Leadership is stressful even in the best of times. When you are leading through a time of crisis, sometimes the stress feels unmanageable. Learning to cope with stress is one of life’s most important lessons. Learning to lead in the midst of stress is a mark of a courageous leader. So, how are you coping with stress these days? How are you facing the difficulties of leading?

Acknowledgment or Denial?

My assumption is you are doing one of two things. You are either avoiding the stress by denying it or facing the stress by acknowledging it. You are either escaping it by numbing yourself or you are coping with it by finding a way through it. You are either blaming others for it or you are dealing with it responsibly, learning about yourself and learning how to lead in the midst of it.

Feeding the 5000

One of the most popular stories in the bible gives us insight into coping with stress. It is the story of the feeding of the 5000. When we read the story from Mark’s perspective, we gain insight into coping with the difficulties that come with leadership.

The disciples have just returned from a mission trip, and they are wanting to tell Jesus about their experiences. But there are so many people coming and going that the disciples don’t have time for themselves. Not even time to eat. So, Jesus says to them, “Let’s go off to a place by ourselves. You can rest while you report on your mission encounter.”

They get in their boats to cross the Sea of Galilee to a place less populated, a deserted place. When the people see the disciples leaving, they run ahead to meet them at their destination. When Jesus and the disciples arrive, they are met with the crowd they were trying to leave on the other side of the lake.

The Response

Jesus, out of deep compassion, rearranges his plans and works with the people all day. But his followers are not as flexible or as generous. By late afternoon they are tired and irritable. They realize that the people are hungry and could soon get hostile if something isn’t done to help them. Out of concern for the people, the disciples want to send them away to get their own food and provisions. They pull Jesus aside, point out the difficulty, and suggest that he disperse the people quickly before things get out of hand. It seems logical based upon what they perceive. A problem situation, full of stress and perceived danger.

So, how does Jesus cope with the situation?

Jesus Faces the Situation

First, Jesus decides to face the situation openly. He chooses not to escape or to avoid by rationalizing the situation. When the disciples want to send people away, Jesus responds out of integrity and compassion. He does not see people as a nuisance, so the situation becomes an opportunity to be who he was created to be.

Jesus Surveys his Resoures 

Second, Jesus surveys his resources. He chooses to find out what he has in hand to meet the need of the situation. Although it is not much, it is what he has. In their hurry to escape the problem, by sending the people away, the disciples do not consider what they have going for them. Even though it is not much, they are amazed to discover that there is some food available in the group.

Jesus Uses Available Resources to Address the Need 

Third, Jesus takes the resources and begins the task of meeting the need of the situation. He chooses to do the best he can with what he has. What seems impossible to the disciples, as they look at the problem, becomes a possibility through the courage and decisiveness of Jesus. He is not immobilized by the need or the lack of resources. He knows that nothing can begin until the first step is taken. So, he acts on the basis of what he has. His action gathers strength and turns an unsolvable problem into a success.

Untapped Potential

Now, it is obvious that there is a radical difference between the way Jesus coped with the difficulty and the way you and I usually go about dealing with reality. But the difference is not so much about lack of capacity as it is unused potential.

When you are tired and irritable, you become short-sighted and reduce your field of vision. Too often, in the face of problems or in the midst of difficulties, you don’t always see the possibilities. Instead of utilizing what God has already placed in your midst, you seek a way out either by denying the difficulty or by avoiding the situation.

The reality is, there are always “five loaves and two fish” in every problem. And when you don’t see the possibilities or recognize the resources at hand, you waver, hesitate, and become immobilized. There is nothing that intensifies stress more than inactivity. The longer you standstill in the face of a problem, the more stress you create. On the other hand, the decision to act, no matter how useless it may seem, often breaks the spell and turns the tide. The ability to start acting, even when it seems small and insignificant is key in facing difficulties and solving the problem.

Problem Solving

Life is, and always will be, a process of problem-solving. Jesus came to terms with that fact. He seems to have laid aside all the fantasies of a place where there is no conflict or difficulty. He accepted the fact that such a place does not exist for us humans. This realistic outlook enabled him to focus all his energies on the real issues of life rather than trying to escape them by seeking “the way things used to be” or by longing for things to get back to “normal.”

Posture of Gratitude

How was Jesus able to cope? The secret is found in a posture of gratitude. In facing a hungry crowd when his followers were wringing their hands, Jesus calmly looked up to heaven and gave thanks to God. I don’t think this act pertained only to five loaves and two fish. It included not only that event, but life as it was given to Jesus day by day.

God is Good

Jesus learned the deepest secret there is to learn. The secret? God is good. And God, who gives us life, also loves us, is for us, and is working for our good. Out of that realization came the ability to receive the events of life with gratitude, not resentment. He learned to regard the events and encounters in his life as expressions of love rather than acts of hostility. He was able to see the events as God’s way of dealing positively with humanity.

It is amazing the difference such a posture of gratitude can make in the way we cope with difficulty. If we really begin to look at the things that happen to us as good gifts from God, even the problems take on a different form. Instead of seeing them as hopeless obstacles to our happiness, we come to see them as the challenges that give life its meaning and hope. Problems cease to be overwhelming when we see them as something to be received with gratitude.

Posture of Thanksgiving

The posture of thanksgiving opens our eyes to the resources that are present. Even though the resources might be hidden by the problem, our eyes are opened and we no longer say, “We don’t have enough” or “There is nothing here we can use.” No matter how deep the crisis, God has provided “five loaves and twelve fish” to meet the need. Gratitude opens our eyes to what we already have going for us.

Gratitude encourages us to begin with what we have and to expect more as we move forward. After all, what we have at the beginning has been given by a gracious God. Can’t we expect God to give even more to complete the task? This is what Jesus did. He began to act out in a profound sense of gratitude. His trust and action gathered up strength from earth and heaven until a multitude was fed.

Coping with Reality

So, how are you coping with stress these days? How are you facing the difficulties of leading? There are a thousand unhealthy ways of coping, like avoiding or escaping being two. 

But there is at least one healthy way of coping. It is the way Jesus modeled for us on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. There in the shadow of great difficulty, he faced the problem. He laid hold of the resources already present, and he began to act in terms of what he had.

The truth is you can do the same. It is possible for you to lead through the stress and difficulties you face today. It is as simple and profound as this: let Jesus show you God by letting him reconcile you to the fact that God, who gives life, is good. Let him teach you to receive all of life in gratitude. When this becomes not only your perspective but your way of living, the courage to cope will rise from the depths of your being. Your problems will become the shape of a challenge. Your difficulties will be seen as the bearers of hidden resources. And the crisis will become nothing more than the moment to begin.

Your Next Step

This week, try coping with your stress by giving God thanks for your anxiety. Ask God to open your eyes to the resources present in the situation. And then, by God’s grace, take your first step toward addressing the difficulty. Again, try coping with your stress by giving God thanks in the midst of what seems impossible to overcome. It was good enough for Jesus. Shouldn’t it be good enough for you?

Remember, who you are is how you lead! 

Leadership can be about doing the things that most other people don’t like doing. Confronting interpersonal conflict is one of those things. Whether it is called conflict resolution or conflict management you must address the tension head-on. When it comes to conflict, leadership is not easy. Here is another place I want to say, “Who you are is how you lead.”

Conflict and Disagreements

Abraham Lincoln once remarked that his father had taught him the value of hard work but had never succeeded in teaching him to enjoy it. I confess that I find myself with the same feeling when it comes to conflict and disagreements. To be honest, I like it best when people relate together in warm and harmonious ways. The psalmist says it best, “How good and pleasant it is when people live together in unity” (Psalm 133:1). Yet, after 47 years of ministry, I have come to the conclusion that such a harmonious state is not always possible or, at times, even desirable.

Barriers to Health

You and I have seen what happens when “being nice” becomes the mode of operation and “peace at any price” is sought out in the midst of conflict. Such actions do not lead to relational health. In fact, they inhibit any honest interaction in which real differences are shared and true fellowship is experienced. 

That is why I say I feel the way Lincoln felt about hard work. When it comes to conflict, I cannot say I “enjoy” it, but I do see its value. With that in mind, there are several insights that are necessary for courageous and effective leadership.

Conflict is Inevitable

First, conflict is inevitable. It is part of who we are as human beings, and it happens in every ongoing relationship. Because it is a part of who we are, it is an opportunity for growth and understanding, as well as change and improvement. It is not something to be resolved as much as something to be transformed. 

Think of it this way, we are created differently. You and I have different strengths, talents, and abilities. If we love and respect one another, there will be times we find ourselves in disagreement with one another. 

Diversity and Unity

In fact, if we take seriously the doctrine of the Trinity, there is individuality and diversity within the nature of God. There is a dynamic interaction between the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is not surprising that a world created in the image of this kind of deity would be full of diversity. 

You and I do not think, feel, or act in the same way. This means there will be conflict between us when our differences interact. It also means there will be a richness and creativity that will emerge when we acknowledge our differences and love one another in the midst of our differences. Conflict is the price we pay for our individuality. It is inevitable.

Conflict Shapes Who We Are

Second, conflict shapes who we are. It is through conflict that we become more who God created us to be. Theologian Paul Tillich defined reality as “that which comes against, that which resists us.” It is through conflict that our individual natures are shaped. Conflict is not something to be resolved as much as something to be transformed.

Again, think of it this way. It is through encountering resistance that a child begins to distinguish the limits of her/his being. At first the world is an extension of themselves. But when the child pushes on the side of the crib and it does not move, or demands something from his/her parents, and they do not comply, the child experiences conflict. Without it, the true shape of the child’s personality would never be known. 

Disagreements Can Bring Clarity

You and I may not really know each other until we disagree. When I come up against something in you that is not the same as what is in me, then the shape of who you are begins to stand out clearly and distinctly against who I am. 

Our distinctiveness is neither good nor bad. It is just who we are. We each can love and respect each other for who we are and to move forward from there. Only then is there a chance for us to have real fellowship together. Conflict is a gift we receive that helps us love and respect one another as God has created us to be.

An Opportunity for Courageous Leadership

Third, conflict provides the opportunity to lead courageously. Conflict is a daily occurrence. Whether at home, at work, or within relationships, each occurrence is an opportunity to lead with courage and compassion. 

Remember, leadership is taking the responsibility for finding the potential in people and the courage of developing that potential. When conflicts arise, you can embrace the situation and the people involved. You work not only to address the problem, but you learn about your own leadership as you lead others through the adverse circumstances. Conflict is not something to be resolved as much as something to be transformed.

Tension Leads to Growth

As a leader, you see opportunities that others do not see. You assist others in growing in healthy relationships, because you know that the most authentic relationships do not truly begin until they experience some form of tension with each other. 

Think of it this way. In I John 1:5-7, John writes, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all…if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another…” 

This means that God is willing to be Godself in all openness. God, by nature, is transparent. God does not hide his uniqueness in darkness or in the shadows. Walking “in the light…” means practicing the same kind of authenticity and transparency. This is the only way you can have true fellowship with those entrusted to your care. You openly acknowledge the realities of the differences of the people around you and interact with them with honesty and clarity.

Courage to Lead

This is where your courage as a leader takes place because this way of leading and relating brings with it the possibility of conflict and disagreement. When two individuals who are not the same come down on opposite sides of things, you must have courage to be authentic and transparent. 

As I stated earlier, this is the price you pay for the kind of fellowship that grows out of honest interaction. It is inevitable. On the other hand, it is a gift that helps you lead with love and respect. It is not easy. Don’t try to avoid or minimize the conflict. See it as an opportunity to become the person and leader you were created to be. 

Your Next Step

This week, take a moment to reflect upon the conflict you are facing. As you focus upon the people involved, are you able to set aside your personal feelings? Are you able to listen to what is being said and to the feelings being expressed? As you listen, where can you work for positive and constructive change? 

Decide how you can best lead in the midst of the situation. Share your decision with a trusted friend. Offer your decisions and conversations to God and move forward with courage. You are not alone. Walk in the light and be who God created you to be. 

No matter how difficult, when you dare to lead with authenticity, working to transform conflict into healthy relationships, you will discover the fellowship God has intended for all God’s creation. 

Who you are is how you lead. 

There was a time in my life when making a name for myself was extremely important. I never said it out loud, but I wanted to be known for something significant. I thought that would give me a reason to like myself and that I would really be somebody who had accomplished something. 

Be Like Jesus

Even though I felt this way, I said I wanted to be like Jesus. I confess at that time I did not understand why Jesus did not share my preoccupation for notoriety. In fact, I was astonished at how indifferent Jesus was to fame or reputation. 

For example, during the early days of his ministry in Galilee, when he was making an impact with the wisdom of his words and the power of his deeds, he deliberately asked the people he helped not to say anything about it to other people.

One day in the wilderness, after feeding 5000 people, the crowd got so excited they wanted to make him their king.  He turned down their offer without batting an eye.

On the last night of his life, after the disciples had been quarreling all afternoon about “making names for themselves” and over who was going to be greatest among them, they gathered for supper in the Upper Room. Not one of them was willing to lower themselves to do the servant’s task of washing the other’s feet. According to John, “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.  Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet…” (John 13:3-5).

Jesus and Status

In other words, Jesus did not hold himself above doing the lowliest of tasks. He did not care about status, position, or prestige.  And, there are those puzzling words Paul used in his letter to the Philippians, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself…” (Philippians 2:5-7). At the time I was trying to make a name for myself, I often wondered how Jesus could be that way and why something so important to me was not important to him. 

So, why am I telling you all of this?  Well, I believe this is one of the secrets to courageous leadership. 

Acceptance of Who God Created You to Be

Jesus didn’t have to make a name for himself because he wholeheartedly accepted the name God had given him. In the Hebraic sense, a name stood for the whole reality of the person. For Jesus to accept and be satisfied with this name meant that he totally accepted who he was, when he was, and where he was in history.   

It was this acceptance of who God had created him to be that freed Jesus from having to make a name for himself. He didn’t have to spend his energy trying to earn what he had already been given. He was at one with God and with whom God had created him to be. 

Jesus’ Authority

Here is the secret. Jesus’ authority was not because of an unusual I.Q. or a healthy E.I. His authority was neither because of a charismatic personality nor economic, social, or political power. His authority lay in his freedom to say, “I am who I am by God’s grace. It is good.” 

This means that it was good that Jesus’ parents were who they were.  It was good that his life was in the time of history that it was in.  It was good that he was a carpenter, that he got to associate with the people who lived in Nazareth.  All these things that came together to make Jesus who he was were good.

Who You Are is How You Lead

This is why I can say, “Who you are is how you lead.” You were created to lead at this time in history. Your experiences from childhood, through adolescence, into adulthood, and up to today, have shaped you into the person and leader you are for this time in history. 

Now, I’m not dismissing traumatic experiences, but whether you agree or not, you have been shaped into the leader needed for your church and for your community.  You might find yourself in a place you never dreamed of being, but life is good where you are.  You might find yourself with people with whom you identify as not your type, but life is good and enriched by the people entrusted to your care.

Courageous Leadership

The secret to courageous leadership is found in the condition of your heart. You might read books on leadership and attend seminars on leadership, but until you accept the truth that your life is good, that who you are, where you are, and when you are is a good gift from God, you will not be the person God intends you to be, much less the leader needed for this time. Who you are is how you lead. 

The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved

Look at the writer of the fourth Gospel. The writer is traditionally known as John. Yet, at no point in the Gospel does John identify himself by name.  He describes himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Why would he identify himself this way? Was he a spiritual egotist, suggesting that he was the favorite among the disciples? Was he part of the inner circle, making his way to the right hand of Jesus?  I suppose either could be true, but I think such speculation reveals more about us than him. 

Here is what I think. John, after meeting Jesus, began to live into his name. He began to become who he was created to be. I think when John referred to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” it was his way of saying, “The most wonderful thing that ever happened to me was the fact that Jesus loved me.  Before then I never had a reason to love myself.  My father, Zebedee, was so busy in the fishing business he did not have time for me.  My mother was a proud and ambitious woman. She had dreams of who my brother and I could be. She was always trying to get us in on the right and left hand of glory.  And my brother, James, was terribly competitive.  

But I never felt I had much worth until the day Jesus met me beside the sea. I could hardly believe it. He didn’t have an agenda. He didn’t pressure me. He didn’t make me feel as if I had to be number one in order to earn his affection.  He simply took delight in me. He took my gifts and interests seriously. And as our friendship developed an incredible thing happened. I began to love myself. For the first time in my life, I realized I did have worth and that who I was and when I was and where I was had value.”

“This is why I chose to refer to myself as ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved.’ At first, it seemed like a miracle.  Jesus actually loved me.  But the more I lived with it, the more I realized that it was just the way it was supposed to be. I didn’t need to strive to be somebody. Because of Jesus, I was somebody. Before I met him, I was the son no one had time for or the child a parent was always trying to push, or a sibling’s rival.  But now, I see myself in a new light. I am a follower of Jesus.  I am the disciple whom Jesus loved, and because of that I am now a person who loves himself and who loves others.”

The Secret of Courageous Leadership

The secret to courageous leadership is to be who God created you to be…nothing more and nothing less. 

This week, try living up to your name and be who God created you to be. Contact a trusted friend and tell him or her how God’s love for you has shaped you into the person you are. Then tell them how God’s love has shaped your leadership. Just think about it. You are the leader whom Jesus loves.

Who you are is how you lead!

Wow. We have come to the end of September. Where has the year gone?  Over the past nine months, you have moved forward in your leadership by adapting to unexpected changes and developing new relationships. You have navigated a pandemic and established different patterns. From my perspective, you have learned to lead in surprisingly new ways. 

Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn

In his book, Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn, John Maxwell, playing off the quote, “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose,” points out that we learn from our losses.  He writes that if we apply what we learn in the midst of our losses to the situations and circumstances in which we lead, we will be much closer to reaching our goals. I’m guessing you have learned a lot over the past nine to eighteen months. 

Learning is one of the key values of leadership. Effective leaders are learning leaders. Learning is as much a part of your life as eating. Leaders who are learners improve the environment for everyone around them. Learning is key to improvement.

What have you been learning?

So, what have you been learning over the past nine months? As I have been listening, I have heard you say you have learned:

New Technology

You said, “I need to learn how to…” and you learned what you needed to move forward with worship, bible study, virtual gatherings, etc. You learned to approach routine encounters in fundamentally different ways.

Alternative strategies

You have experimented with different ways of living out the mission by engaging a coach and/or peers to provide feedback regarding what you have learned.  

To become a more effective leader

You have been determined to learn useful insights by reflecting on what worked well, what didn’t so well, and what might work better next time.

I know you have learned much more than what I have listed above. But from my perspective, you have learned some significant patterns for effective leadership.  I am grateful for you and for what you are learning. You were created to lead for this time.

What Have I Learned?

Over the past nine months, I have learned some things as well. I have learned:

Effective Christ-centered leaders become part of the fabric of the community

To be the leader needed for today, you must be intimately involved in the life of the community. You know the assets as well as he needs. You know the marginalized as well the influential people by name. You are recognized and known by people in the places you show up. (For help in becoming the fabric of the community, check out 7 Missional Questions).

It takes courage to follow Jesus

If you assume I should have learned this early in my ministry, you are correct. But I think it takes more courage today than in my earlier years. In the culture in which we live, “you can safely assume you have created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do” (Anne Lamott). It takes courage to show up in the places Jesus leads and to love the people Jesus loves.  I saw a sign recently that read, “I love you. You’re probably thinking, ‘You don’t even know me.’ But if people can hate for no reason. I can love.” When you invite Jesus into your life, he tends to bring all his friends with him.

It matters where you start

I have known this for a long time, but it seems more applicable today. 

You might think of it this way, the starting place is not whether someone or some issue is progressive or evangelical, liberal or conservative, socialist or capitalist. To start with a political stance is to argue your political stance. Starting with this, does my action love my neighbor, look out for his or her interests more than my own, and produce the fruit of the Spirit? It matters where you start.  I am learning that when we figure out that God is more concerned with loving creation than judging it, we will then be part of the transformation of our churches, communities, and the world. As Jesus followers, we start with Jesus.

Effective Leaders are Learning Leaders

Just like you, I have learned more than I have listed. The point is learning leaders are effective leaders. Learning leaders model for others what they are learning and invite others into learning as well.

An Invitation

I want you to join me in an experiment for the month of October. I have been reflecting on one way you and I, as leaders, can model God’s love for those entrusted to our care as well as our communities. This is an experiment in courageous leadership. Remember, who you are is how you lead.  

Here is what I want you to do. Whether you are in an urban church, suburban church, or a rural church, get in your mind one of the persons you encounter at an intersection holding a sign. 

The sign usually says something like, “Homeless. Need Help. Hungry. God Bless you!” or “Homeless and hungry vet. Anything will help.” Get the face of the person in your mind. Regardless of what you feel or think, God loves that person as much as God loves you. So, this month, as a child of God, try something other than passing by another child of God. 

Do one of the following: (Just try one for the month)

  • Pray asking God how you can best share God’s love with the person
  • Prepare a sandwich and/or some fruit and hand it them
  • Give them something to drink. Something warm on a cold day, something cold on a hot day
  • Better yet, park your car, get out and introduce yourself to the person, and listen as he/she introduces themselves to you.
  • When you get to know the person by name, take food to them on a daily basis.

When you have done one of the above, give God thanks for loving you in and through the person at the intersection. I promise your action of care and compassion will transform your life and make you a more courageous leader. Who you are is how you lead.

Sometimes You Learn

Sometimes you win and sometimes you learn. Let me know how you are doing with the experiment. I’ll check back with you. May what you learn assist you in becoming the leader you are created to be.

And remember, who you are is how you lead.

How are you doing? How are you holding up while leading through these days of fear and uncertainty? I thought of you recently during a conversation about courageous leadership. 

The conversation was with a guest on LeaderCast. While telling of his experiences of courageous leaders he said, “It takes courage to follow Jesus.”  Wow. I know that to be true, but I have not heard it articulated regarding leadership. 

Love Your Neighbor As Yourself

So, I began to think, it takes courage to love your neighbor as yourself.  

It takes courage to love the people with whom you disagree much less love your enemy. It takes courage to pray for those who hurt you as well as to be reconciled with them. It takes courage to turn the other cheek, forgive as you have been forgiven, and to serve with care and compassion. It takes courage to lead in times of fear and uncertainty. 

Courageous Leadership

I confess, sometimes I would rather not think about courageous leadership, especially when I fall so short of my own expectations. When I stop and think about it, I have had enough of my life being turned upside down. I would rather live life peacefully, without a lot of noise and turmoil. But, while writing this blog, I began to ask myself why I am resistant to stepping up and leading with courage? 

With the statement of “It takes courage to follow Jesus” ringing in my ears, I discovered that more times than I want to admit, I’m afraid to follow. My fear is not rooted in a lack of belief.  It is rooted in the uncertainty of following without knowing all that it means to follow.  What are the risks? What are the pitfalls? What does it mean to say/sing, “All to Jesus I surrender?” How does following Jesus make me look as a leader? 

Fear

Early in my ministry, I read a statement by Clarence Jordan, founder of Koinonia Farms in Americus, Georgia. He wrote, “Fear is the polio of the soul. It paralyzes us from living by faith.” He talked about a healthy fear. It is the fear that allows us, as human beings, to survive. Healthy fear is a built-in, automatic, and dependable system that alerts us to the presence of danger. On the other hand, there is an unhealthy fear, the fear that paralyzes us.  It is the fear that is based upon assumption and projected onto reality. There are times we are confronted with real threats, but most of the time you and I create our own fears.  

The Middle of the Night

When I was in seminary, my wife and I lived in a neighborhood just south of Atlanta.  Although crime was rising in the city, we felt safe in the community in which we lived, until about four o’clock one Sunday morning. 

We were awakened by a loud knocking at our back door. When I realized I was not dreaming, a sense of terror swept over me. Kim, my wife, said in a frightened voice, “someone is banging on the door?” I remember thinking, “Who in the world could this be in the middle of the night? Is someone trying to break in? Are we going to be robbed? Killed?” In my terror, all kinds of possibilities flashed through my mind.  Should Kim and I try to escape by climbing out a window? Should we barricade ourselves in the bathroom and hope that the lock on the door keeps us safe?

Finally, I grabbed my baseball bat, told Kim to call the police, and managed to creep to the door. With my heart pounding as hard as I can remember, I forced myself to push aside the curtain covering the window on the door. There, to my relief as much as my fear was my next-door neighbor.  He was sitting on the step outside the door, holding his chest. 

I opened the door. My neighbor was having a heart attack. Because his family was gone for the weekend, his only hope for help was to come to me, his neighbor.   

The Unknown

The fear I had experienced from the moment I awakened until I finally opened the door was entirely my own making.  It was what I had done to an event, rather than what the event had done to me.  

Think of a time you let the unknown send you into a panic.  A time when instead of “going to the door” and directly confronting reality, you let your anxiety and imagination take over. Did you imagine the worst and react, not to what was really there, but to the terrible things you created in your mind?  

Genesis and Fear

According to Genesis, one of the reasons our world is in such a mess is rooted in the mishandling of fear.  The first man and woman are seen as living in an unbroken harmony with reality.  Then a serpent appears and proceeds to give “a knock at the door.” 

The serpent stirs up a sense of anxiety by insinuating that they do not know what they are doing, that they are not okay as they are, and that they are only a fraction of what they can be.  Then the serpent identifies God as the problem.  He lays the blame squarely on the Creator, claiming God has lied to them about the forbidden fruit. Then, in the midst of the anxiety, the serpent explains that they will not die if they eat the fruit, but their eyes will be open, they will be able to determine right and wrong for themselves, and they will become gods in their own right. 

It was their first experience with the anxiety that grows out of uncertainty. What would have happened if they had responded differently? What would have happened if they had faced their fear and taken their uncertainty straight to the reality in question? Would they have seen the positive joy that is the source of everything and not be afraid anymore? 

The tragedy is that they did not answer the door.  Instead of finding out for themselves about God’s true nature, they jumped to a conclusion about God that had no basis in fact, and they proceeded to act self-destructively. 

The Key to Courageous Leadership

So, what does this have to do with courageous leadership? Who you are is how you lead. Let’s go back to “It takes courage to follow Jesus.” Here is the key to courageous leadership. 

You have been created to lead at this time in history. Whether you like or want it, God has gifted you to live in this time and to love the people entrusted to your care. The greatest gift God has given you is the gift of faith. Your leadership depends upon your desire to trust who God is and who God has created you to be. The ultimate source of your existence is working for your good. While there will be painful and harmful things that happen, nothing has the power to separate you from the God who created you and who loves you.

I know it goes without saying, but you and I know this God in and through Jesus. Over and against all the confusion, anxiety, and fear of the day, God sent Jesus so we could see what God looked like in history, walking our streets, living in our neighborhoods, caring for all people, loving even the unlovable. The leadership question is, “Can you trust a God like that?” Are you willing to take this action of God seriously enough to let God do God’s work in you? It takes courage to trust and to follow. 

It Takes Courage

It takes courage to get in touch with your true thoughts and feelings, but until you do, you will not realize how big a part fear plays in your living and in your leadership. It takes courage to follow Jesus. 

Maybe you can look at it this way: Fear of failing can paralyze you, but you can look at failure as a learning experience. Failure only stops you if you let it. Fear of facing unwanted situations can paralyze you, but you can face what is before you with the confidence that you are not alone and that the situation is resolvable. Fear of relationships can paralyze you, but you can risk being vulnerable and empathic, knowing that you are loved and accepted. 

Who you are is how you lead. Knowing what you know about God in and through Jesus, you do not have to be paralyzed by fear. The knock at the door just might be Jesus. When you answer the knock, I pray you will, by God’s grace, have the courage to follow him.  

Take time this week to reflect upon why you think and feel the way you do. What one fear is paralyzing you? How will you face that fear this week?

Final Reminders  

Let me remind you that Karen Cook, Sara Thomas, and I are with you on your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader.  

This week on LeaderCast, Sara Thomas and I have a conversation with Bishop Cal Holloway as we discussion of the essential callings of Christ-centered leaders. Listen to Episode 196 here, Being Among the People. To become a regular LeaderCast listener, subscribe and receive a new episode each week as well as catch up on past episodes. LeaderCast is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the leadership challenges of 2021. 

And, remember, who you are is how you lead.

Who you are is how you lead. 

And how you lead reveals why you lead. 

I know that sounds obvious, but if you are not clear on why you lead the people entrusted to your care then those people will be unclear as well. If you are unclear, you will create unexpected problems for yourself. 

Remembering

Over the past week, we have commemorated the 20 anniversary of 9/11.  Out of the stories we have heard, there is one story that stands out to me. It is the story of Father Mychal Judge, the first recorded death at Ground Zero on September 11, 2001.  Among his responsibilities was to serve as a chaplain to several battalions of the New York Fire Department. 

As I understand it, he died as he lived. He rushed into the North Tower with firefighters. When commanders gave orders to evacuate the building, he refused to abandon the hundreds of firefighters still trapped inside. 

It is recorded that he said, “My work here is not finished.” Other priests came to Grand Zero, but Father Mychal was the only priest to enter the World Trade Center that day. He offered absolution, prayers, and the Last Rites in the lobby as death rained all around him. He died that day as the result of blunt force trauma. After his death, his fellow firefighters carried him out in an image described by one reporter as “the definition of authentic American patriotism and humble service.” 

At his funeral, thousands of people showed up, describing how Father Mychal had helped them during their time of need. There were stories of medical care, clothing, housing, food, hope, and a future. He was known to have compassion for HIV/AIDS patients during a time when many were treated like lepers. It was reported that people thought of Mychal as a special friend, that is because he was. 

These words were spoken about him, “This morning we come to bury Myke Judge’s body, but not his spirit. We come to bury his voice, but not his message. We come to bury his hands, but not his good works. We come to bury his heart, but not his love…”  “In the next weeks, we’re going to have name after name of people being brought out of that rubble. And Mychal is going to be on the other side of death to greet them.”  

Your Why

In my opinion, Mychal Judge knew his “why”, his purpose in life. He lived his purpose and the people entrusted to his care experienced his compassion and care in simple but profound ways. 

By now you might be wondering what the story of Mychal Judge has to do with leadership. What more would any of us want in a human being? His courageous actions were seen and reported as “the definition of authentic American patriotism and humble service.” I have no doubt about it. We need more people like Mychal Judge. My question is, was American patriotism and humble service his purpose for living? 

I’ll answer my question by saying, “No.” They were the results of his purpose. Mychal Judge was created for the time he lived and served. God’s call upon his life was to share the love, the agape, of God, with the people he met in the situations and circumstances he found himself. He was an example of “…we love because God first loved us.” 

Why Do You Lead?

So, why do you lead the way you do? Let me give you some of the reasons leaders lead and you decide if any of these fit you. Do you lead because you like…

  • being in a position of authority and power?
  • being set apart from other people?
  • pointing out and fixing mistakes?
  • the reward from good work? 

Do you lead because you…

  • feel good about helping others?
  • can’t see yourself doing anything other than what you are doing?
  • had an experience that you are trying to relive? 

I am sure there are times one or more of these reasons crosses your mind, but I am equally sure none of them are the reasons you lead as you do.   

You Are God’s Beloved

Who you are is how you lead and how you lead reveals why you lead. So, let me remind you: 

You are beloved daughters and sons of God. You have been created to live and serve during this time in history. God’s call upon your life is to share the love, the agape, of God, with the people you meet in the situations and circumstances you find yourself in. You are an example of “…we love because God first loved us.” 

Take time this week to reflect upon why you lead the way you do. What one thing will you do to share the love of God with the people entrusted to your care? How will you be an example of God’s love this week?   

Final Reminders

Let me remind you that Karen Cook, Sara Thomas, and I are with you on your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader.  

This week, check out LeaderCast. Sara Thomas and I have a conversation with Lizzy Ortiz regarding her leadership and ministry, We Are One Body in Christ. Listen to Episode 195 here. To become a regular LeaderCast listener, subscribe and receive a new episode each week as well as catch up on past episodes. LeaderCast is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the leadership challenges of 2021. 

Who you are is how you lead.

Last week, in a county board of education meeting in Tennessee, the board voted to require masks for students, staff, and visitors in elementary school buildings and on all school buses. The vote came after a contentious 4-hour meeting that was frequently interrupted by anti-mask residents who were in attendance. 

The tension of the meeting spilled out into the parking lot. Two men, who were among the anti-mask contingent, directly threatened a doctor who testified in favor of the mandate. As the doctor was getting into his car, a man yelled, “We know who you are, and we know where to find you!” 

Another man yelled, “You will never be allowed in public again!”

Leading in the Midst of Crisis

I don’t know about you, but such events are unthinkable to me. Frankly, they are disturbing and disgusting. I’m not questioning the right or opportunity to express opinions, but I am questioning the actions of threatening, blaming, and shaming.

As I read that report, I began to think of you as a leader. How do you speak up and lead when you know the people entrusted to your care are conflicted in their thinking, angry in their speaking, and threatening in their actions? Too often the reaction to mask mandates and vaccines pushes aside public health and human dignity.  When there is an opportunity to think of others and to respond with care and compassion, the reaction is self-focused and filled with rage and intimidation. So, how do you lead in the midst of a crisis?

A Good Word

I don’t know how many churches there are in the Columbus metro area, but I do know there are over 200 United Methodist congregations in the Capitol Area Districts.  I also know that the people entrusted to your care wait in anticipation for a good word from you. Although the event referenced above was in Tennessee, you lead and serve people, in your central Ohio communities, who have similar feelings and opinions regarding masks, vaccines, and personal rights.

How do you lead courageously in the midst of a crisis? 

1.      Remember who you are and why you do what you do. 

You are a child of God, and you have the opportunity to let people experience God’s love and care in and through you. Your identity is shaped by who God is and not by your preferences. So, regardless of your personal feelings about masks, vaccines, and personal rights, you are thinking of what is best for the people around you, recognizing their potential, and assisting them to live into being who God has created them to be.   

As a courageous leader, who is a Jesus follower, your leadership is characterized more in the fruit you produce than in your opinions.  So, your life is not characterized as much by whether you agree or disagree with masks and vaccinations as it is by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23).

With that in mind, it matters where you start.  You are a Jesus follower. Start there. You are a leader within a community of Jesus followers. Help people start with Jesus. This will take courage because some people will want to start thinking of themselves as “American” or “free” or “white” or “Republican” or “Democrat.” 

Starting anywhere other than Jesus separates us from one another. Starting anywhere other than Jesus, people perceive that their sense of self is being threatened. They feel insecure, powerless, and out of control. Sometimes people feel they must defend themselves and protect their rights.  At other times, people are not thinking in terms of relationships or character. Care and forgiveness are nowhere to be found. Remember who you are and why you do what you do because who you are is how you lead!

2.      Be a peacemaker. 

As a Jesus follower, you are identified as a child of God by your peacemaking. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9). It is not always convenient to stand firm in faith. Courageous leaders face their fears, trusting and risking vulnerability because they know who they are.    

Too often leaders think that keeping the peace is more important than making peace.  Keeping peace often comes with keeping silent. If you don’t speak up, then you are keeping things peaceful. 

It is difficult to speak up when you know that most of the people around you are going the other way. But if you stand in fear and react out of emotion, you give power to what is not real and to what is not true. At any given time, people react out of fear.  At such times, silence is not an option.

It is easy to give in to your thoughts and feelings of uncertainty. But courageous leaders look beyond the immediate situation and circumstances. Things are not right with the world. What we are experiencing is more than differences in opinion, lack of knowledge, or poor communication.  It cannot be explained away as someone’s likes and dislikes. The struggle is real and dangerous.

At times like these, people are looking for a peacemaker, someone who leads with trust and confidence. They are looking for someone who can offer hope, not as wishful thinking, but as God’s preferred future of shalom. So, raise your voice and speak clearly.

  • Wear a mask – For your own health and out of care and compassion for others
  • Get vaccinated – For your own health and the well-being of others
  • Your right as a Jesus follower is to love others. Insisting on your own rights negates the love you have received in and through Jesus.

Be a peacemaker. Being a living child of God is not easy, but people will recognize and experience God’s love in and through you.  Who you are is how you lead!

3.      Be the leader needed for this time. 

You were created to lead at this time in history. You have been gifted with the strengths and abilities to lead courageously and effectively.  To be the leader you have been created to be, you will need to join hands, if not hearts, with people with whom you may not associate, agree, or understand. Model for your community and the world God’s design for all creation. Uncertainty and confusion can seem overpowering. Yet, God’s plan for creation is to bring order out of chaos.

It is not easy, but when you know who you are and why you do what you do, you can step up and lead with courage in troubled and uncertain times.  

Here are a few things to remember:

  • Do to others what you would have them do to you (Luke 6:31)
  • Love one another…By this everyone will know that you are my disciples. (John 13:34)
  • Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 5:32).
  • Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility regard others as more important than yourselves (Philippians 2:3)
  • Love is patient, love is kind. It is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on getting its own way. It does not dishonor others. It is not easily angered or resentful and keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not celebrate wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (I Corinthians 13:4-7)
  • Don’t let any foul words come out of your mouth. Only say what is helpful when it is needed for building up the community so that it benefits those who hear what you say (Ephesians 4:29)
  • Be imitators of God as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us (Ephesians 5:1-2)
  • Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. . . so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm (Ephesians 6:10-12)

Difference Makers

When you come to the end of the day “having done everything” you can, stand firm, because you know that in the midst of all the confusion there is the presence of God. You have been created to lead for this moment. In whatever you face, you are standing firm on the promise, power, and victory of the Risen Christ.  Thanks be to God!

You can make a difference.  You and I know that we can’t do it alone and God is not going to do it for us. But you can be the leader needed in the midst of crisis when you open the door and invite God through Christ to enter in. To you, who has been created to lead at the time, the invitation remains, “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come to you and eat with you, and you with me.” (Revelation 3:20).

In the midst of crisis, be the leader God has created you to be. This week, how will you model the love you have experienced in Jesus? In what situation or circumstance will you step up and lead with courage and grace? Remember, who you are is how you lead.

Final Reminders

Let me remind you that Karen Cook, Sara Thomas, and I are with you on your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader.  

This week, check out LeaderCast. Sara Thomas and I have a conversation about Doing Hard Things. Listen to Episode 192 here. To become a regular LeaderCast listener, subscribe and receive a new episode each week as well as catch up on past episodes. LeaderCast is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the leadership challenges of 2021. 

Who you are is how you lead.

How are you doing this week?  I genuinely want to know. I care about you and your ministry. To say the least, you have been through a lot over the past eighteen months. I don’t need to rehash all the events, but I do want to commend you on your leadership and to take an inventory of how you are doing. 

Becoming Who God Created You to Be

Over the years I have had some good district superintendents. Those who I considered the best were the superintendents who came alongside me and assisted me in becoming the leader God created me to be. 

So, I’m wondering how I best serve you as your district superintendent.  Some of you know that I ask a lot of questions. Most of my questions are either out of curiosity or for clarity. I can honestly say that with each question, I am seeking ways to assist you in becoming the best leader you can be.   

Reflecting on Ministry

With that in mind, I am curious about how you are doing in this season of your ministry. You have just lived through a time like no other time in history. There have been concerns over what is coming next, grief over what once was, and anxiety about what to do now. You have learned new ways of doing some things and better ways to do others.

So, I have some questions, mostly out of curiosity, to help take an honest look at what you have accomplished so you might step into your next season of ministry with courage and effectiveness. 

Let’s consider the impact you have had on the people entrusted to your care.  Whether family, friends, neighbors, church members, or colleagues, let’s look at how you have made a difference in their lives. 

1. Reflect upon some things you have accomplished over the past eighteen months. 

Be honest and generous with yourself. What challenges did you have to overcome? What did you learn that can be useful now or be used in the future?    

It is okay to feel good about it. Be kind to yourself and take notice of some of the small things you have accomplished. 

Did you learn to cook something you haven’t cooked before, start a new exercise routine, or pick up a new hobby? Maybe it was keeping your children fed and clothed as you navigated the chaos of becoming an at-home teacher. Or, may it was when you set boundaries, either with work or in your personal life, you accomplished something significant.   

Get one or two of those accomplishments in mind. 

Now breathe deeply and whisper this prayer, “O God, thank you for giving me the strength and courage to endure through difficult and uncertain times. Amen.” 

2. Reflect upon times you shared or experienced love over the past eighteen months. 

When were you vulnerable and empathetic? 

Where did you take people seriously when you felt it was difficult to do? 

When did you listen to and make a place for people with whom you disagreed? 

Whether it was with family, friends, church members, or strangers, where did you provide a caring and safe place for people to become who God had created them to be? 

 Get one or two of those people or moments in your mind. Now breathe deeply and whisper this prayer, 

“O God, thank you for loving people through me, and thank you for loving me through those same people. Amen”  

3. Reflect upon times when you experienced joy. 

What made you stop to remember God’s goodness and to give God thanks? 

What was taking place when you realized your interaction with people was a response of gratitude for God’s grace? 

When did you feel at one with God and the people around you?  

Think about a time when you laughed so hard you cried, a time you were amazed by God’s presence, and/or a moment you keep close. Get one or two of those people or moments in your mind.  

Now breathe deeply and whisper this prayer,

“O God, thank you for the deep joy you have planted in my heart. Help me be so joyful that the people around me experience your joy in and through me. Amen.”  

4. Reflect upon the moments you gave someone the benefit of your doubt. 

How did you show God’s love and kindness to people whether they deserved it or not? When did you say to yourself, “I know he is doing the best he can?” Or “How can I help her take the next step?”  

Get one or two of those people or moments in your mind. Now breathe deeply and whisper this prayer, 

“O God, thank you for caring for people in and through me. Help me to be open to receive your kindness and goodness through them.  Amen.” 

5. Reflect upon the situations where you experienced courage. 

What risks did you take? When did you have to be vulnerable? What empowered you to make decisions and lead through difficult situations? Who were the people that came alongside you to encourage you?  

Get one or two of those people or moments in your mind. Now breathe deeply and whisper this prayer, 

“O God, thank you for giving me the strengths and skills to lead with courage. By your grace, give me the courage to assist others to live and lead courageously. Amen.”  

You’re Doing Great!

As a leader, you have accomplished more than you have given yourself credit for accomplishing. You have been gifted to lead at this time in history. People are looking to you to be the leader they can trust, a leader of compassion, a leader who is stable, and a leader who offers genuine hope. 

At the moment, we are in the middle of a mess. But because you have taken the time to reflect upon what God has done in and through you, you are more able to step up and out to lead with courage and grace. You have been created and gifted to lead at this time in history. So, how are you doing? 

Your Next Step

This week, call, text, email a trusted friend or colleague, and tell them something you have accomplished over the past eighteen months. Give them the opportunity to celebrate with you. At your best, you cannot be who God created you to be alone.  Remember, it is okay to feel good, so celebrate.

If you don’t have someone with whom you feel comfortable sharing, then call, text, or email me.  It would be my pleasure to celebrate your accomplishments. 

I am grateful for you and your leadership. You have accomplished much. Now is the time to stop and catch your breath before stepping back into the mess.  

Just remember, who you are is how you lead. Stay focused upon the God who has gifted you. Continue to be who God has created you to be. You have already made a significant difference. Just imagine what God will do in and through your leadership today and tomorrow. 

A Prayer for You

O God, thank you for my friends and colleagues. Thank you for the ways you have enriched my life in and through them.  By your grace, embrace them through me so we can be the leaders you need us to be at this time in history. I offer them to you in the name of Jesus. Amen 

Final Reminder

This week, check out LeaderCast. Sara Thomas and I are discussing what to do when you are living in times of uncertainty. Sometimes uncertainty looks like doubt. At other times, it looks like the need to learn a new skill. And still, at other times, it is wrapped up in decision fatigue or endless options that overwhelm you. Tune in and listen to Episode 190: What to Do When You Don’t Know What To Do. To become a regular LeaderCast listener, subscribe and receive a new episode each week as well as catch up on past Episodes. LeaderCast is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the leadership challenges of 2021. 

We all experience times of uncertainty and anxiety. To whom do you turn when you experience those moments? Who is your go-to person? Is it a mentor, a coach, a counselor, a colleague, or a friend? To whom do you turn when you need someone to journey with you through the difficult moments of life? 

Hope for the Future

In the past two months, I have received phone calls from persons I have not seen in years. Each person needed someone to walk with them through a particular crisis.  

One confessed a long-time battle with depression and needed someone to listen. Another was facing life-changing surgery and needed assurance to step into whatever the future might be.  And still, another was experiencing grief in the unexpected death of a family member. 

In listening, I discovered that each person needed someone to come alongside them. They were looking to be lifted above the anxiety of the moment. Each one needed assistance navigating the barriers of uncertainty. They needed someone to journey with them to the place they felt they could take their next step with confidence, trusting whatever was ahead.  In my thinking, each person was seeking some hope for the future. 

Walking in Hope

I am in contact with each of them weekly. Out of love and appreciation for each of them, I continue to walk with them. I have the opportunity to ask about therapy sessions, doctor’s appointments, and a grieving process. My questions are based upon what each person has said they would do to get to a place of stability. I have the privilege of walking with them, offering what care and support I can, to assist them to reach a place of hope. 

Friends Who Carry You

In the second chapter of Mark, there is a story of a man who was paralyzed. His friends were convinced if they could get him to Jesus, he could be healed of his paralysis. When they arrived at the place where Jesus was teaching, so many people had gathered, they couldn’t even get close to Jesus. How could they carry him through the crowd? 

Did they give up? Not according to the story. Can you imagine the conversation? One of the friends says, “Let’s lower him from the ceiling.” Another says, “We would have to go up on the roof to do that.” And another says, “I like it. Let’s do it.” 

If it was like most houses in that part of the world, the roof was flat. It might have even been a place where people could sit during the day or in the evening. I can see them carrying their friend to the roof and beginning to remove the roof floor. Their goal was to get him to Jesus. So, when they made an opening large enough, they lowered their friend on his mat to the feet of Jesus. It is when Jesus saw their faith that the healing began. 

Filled with Hope

Wow! A man who could not move on his own had friends who came alongside him. The goal was to get him to Jesus who could help him move on his own again. So, they pick him up and carry him to Jesus.  On their way, they faced several obstacles. The first obstacle was the crowd was so big they could not get to Jesus. 

They did not give up and sit the man down. They found a way around the crowd. They lifted their friend above the obstacle of the crowd and carried him to the roof.  It was there they faced their second obstacle. They would have to make a hole in the roof. So, they did.   

They reached their goal by lowering their friend, on his mat, to the feet of Jesus. When Jesus saw that they lived out their faith by coming alongside and assisting the man who could not move on his own, healing and hope came to the man. He was able to move on his own again. 

Times of Uncertainty

We all experience times of uncertainty and anxiety. Times when we feel paralyzed. We don’t know what to do. At times, even afraid to make a move because we are so uncertain. My question is, “to whom do you turn when you experience those moments? Who is your go-to person? To whom do you turn when you need someone to journey with you through the difficult moments of life? 

Your One Person

To be an effective and courageous leader, you need at least one person you can trust to walk with you through the moments when you are paralyzed, and you can’t make a move on your own. Moments when you are:

  • So totally preoccupied with your own uncertainty, pain, and anxiety that you can’t see beyond what you are facing.   
  • So weary that you want to do anything other than what you are doing.
  • Feeling like there is no future and that things are not going to get any better.
  • So overwhelmed that you want someone to care but no one is there.
  • Feeling like you have lost control of your life, your work, or your family.
  • Feeling your prayers are going nowhere
  • Thinking that your experience does not match what you have been taught about God. 

Who is Your Person?

To some of you, the above sounds overly dramatic. To others of you, you have been hanging on, hoping (wishful thinking) to get through today and that tomorrow might be better. Remember, who you are is how you lead.  As a leader, you need at least one person you can trust to walk with you through these moments of uncertainty and anxiety. You might have had different persons for different stages of your life.  Today, who is your go-to person? 

Embody Grace

Several years ago, I faced a time of uncertainty so great that I could not see beyond myself or the moment of pain I was experiencing. I was uncertain about the future. I felt hurt, confused, and alone. It was at the moment of my greatest distress, a colleague and friend stepped in to help me face my future. I was not offered a lot of sympathy or unrealistic platitudes. I don’t ever remember hearing the words, “Call me if you need me.” What I do remember hearing was, “You know where to find me.” 

What I got was a person of faith, a Jesus follower, who allowed me to be me at the moment of my greatest need. She created a space for me to talk about my anxiety, disappointments, pain, and fear.  Although there were times she did not agree with my assessments, she never passed judgment. She listened compassionately and at appropriate times would ask me the questions I needed to answer for clarity and healing.  She offered Christ to me by becoming the embodiment of God’s grace.  I began to trust that I was not alone in my uncertainty. 

A New Story

The space created and the grace offered allowed me to move beyond the moments of my anxiety to see new possibilities.  I began to look beyond what I had experienced and to create a new story for myself.

I began to heal.  My friend provided several ways for me to put into practice the new possibilities that began to emerge.  Plans for reflection, prayer, and conversation.  She challenged me to look beyond myself to see what new things God might be doing in my life and in the lives of the people around me.  I was invited to put my faith into action by looking beyond myself. 

I believe it was at that point that I began to rediscover God’s desire to use me to make a difference in the places I encountered the people God wanted me to love.  It was through the engagement of this colleague and friend in my life, this Jesus follower, that helped me see the hope in the midst of my uncertainty. There were no easy answers.  In fact, there were no answers at all. 

She came alongside me at the moment of great anxiety, embodied God’s love, and journeyed with me through difficult moments. She helped me see what God might have in store for the future.  She was an instrument of God’s hope in the midst of my uncertainty. 

Who is Your Go-To Person?

So, who is your go-to person in the midst of uncertainty and anxiety? 

This week, contact that person. Have an informal conversation about how you are feeling and thinking about things. At the very least, let them know how much you appreciate them and their caring support. 

When you need and want assistance, remember that Sara Thomas and I are with you on your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader.  

Check out LeaderCast. This week Sara Thomas and I have a conversation with Sam Heaton about his experience of leading, loving, and living as a follower of Jesus in the midst of seasons filled with change. Tune in and listen to Episode 187: Sabbath, Technology, and Fun in Ministry. To become a regular LeaderCast listener, subscribe and receive a new episode each week as well as catch up on past episodes. LeaderCast is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the leadership challenges of 2021. 

What do you do to relax? When you disconnect from work, what helps refresh your mind, renew your spirit, and refocus your attitude?  Do you engage in certain relaxation exercises? Do you participate in specific activities? How do you relax?

When I was asked that question recently, I thought of a long-time friend who says, “I work hard, and I play hard.” I have often compared myself to him when it comes to rest, relaxation, and play. He has been an effective leader and fruitful pastor, as well as an avid golfer and successful hunter. I have admired both his work and his play. Although I believe I have worked as hard as he has, I confess I have not played as hard. What I have learned is what my friend says is true for him but not necessarily for me.  

What do you do to relax?

As I thought of the question, I responded to the person asking, “I don’t have a hobby. I don’t hunt, fish, or golf. I really don’t do anything to relax.” Then the person challenged me by saying, “When you think about it, you might find you do more than you realize to rest and relax.”

At that point, I began to take a little inventory. I discovered that even though I don’t engage in some of the activities enjoyed by others, I do have several relaxation practices that work well for me. 

What does time off look like?

As I write this blog, I am preparing for a vacation. When I am asked where I’m going or what I’m doing on my vacation, I usually respond by saying, “I’m not going anywhere, and I hope to do nothing.” Again, I have compared myself to colleagues and friends when it comes to vacations. I know that there are places to go and monuments to see, but when I disconnect from work, I don’t want to replace work activities with another set of activities. Unless I am going to a beach or sitting by a pool, I am satisfied to sit on my patio. For me, I don’t have to have an elaborate itinerary to be on vacation and to relax. 

Questions to consider

So, when I was taking my rest and relaxation inventory, I asked myself this question, “Where have I experienced joy and peace in my life?” This is what I discovered: 

Memorable Experiences

One of my most memorable experiences of joy and peace was on, of all places, a golf course. Although I grew up golfing, it is not a relaxing activity for me. But on one occasion, I was golfing with my mother. It was one of the last times I was totally present with her before she became ill. Through that experience, I discovered that what brought me joy and peace was being present with someone I loved and not an activity in which I participated.  

Another memorable experience of joy and peace was on a lake, fishing with my son. Although I grew up fishing, it is not a relaxing activity for me. Yet, on this occasion, I experienced deep joy and peace watching and listening to him. I marveled at how he maneuvered his boat, his reasoning regarding where we should fish, the number of fish he caught as I listened to his dreams and hopes. I have not been fishing since that Father’s Day fifteen years ago, but I would go with him again just for the joy and peace I experienced that day. Again, I discovered that what brought me joy was not the activity in which I was engaged, but the person with whom I shared the experience.

What brings you joy?

I love baseball. l grew up listening and watching the Cincinnati Reds. As a young boy, I dreamed of going to Crosley Field, and later Riverfront Stadium. You can imagine how excited I was when I moved to Cincinnati and lived within 6 miles of Great American Ballpark. Although I could attend a ballgame any time I wanted, I did not go to many games. What I discovered, even though I loved the activity, it was not the activity that brought joy or peace. The games I enjoyed the most were games I attended with family or friends. Regardless of whether the Reds won or lost, what brought joy and peace was the interaction I had with the people I enjoyed and appreciated.  Even today, when I am watching a game on television or listening to a game on the radio, I enjoy the activity so much more when I am in a texting conversation with a friend, who is also watching or listening to the game. What I have discovered is, even with activities I like, it is the relationship with people I love and appreciate that brings joy and peace.

It is not so much the activities that bring me joy and peace as it is the people with whom I interact. I learned I find joy, peace, and relaxation with people who are special to me. Persons for whom I am grateful, who bring depth and richness to me as a person.  I discovered that there are individuals who bring an “at oneness” into my life. When I am with them, regardless of the activity, I experience wholeness and joy. 

What provides peace and relaxation?

But that is not all I discovered.  I do participate in some activities that provide peace and relaxation. Activities like: (Below are three)

Reading

Up until recently, I read books and material to help with sermon preparation, leadership development, or some other professional task or goal.  It was all good but did little to bring a sense of peace, joy, or relaxation.  Most recently, I started reading more for enjoyment as opposed to work. I have discovered a sense of excitement and renewal when I read for pleasure.  

Listening to music

I have always enjoyed music, but I have discovered that certain types of music at times provide relaxation and rest. Sometimes I find relaxation in listening to vocal music, whether it be hymns, show tunes, opera, or pop. At other times, I find relaxation in listening to instrumental music like the piano, the violin, or the orchestra. I wish I could tell you what works best for me. At this point, what I know is listening to music brings relaxation and rest. 

Walking

Eighteen months ago, I began to walk every day. I started walking to lose weight. When I reached my goal, I continued to walk because it helped me reflect and focus. What I especially enjoy is walking with a friend or a colleague. It is that “at oneness” again. I am refreshed and renewed when I walk, and I am enriched when I walk with those whom I enjoy. 

By taking a few minutes to focus and reflect upon what I do to rest and relax, I discovered I am most relaxed when I am at one with myself and when I am interacting with people whom I love and appreciate. The activities are good and necessary, but they are a means to my relaxation and not the cause of my relaxation.

Your Turn

So, what do you do to relax? When you disconnect from work, what helps refresh your mind, renew your spirit, and refocus your attitude?

I’m guessing you already have an idea. But, this week, I want you to take a few minutes to reflect and focus upon what you do to relax. Ask yourself these questions:

1. Where have I experienced joy and peace in my life?

2. Who are the people with whom I experience wholeness and joy?

3. When am I my most relaxed?  

4. With what I am learning, what will I do this week to relax? 

Now, in whatever form it takes for you, relax. You will become a more courageous and effective leader. Remember, who you are is how you lead.  

When you need and want assistance, remember that Sara Thomas and I are with you on your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader. 

Check out LeaderCast. This week, 9 leaders are sharing their wisdom on rest, relaxation, and play. This is part 2 of a 2 part series. Tune in and listen to Episode 185: Best Wisdom on Rest, Relaxation, and Play. To become a regular LeaderCast listener, subscribe and receive a new episode each week as well as catch up on past episodes. LeaderCast is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the leadership challenges of 2021.