced this kind of courage through my fourth grade Sunday school teacher. Although she worked as a clerk, collecting money for the water department, and never held a position of leadership in the church, I was within her sphere of influence. Mary would greet me every Sunday at the classroom door with the words, “Timmy, I knew you were going to be here this morning.” Then with a welcoming hug, she would send me into the classroom to meet other classmates who had gathered. As I entered the room I would hear her say, “Nancy, I knew you were going to be here this morning.” When I would look back she would be hugging Nancy and sending her into the room to meet the rest of us. Mary greeted us as if we were the most important people she knew.

She developed relationships with eight 10-year-olds who gathered every Sunday morning. Because she took responsibility to develop those relationships, we listened to her lessons on Jesus. I remember her telling us about Jesus touching a leper and about Jesus receiving a woman who was sick. I will always remember her saying that we love like Jesus because that is the way we thank Jesus for loving us. We were under her influence as she developed our potential to become followers of Jesus.

Several times a year, Mary would bring cookies or brownies or little square sandwiches, along with Kool-Aid to our Sunday School class. As we ate, she would tell us how Jesus invited people to eat at his table. Once when we did not have enough room around the table, she said, “There is always enough room at Jesus’ table.” She then asked us to help her add an extension to the table so everyone had a place. By her teaching and action, she influenced how we related to one another.

Teaching the Great Commission

I remember the Sunday she taught us about Jesus sending his disciples into the world to tell others about God’s love. As was her custom, Mary pointed her finger at one of us and said, “You read the first verse.” We continued around the table, each of us reading a verse. When we ran out of verses, she said, “Okay, let’s start over.” Again, she pointed her finger and said, “Now, you read the first verse” and we continued until everyone had an opportunity to read.

On that Sunday, our scripture was Matthew 28:16-20. Each of us took a turn reading a verse:

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

I don’t think I will ever forget what happened next. When we finished reading, she looked at each of us and said, “One day, one of you will go someplace in the world and tell people about Jesus.”

Mary was taking responsibility for the people with whom she had influence. She was developing the potential of a group of 10-year-olds to follow Jesus into the world. She put her vulnerability on the line to lead fourth graders.

When we “graduated” from fourth grade, Mary continued to send us notes of encouragement. I still have the gift she gave me for my high school graduation. It was a book on character. She led with courage. She encouraged my development as a person and as a Jesus follower.

Living the Great Commission

When I was 32, I was invited by the Institute for World Evangelism to participate in a school of evangelism in West Africa. I was partnered with a Nigerian pastor and assigned to a Methodist church in a fishing village just outside of Accra, Ghana. Titilayo, my Nigerian partner, and I joined the pastor of the church in visiting the people of his parish, teaching bible studies, leading prayer meetings, and preaching on Sunday mornings.

One afternoon the pastor took us to visit the matriarch of the church. She lived in a small four-room house with her sisters, their children, and their children’s children. There was a total of 40 people in the house. As we entered the compound behind the house, there were children playing, chickens and goats running, and several women cooking dinner on an open fire.

The pastor greeted everyone in his language “Ga.” With his greeting, we were welcomed with smiles, waves, and extended hands. As he introduced us to the group, several of the younger women went into the house and led an older woman, the matriarch, out of the house and into the compound. One of the women placed a small white bench on the ground. The older woman sat on the bench. Everyone in the compound gathered around to listen.

The pastor introduced us, Titilayo Fatimyembo from Nigeria and Timothy Bias from the United States of America. He told the group that we had come to tell them of God’s love in Jesus. As he introduced us, the older woman reached out her hands to welcome us. Titilayo and I instinctively took her hands. With everyone standing around us, she began to sing in her language a tune that I recognized.

In Christ there is no east or west
In Him no south or north
But one great fellowship of love
Throughout the whole wide earth.

Leaders Develop the Potential of Others

Do you know who I thought of at that moment? My fourth grade Sunday school teacher. I remember the day Mary said, “One day, one of you will go someplace in the world and tell people about Jesus.” Mary had taken the responsibility of finding the potential in a group of 10-year-olds and had the courage to develop our potential.

Your Next Step

You decide: are you a person of influence? You are if you’re leading the people around you to live into the potential of their lives.

Take the next step by doing one or more of the following:

  • Focus on your purpose. As a person of influence, you have the opportunity to lead people into becoming who God has created them to be. Knowing your purpose is fundamental in helping others find their purpose.
  • Look for God’s presence in the lives of the people around you. As a leader, being able to identify God in the people you influence allows you the opportunity to connect them with God.
  • Cultivate relationships with the people you influence and lead. It is the depth of your relationships that allow you the opportunity to be vulnerable and courageous.
  • Listen to “Do You Want To Lead With Courage?
  • Download the Transformation Guide to take this next step. The Transformation Guide offers you four skills that will assist you in identifying what is needed and what is missing in Leading with Courage.

As a Jesus follower, you have the opportunity to develop the foundation of God’s presence and purpose in your life. As a person of influence, you have the responsibility of finding and developing the potential in the lives of the people you influence. Because of who you are and how you lead, one day someone will contact you and say, “Thank you for having the courage to lead me in becoming who God created me to be.”

Today is the day you can begin to change your corner of the world. Let’s lead with ordinary courage.

 

Notes

Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection, as found on http://www.bhevolution.org/public/gifts_of_imperfection.page