How are you feeling this week? You have done well in adapting to the abrupt changes brought about by the pandemic. You have discovered new ways of communicating and connecting. Just with regular use, you are perfecting the use of technology as you step into what is being called “a new normal.” As you look at the calendar, it looks like there are just a few more days to go. 

You and I can adapt to just about any situation for a short period of time.  You “have to do what you have to do.”  But this virus does not pay attention to the calendar. Have you considered that this pandemic will have you living differently for an extended period of time? Do you have a backup plan? 

Always Have a Backup Plan

I have a friend who enjoys hiking and backpacking.  When he was younger, he hiked parts of the Appalachian trail, spending several days and nights at a time alone in, what I call, the wilderness. In a recent conversation, he told me some of the best advice he received regarding hiking and backpacking comes from an older hiker who said, “Always have a backup plan.” The older hiker talked about having a mindset that could get him through if things happened in the wilderness that was unexpected. The older hiker asked, “What if you had to be out there for an extended period of time?   

My friend took the hiker’s advice to heart. He formulated an outline, a backup plan, for such situations. In our conversation, he told me the outline had been helpful both practically and spiritually in the midst of our current situation.  

Wilderness Plans

This pandemic is our wilderness.  We are going to be in this wilderness period longer than what we have planned. What is your backup plan? Here is what my friend shared with me. 

Adapt

If unexpected circumstances come your way, you need to adapt quickly. It is not easy, but it is needed. Accept the reality of your situation and move from that point. Simply bemoaning the situation does nothing. Both trusting God to help you see things as they are and leaning on God for strength and direction are key.  

Again, you have done well in adapting to the changes. The situation has called for living and leading differently and you have risen to meet the challenges by adapting. 

Adopt

Knowing that the situation might continue longer than expected, you adopt a different way of living and approach each day for what it has to offer. Because your original situation has changed, different practices, perspectives, and principles will be called for. The sooner you adopt a new way of living, the sooner your mind, body, and spirit can move forward. Trusting God to show you the path and trusting what you are learning is essential in moving forward

Now is the time to adopt new procedures and to develop different systems to carry you through to the end of the pandemic.  What have you been doing that you need to continue?  Then consider, what have you put on hold that now needs to be implemented in a different way? What new practices, perspectives, and principles need to be communicated? The time has come to adopt new ways of living and leading. 

Adept

Then you work at becoming adept or skilled at living and leading in and through these changes. The new practices, perspectives, and principles are not temporary things to be tolerated. You must begin by developing abilities to function and live well under new conditions. Use the new situation and circumstance to grow in new ways. Again, you are trusting God to lead you as you are shaped and molded by God’s love in relationship to the people entrusted to your care.    

I know this pandemic is not a backpacking trip. Even as much as I wish it was, the reality is we are in this wilderness for an extended period of time. This perspective of adapt, adopt, and adept can assist you spiritually, physically, and mentally during these difficult days. 

Pause to Reflect

Take a moment now to reflect and then act on the following:

  1. Make a list of what you have adapted over the past two months.  Include how you have been living, working, leading, worshipping, etc. Once you have made your list, give God thanks for the ability to adapt during a difficult situation.
  2. Now make a list of the practices, procedures, and principles that you think, and feel are the things you need to adopt or incorporate into your living and leading for an extended period of time. Consider how you are connecting and communicating with family, friends, and the people entrusted to your care. What needs to be adopted for worship, bible study, and pastoral care? Once you have made your list, ask God to give you insight and wisdom to lead in through this crisis.
  3. Now make a list of what skills you need to learn and to sharpen to live and lead through this time of crisis. You know what you know and what you need to learn. Model for the people around you ways in which you are stepping into a new reality. Ask God to give your wisdom and strength for stepping out and learning new ways.
  4. What one behavior will you focus upon changing or sharpening this week? When you have decided, call a trusted friend or colleague to journey with you as you become more adept at leading during this time.  You were created to lead during this time.  You are not here by accident.  Now is the time to step up and be the leader God has created you to be.  What one behavior will you focus upon this week? 

You and I can adapt to just about any situation for a short period of time.  Knowing our current situation, the time has come to meet the challenges of living and leading differently for an extended period of time. Wherever this journey leads, trust God and lean into God’s new future. God has called and equipped you for this time. So, what is your backup plan? 

 

The Covid-19 pandemic has shut down much of what we hold dear and essential. We are no longer gathering in our church buildings to worship. We have put on hold meeting with family and friends, exchanging greetings with handshakes and hugs and sharing coffee and donuts as hospitality. I have not mentioned singing hymns and songs of praise, baptism and holy communion, and other activities that assist us in feeling connected to Christ and one another.

Our everyday and ordinary lives have been disrupted.

I don’t need to remind you that you have moved out of your office to work at home, are giving up prom and graduation, spring sports, shopping, and eating out at our favorite restaurants. Much of our everyday living, which we have taken for granted, has shut down until further notice.

A New Normal

Many of you have done wonderfully well in adapting to these abrupt changes. You have discovered new ways of communicating and connecting. You have been faithful to perfect the use of technology and to step into what is being called “a new normal.”

Over the past two months, there has been very little talk about any subject other than the Covid-19 pandemic and the effects on our lives and on the economy. No other time in my life has there been daily press conferences announcing new deaths, new cases, or new discoveries. Each day bringing another discussion regarding what has been shut down and what we have given up.

As I have reflected upon our current reality as a church, I have discovered there are at least three things the Covid-19 pandemic has not shut down:

Pandemics Don’t Shut Down Love

When everything seems to be taken away, there is one thing that cannot be taken away: love. Whether it is family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, strangers, or enemies, the pandemic cannot shut down our love for one another.

You and I are created to love. As I have written before, it will be in our relationships that we will find hope and healing.

I am convinced that our human connections, God’s love in and through each of us as the church, can and will drive real change, even in the midst of a pandemic. When we see, experience, and love one another truly as human beings, we can no longer see each other as anything else.

To love God and to love neighbor is our mission. When what we hold dear and essential has been shut down and put on hold, love will find a way.

Please don’t lose sight of that fact, because it is God’s love in and through each of us as the church that will help us face the other two things that have not been shut down by this pandemic.

Pandemics Don’t Shut Down Poverty

There are more children living in poverty today, one in every five children, than any other time in the history of our nation. Even in Ohio, there are approximately 513,000 or one in five children living in poverty. The poverty rate in Columbus is 20.8%, which means that one out of every 4.8 residents of Columbus lives in poverty.

The effects of poverty contribute to social, emotional, and behavioral problems. It contributes to poor health both physically and mentally. The risks are greater for children who experience deep and persistent poverty when they are young.

Although the pandemic did not cause this poverty, it didn’t shut it down either. Covid-19 has brought this fact to our immediate attention.

Your church, the churches of the Capitol Area South District, and the churches of the West Ohio Conference have an opportunity to love God and to love neighbor has never before. The God who loves each of us has brought our mission clearly before us. The pandemic cannot shut down our love for one another. In the midst of poverty, in and through the church, love can find a way.

Pandemics Don’t Shut Down Racism

On a warm Sunday afternoon in February 25-year old Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed while jogging through his Brunswick neighborhood. He was an athlete. He had a job. He worked out and jogged regularly.

Ahmaud’s death is similar to the shooting death of 17-year old Trayvon Martin. Although Trayvon was not jogging, he was shot and killed while walking home from the store where he had purchased candy.

What do the two have in common? According to the men who shoot Ahmaud and to the man who shot Trayvon, “they looked suspicious.” I’m sure there is much more to both stories and maybe I should be more aware before moving forward with what I’m going to say, but I know this for sure, the Covid-19 pandemic has not shut down racism.

I have not personally experienced racism like our African American neighbors experience on a daily basis. Until recent years, I seldom thought of being white. But I have learned that my black brothers and sisters think of it and are reminded of it every day.

The murder of Ahmaud Arbery is another example of the distance we still must travel for this land to be a land of “justice for all.”

Similarities between Covid-19 and Racism

Tim Taylor, in his new documentary “Reach, The Documentary” has highlighted the parallels between Covid-19 and racism. Here a few:

  • Covid-19 is invisible to the eye but known by its effects. Racism is invisible to the eye, but easily seen by its effects.
  • Covid-19 can thrive with no outward symptoms. Racial prejudice can endure with no outward indicators.
  • Covid-19 can be carried and spread by unsuspecting carriers. Racism can be carried and spread by people unaware of their subconscious attitudes and beliefs.
  • Covid-19 has been spread by intentional disregard (witness the spring break revelers, and the churches that insist on gathering on Sundays). Racism has been spread by institutional disregard.
  • Covid-19 hits hardest those with limited means. Racism always has.
  • Covid-19 spreads without regard for state lines or boundaries. Racism endures without regard for state edicts or legislation.

Differences between Covid-19 and Racism

Even considering these similarities, there is one major difference between Covid-19 and racism: The virus will pass, but the cancer of racism within our culture and the church, if left unaddressed, will remain.

Tim Taylor writes, “When it comes to racism, however, we don’t seek to “flatten the curve.” We seek to raise up what author Jamar Tisby calls the “ARC” of racial reconciliation: Awareness. Relationship. Commitment.”

Over the past several months much has changed. We have made significant sacrifices in our churches and in our communities. This Covid-19 pandemic has put a temporary stop to much we have held important, but it is undeniable that the greatest challenge facing our nation, our communities, and our churches has not been shut down or gone away. We must acknowledge it directly. We must isolate and attack it. We must pursue a cure, always aware that, even if we defeat this foe in one place, it will seek to regenerate and strike in another.

Your church, the churches of the Capitol Area South District, and the churches of the West Ohio Conference have an opportunity to love God and to love neighbor has never before. The God who loves each of us has brought our mission clearly before us. In the midst of racism, in and through the church, love can find a way.

You and I have given up a lot in regard to Covid-19. What if we embraced this pandemic as a gift that has revealed the truth of what surrounds us? That is what we must do if we are to take advantage of the unexpected opportunity before us. That is what we must do if we are ever going to bridge the growing divide of poverty and the deepening gulf of racism that the church for too long has accepted, allowed, and perpetuated.

Your Next Step

Please know that I am not trying to put more on you as a pastor or congregational leader, but I am writing to remind you that no pandemic has the power to take away the love that can and will address the sins of poverty and racism.

Take advantage of this time to get acquainted with your community. Make contact with community leaders. Get to know school teachers and administrators. Develop relationships with police officers and firefighters. Introduce yourselves to your neighbors. Get to know your neighborhood and community.

Ask yourselves the question, “What do we need to do that no one else is doing?” If you decide to provide meals, develop relationships with the people you serve. Come alongside them. Become vulnerable and risk loving others as God in Christ has loved you.

Pray this prayer, “God, send us the people no one else wants and help us love and accept the people you send to us.” Accept each person as a gift from God who will enrich your life and will help you become more who God has created you to be.

This pandemic has not shut down everything. Take advantage of loving God and loving neighbor, so when this pandemic is over, you know that God’s love has made the difference in changing your world.

On Friday, May 1 Tim and Sara hosted a Facebook Live question and answer period to respond to questions submitted. You can find the list of questions and approximate time stamps below.

You can also find the original Facebook post here.

Approximate Time Stamps, Notes, and Questions Covered 

[00:00:00] Welcome and greeting one another
[00:02:45] Defining the purpose/boundaries of this video
[00:04:39] How do we best love one another in a way that shows a witness to the rest of the world?
[00:06:17] You are loved.
[00:07:07] Timeframe of Phase 1-3: The Virus Doesn’t Know a Calendar
[00:11:30] What will stage one, stage two, stage three, what is going to look like, and what is expected of us come May 24
[00:14:23] How long will Phase 1 -3 last? What does the calendar look like?
[00:18:19] Story of one Freshman in High School – Expectation Setting
[00:19:42] What about VBS, summer activities, and outside groups using the church building?
[00:21:05] Are there recommendations somewhere for proper cleaning?
Here are two documents from the CDC:
[00:22:50] Explain what 10 people in the building means? Per space or total?
[00:24:17] Are the phases set by each individual church or do we follow the guidelines given by government officials?
[00:25:24] What is, what’s the age for, what is the age at which we’re talking about folks being at risk? What about at-risk groups?
[00:29:50] What is the significance of May 24?
[00:33:19] Why can we not use bulletins? What’s the thinking on that? And if we just put the bulletins out for people to pick up on their own, could we do it that way?
[00:36:26] Are there additional guidelines that can be offered? Can we continue to celebrate communion if you already have the authority to do so?
NOTE: As we concluded the live stream it occurred to us that during phases 1 and 2, face masks will be worn. It is impossible to partake of the elements with a facemask on. When you take a face mask off, you should wash your hands. As you can see, the logistics of celebrating Holy Communion in person are challenging, if not impossible.
[00:44:16] What about hallways and aisles?
[00:45:45] What about the length of service?
[00:48:30] Why no responsive readings?
[00:50:35] Why wear masks?
[00:52:30] Wrap-up and reminders
[00:54:24] Closing Prayer

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. 

 

Want to practice self-compassion and kindness towards others in this time?

There are at least three things you’re going to need. Below, I outline what you’ll need and what can get in the way. At the bottom of the page, you’ll find a YouTube link to watch a conversation Tim and I have with some of our pastors.

First, consider Psalm 103:1-18. As you read that psalm, notice the qualities of God. Then consider this question: do you treat yourself the way God treats you? For most of us, the answer is no.

In this season, self-compassion and kindness are needed. Yes, they’re always needed. But, as we’re trying to quickly adapt to the changes around us and navigating a new landscape, it’s much easier to be hard on yourself. Here’s what you’ll need to practice self-compassion and kindness towards others.

What You Need

  1. Self-kindness

    • This is about being accepting and understanding of yourself when you suffer, fail or feel inadequate. We have all, at one point or another, felt inadequate in the past month as we’ve navigated this pandemic. Here’s your reminder to talk to yourself and others the way God talks to you. Here are a few reminders about the nature of God:
      • God’s not easily angered
      • God’s rich in love
      • God doesn’t endlessly nag, scold or hold grudges
      • He knows us inside, out and remembers we’re made of mud.
  2. Remember our Common Humanity

    • Suffering and feelings of personal inadequacy are a part of the shared human experience. It’s something we all go through rather than something that happens to you, all alone. 
    • How many of you have thought, “I’m no good at this? I’m the only one who can’t do this? How many of you are frustrated because caring for people can’t happen in the same ways? Yeah…it is called being human. You’re not alone!
  3. Paying attention

    • Self-compassion requires paying attention to your emotions and interactions. Specifically, it necessitates balancing your approach to negative emotions. Don’t suppress or exaggerate your feelings. You can’t ignore your pain and feel compassion at the same time. (You might want to read that last sentence again.)


Now, consider this: which one of the above items do you do well? Which one do you need to improve? If you’re brave, share your two numbers in the comments below. You’ll hear others have already done so on the video we share below. 

What Gets in the Way?

Here’s what gets in the way of kindness and self-compassion. These might be thought of as the opposite end of the spectrum from the items listed above.

  1. Self-judgment

    • This is about beating yourself up and self-criticism. It is where you say to yourself, “I’m dumb for not being able to figure this out. Instead of, “I need to take some time to learn this. It’s all new information.” Or, saying to yourself, “I’m a bad pastor…” No, you’re a pastor who is experiencing something none of us were trained to navigate. As I’ve said many times to many people in the last month, whatever you are doing and however you are doing it, God honors your faithfulness.
  2. Isolation

    • This is where you say, “It’s just me. I’m the only one who experiences this.”
      • Nope. You’re not alone. Got it? Feeling isolated is different than isolating yourself. It’s also very different than our physical distancing right now. This is where you don’t reach out and say to a colleague, “I need to talk with you about something.” Instead, you isolate yourself and don’t ask for help, seek counsel, or guidance to get unstuck.
  3. Over-identification

    • This is simply over-identifying with your feelings. It can be in the form of suppressing, ignoring or exaggerating your feelings. You’re fixated on one emotion and because you’re fixated you’re unable to see the totality of what is happening. 

Which one of these barriers to self-compassion and kindness would you like to kick to the curb because it gets in your way at times?

If you’re brave, share your two numbers in the comments below. You’ll hear others have already done so on the video we share below. 

One Final Reminder

Return to the first three items. Notice I mentioned common humanity. We all do all of these things some of the time. When you want to practice self-compassion and kindness, it’s helpful to be aware of when it’s happening so you can hit the pause button if it’s not helpful.

Finally, remember this: compassion spreads quickly. When you’re kind to ourselves, you create a reservoir of compassion that extends to others and to the people you live with and lead. Those same individuals learn to be self-compassionate by watching you.  That builds trust.

And right now, we’re in a HUGE season of building TRUST. Next week, we’ll have more to say about trust. For now, let us know what comes easy to you and what’s a challenge in the comments below. 

Enjoy our conversation with pastors about this topic, too.

Holy Week

It’s Holy Week…like no other Holy Week, right?

As you think about how you experienced Palm Sunday and are journeying through Holy Week, consider how these questions help you navigate this season of ministry:

Good Friday

How are you seeing grief expressed right now?

Holy Saturday

What’s the confabulation you’re creating?

Easter Sunday

What’s the hope you’re counting on?

Listen to Sunday is Comin’!

Watch Sunday is Comin’!

How are you doing this week?

You have entered your third week of the “stay at home” order.  You just celebrated the most unusual Palm Sunday ever celebrated. You are listening to and watching the conflicting reports regarding the pandemic. Truthfully, you are ready for this pandemic to be over so you can go back to doing what you know you do best. Yet, you are now into Holy Week and you are preparing for Easter Sunday in a way you never expected to be preparing.  

So, I’ll ask my question again, “How are you really doing?”

Chicken Little or Not Doing Enough?

On March 13, Dr. Amy Acton, Director of the Ohio Department of Public Health said, “On the front end of a pandemic, you look a little bit like an alarmist. You look a little bit like a Chicken Little.  The sky is falling. And on the back end of a pandemic, you didn’t do enough.” I share her quote to do nothing more than give a perspective of where you might be as you live into and lead through this pandemic.  

You can find yourself anywhere between disbelief and acceptance. Externally, you are learning new ways and living into this pandemic the best you know how.  It is truly surreal. Who would ever have imagined what is going on in the world today?

Internally, you find it hard to believe that the situation is as desperate as the reports say it is. You are disturbed over the talk of a “new normal,” and you are overwhelmed with the pain, confusion, and the distress of people you know and love.

Life and work have changed. The idea that you have little control over what is going on creates anxiety you have felt very few times in your life.  You can’t do what you know you can do, so you have decided to learn new ways to get through this time of crisis.

Who Do You Need to Be?

The truth is not one of us have been at this place before. I have not faced any situation like this in my 46 years of ministry.  But, with that said, I have given a thought and reflection upon who we need to be and how we can proceed together to enter the day that emerges on the other side of this crisis.

So, here is what I have been thinking:

  1.   Keep focused upon who you are

  • You have what you need to live into and to lead through this crisis.
  • Reflect upon the experiences and/or events that have shaped your thinking and feeling.
  • Affirm what you have learned through your relationships, experiences, and education

I am convinced you are created to navigate the uncertainty and anxiety of the situations and circumstances of these days.

  1.   Keep focused upon why you do what you do.

  • Keep the mission of the church in mind – 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.
  • Stay grounded upon your call to ministry – Your call is to people
  • Continue your study of and reflection upon the scripture – Something that might be helpful is the God Is with Us daily devotional
  • Continue to keep the people entrusted to your care focused upon God’s love and care for them. How are you engaging them in the study of scripture? Worship? Care?   

When you focus upon why you do what you do, you will be the leader that you need and want. You will model the behavior needed to live in this crisis and provide the leadership to get through the crisis.

  1.   Begin to focus upon your strengths.

  • Do you know your strengths? If not, this would be a great time to learn your gifts.
  • 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 learn the strengths of others as you lead and care for the people God has entrusted to you.

  1.   Stay present in the moment. You are your best when you are present. 

  • We are presently in a “transitional normal.” Stay present as you step into new and different ways of working and living
  • We are moving toward a “new normal.” No one of us knows exactly what that means, but when you stay focused and present helps you model and lead through all transitions.
  • Remember: 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 every day with hope and courage.

  1.   Learn to pace yourself. 

  • We are in the midst of a long transition.
  • Keep yourself healthy – Get enough rest, exercise, eat healthy meals. Your health is essential as you lead others into and through this crisis
  • Stay open to learning new systems and new ways of providing the care and services you have been providing.
  • Continue to improve your use of technology and social media.  Record or live stream worship or bible study. Maybe you can experiment with one or two forms of technology or social media and discuss this blog or earlier blogs.
  • Continue to use technology to reach out and connect 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.

You have stepped up and responded in remarkable ways. Because we are in this for the “long haul” it is important that you pace yourself, keep yourself healthy, and lead with hope and courage.

“We Made It, Together!”

My intention is not to add more to your life but to improve your life. I am convinced that if you focus upon who you are why you do what you do, and when you live with your strengths, and stay in the moment, you will get to the end of the pandemic and be able to say, “We made it! And we made it together! 

Know that you are not in this alone.  Sara Thomas and I (Tim Bias) are with you. We are ready and willing to journey with you into and through this crisis.  Keep yourself healthy and now that I will come back with my question, “How are you doing? How are you really doing?” 

 

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

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You can do this.

You are created to navigate the uncertainty and anxiety of the situations and circumstances of these days. Although there are people who seem to have more knowledge and experience, the truth is no one has experienced what you are experiencing. Precisely because of the uncertainty and anxiety, it is essential that you step up to do your part at this point and time in history. 

So, what brings you to this point as a leader? Here are some things that make you unique and qualified to lead for such a time as this. 

1. Your Relationships

You are shaped by your relationships. You are who you are because of your interactions with the people. So, if you want to know yourself, learn to know the people around you. If you want to love the people around you, learn to love yourself.

2. Your Personality

Your personality is uniquely your own. From the time you are born to this very minute, you are shaped and molded by every experience, every triumph, and failure, every moment of strength and weakness, every bit of knowledge and wisdom you have acquired. No one else can or will have your exact collection of knowledge, experiences, and perceptions. No one else is going to respond to what you have experienced with the same emotions and thoughts that you have. No one is going to make the same choices that you make. You are uniquely who you are, a beloved child of God. 

3. Your Attitude

Your attitude helps you influence the people around you as you lead them in the direction of safety, wholeness, and health. It informs how you perceive situations and how you interpret the actions people take in the midst of those situations. Your attitude is formed by your emotions unless you make an active choice to shape it differently. Whether you have a positive or negative attitude, you influence the people around you. 

4. Your Experiences

Your experiences have a great influence on shaping who you are as a unique individual. Your experiences will either help you improve your understanding of the world and the people in it or will lead you to feel anxious and defensive when you face adversity or disruption. At your best, your experiences help you find a way to make better decisions. 

5. Your Strengths

You are gifted with a combination of strengths that no one has been given.  When your strengths interact with your personality, attitude, and experiences, you have something to offer that no one else has to offer.  When you allow the strengths of others to compliment your strengths, you can accomplish more than you could ever imagine. 

6. Your Perspective

No one sees the world as you do. No one has experienced life in the same way you have experienced life. No one has the exact same body of knowledge that you have. Your perspective is uniquely your own. That is why it is important to be open to the opinions and ideas of others. Whether you agree or disagree is not the point.  It is in the exchanging of ideas that you clarify your perspective and that you can share your perspective. 

7. Your Passion

Passion provides a path that allows you to leave your mark on the world. Guided by your values, passion is what stirs deep within your soul and speaks to a higher calling to do something greater than yourself.  Even when you might be in a place where things are not good, your passion helps keep the fire burning to make a difference. 

You are uniquely and wonderfully made. You become more who God created you to be as you step up to lead at this time. Nelson Mandela once said, “You are a child of God; your playing small doesn’t serve the world.” That is why I can say you are created to navigate the uncertainty and anxiety of the situations and circumstances of these days. 

Your Next Step

So, here is what I want you to do. 

  • Focus upon one of the seven areas above. 
  • Affirm that you are a child of God and what you have to contribute.
  • Reflect upon how you can lead the people entrusted to you.
  • Offer yourself to be an instrument of God’s love and peace.
  • Trust that by God’s grace you were created for such a time as this.
  • Now, at the appropriate time, step up to lead as you are created to lead.
  • Remember: “You are a child of God; your playing small doesn’t serve the world.” 

Know that I am grateful for you and for your leadership.  I am especially grateful for the ways you have already stepped up to lead during this crisis.  I pray that God continues to bless you with a love that will never let you go. I also pray that you continue to bless others with that same love in and through your leadership. You are created for this time. 

Know also that you are not alone.  Sara Thomas and I are available to assist you in becoming who God has created you to be. You can do this.

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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.

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