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. 

What are you doing to relax this week? 

I am not asking about your day off or your vacation. I am asking about what you are doing to reduce the stress and tension you experience off and on each day? Have you built in time for rest and relaxation? Have you taken time to breathe deeply and to refocus?

We all want to be the best we can be, but we cannot be our best if we do not take time to rest and relax. Research from the National Institute of Health links relaxation to healthy benefits like greater focus and concentration as well as improved problem-solving and memory. There is even evidence that relaxation leads to deeper and more meaningful relationships. As a leader, it is important to build rest and relaxation into your everyday living. 

Stress and Anxiety

You already know that being stressed out and anxious is not good for your health and that checking out of meetings is not helpful in leading people toward your ultimate goal. How many times have you heard that you should get a good night’s rest so you can face the next day? My guess is you know these things and being reminded of them is not always helpful. So, why not build in a few moments of relaxation into your day? 

As you think about whether you can or will add a little relaxation to your everyday living, here a few things to consider:

Leading effectively is hard work.

To do it well requires that you be alert, present, and thinking clearly. It requires energy and stamina. Stress and tension will not get there. Relaxation will.

You want to be the best leader you can be. The people entrusted to your care need and deserve your best leadership. Ask yourself, “I’m the best leader I can be without rest and relaxation? 

Navigating Stress and Tension

There is always going to be some stress and tension, but the right amounts at the right times can and will help you develop as a leader. You will grow and benefit more when you are relaxed, present in the moment, focused, and thinking clearly.

Find Potential

Leading effectively means you are finding the potential in people and helping them to develop that potential. Your job is to help them be who God has created them to be, so why would you put all the pressure and stress on yourself? It is not only about you. You are surrounded by people who want to learn and grow. Your stress will not help develop their potential. So, relax and enjoy the people God has put in your path. 

Your Work & Your Health

Your work is important, but not as important as your health. There are unhealthy physical conditions brought about by stress and tension. Conditions like high blood pressure (hypertension). It is a medical fact that a lack of relaxation can and does lead to heart, stomach, muscle, and emotional problems. Stress and tension have even led to dental problems. Time for rest and relaxation keeps you physically fit for the work you are created to do.

Observations of Leaders

People are watching you and how you lead. They are watching to see what they should be doing. Do they see a stressed-out overworked leader or a relaxed clear-thinking fun to be around leader? Are you stressing them out or are you leading the way to healthy and effective leadership?

I know this will sound strange and counterintuitive, but have you considered that slowing down so you can be the leader who is needed now? Who you are is how you lead. Below are five activities to help you slow down. Any one of these will help you rest and relax as well assist you in becoming the leader you are created to be. 

1. Pray and Reflect

A pattern of prayer and reflection, with a focus on stillness and breathing, creates a sense of calm, peace, and balance that impacts your emotional well-being and overall health. Even if it is five minutes a day, it is one way that leads to relaxation. 

There is no “right” time to practice prayer and reflection but taking time in the morning to center your thoughts in prayer or making time in the evening for reflection, has worked well for me over most of my ministry.

2. Get outside

Being in nature helps to clear your head and improve your outlook on specific situations and on life in general. In a study conducted by the University of Essex, it was found that adults could lower their stress levels by simply looking at pictures of nature. Imagine how helpful it can be to experience nature firsthand by simply walking outside. 

Next time you are having difficulty staying present or hit a wall with a project, get outside and take a walk. Become aware of the air. Feel the breeze. Soak in the sunshine. Take notice of the colors. Listen to the sounds. Just a few minutes outside has rejuvenating benefits and boosts your mental energy. 

3. Exercise

Exercise helps control weight, improves mental health, boosts your mood, and increases your chances of living longer, while also building the strength of your bones and muscles. You experience a more restful sleep at night and less nervous energy during the day. To say it another way, physical activity makes you healthier and helps you release stress. It helps you become the best version of yourself. 

I know some of you have gym memberships and you exercise regularly. I know others of you feel like you do not have the time to exercise. Just know, a short walk three or four times a week has significant health and attitude benefits. The more exercise you add, and the time you permit yourself to exercise, the healthier you will be.

4. Take a break

Well-planned breaks can help you relax, lower blood pressure, and assist you in becoming a more effective leader. Just a 10-minute break when you step away from your computer, set down your phone, step outside, take a walk, talk with a friend, or get a drink of water helps your brain rest, switch gears, and restore your concentration and focus. 

I know it sounds simplistic, but a short break is a form of relaxation that provides renewed focus and greater energy, especially if you are having difficulty staying awake when you need to focus and be present in the moment. 

5. Focus on what brings you joy

Joy-filled activity helps to slow down your heart rate, lower your blood pressure, and decrease your stress level. When you focus upon your joy you are giving your senses a chance to rest and recharge.

Your Health & Multitasking

Too often, without thinking about it, you engage multiple senses in multimedia formats. Sometimes multitasking is not a healthy exercise, because before you realize it, you are on visual and information overload. There is power in simply slowing down to experience and enjoy the moment, especially if you are focusing upon what brings you joy. 

Whether it be listening to music, reading a book, interacting with your children, or in conversation with your spouse or a good friend, the focus upon what brings you joy brings a sense of peace and relaxation. 

Intentionally scheduling moments of relaxation could be the very thing that frees you to become the leader you are created to be. Schedule one relaxation exercise this week and add another next week and another the next week. Try each one and discover what a difference they can make in your living and in your leadership. Remember, who you are is how you lead. 

What Will You Do to Relax This Week?

So, relax and become a more courageous and effective leader. The questions are: what are you doing to relax this week? Which of the above activities will you incorporate in your leadership? 

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, 7 leaders are sharing their wisdom on rest, relaxation, and play. You’ll hear from 9 more next week. 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. 

How well did you rest last night? I’m serious about asking the question. Research reveals that a good night’s rest leads to more effective leadership. It is not a secret that eight hours of sleep is the recommended amount. But I get it, responsibilities with work, family, and participation in social commitments and activities often consume more than 16 hours of your day.  Since you can’t add hours to the day, too often there aren’t enough hours left to get the rest you need each night. 

Christopher Barnes, writing for the Harvard Business Review, writes, “Insufficient rest leads to poor judgment, lack of self-control, and impaired creativity.” His research shows that sleep-deprived leaders hurt the people entrusted to their care as well themselves. When not rested and balanced in their judgement, they are more likely to create an atmosphere where people are marginalized, feel less engaged, and might even behave less ethically.

Make Rest a Priority

So, what do we do? Some of us have convinced ourselves that we function just fine on four or five hours of sleep a night. Others of us have grown accustomed to working late and getting up early. Still, some of us wear sleep deprivation as a badge of honor. Because we often understand leadership as an activity, we resist rest, or at the very least, don’t take rest seriously enough to make it a priority in our leadership.  

What we know is this, rest is an important key to effective and productive leadership. To say it another way, regular and adequate rest provides you a greater chance to be the courageous leader that is needed for today. It provides you with the opportunity to have the stamina to move through the different situations and circumstances of leadership. It also provides you a greater possibility of leaving a legacy that impacts people into the future. When you get the rest needed, you experience greater productivity, improved health, and more meaningful relationships. 

Rest Fuels Leadership

Just think about it for a moment. What could you accomplish or help others accomplish if rest and relaxation were priorities in your life? When you do too much without sufficient rest, you are in danger of becoming frustrated with the people around you. You can only pour into others what you have first received yourself. Rest allows you to better serve and influence the people entrusted to your care. Remember, who you are is how you lead. Below are four ideas to help you implement rest into your life:

1. Make rest a priority 

  • Schedule a consistent bedtime and wake-up time. Even if you don’t go to sleep at your designated bedtime, it is helpful in developing a pattern of rest. 
  • Turnoff or set aside all electronics. Give your eyes as well as your mind an opportunity to rejuvenate and reset.
  • Once you have scheduled a consistent bedtime, stay with your schedule. Give yourself the opportunity to establish a new pattern for rest and relaxation.

2. Make a list of who and what refreshes and recharges you

  • Spend quality time with your family. Be present with your spouse and children. The time you spend with your family will not only recharge you but will set a standard for the people around you. How you interact with your family tells others who and what you value in life. 
  • Deepen special relationships. Spending quality time with a close friend can bring rest to your life as well as refresh your soul. Time with people you love and appreciate is irreplaceable. These relationships are with people who love you for who you are and allow you to be yourself. They add energy instead of taking energy away. 
  • Do activities that you enjoy and like to do.  Whether it is a hobby, some form of recreation, taking a walk, reading a book, or taking a nap, schedule time for what you enjoy doing. You might include family or friends. Whatever you do, this is your time. It is what you enjoy and like to do.
  • Nourish your spirit. When you nourish your spiritual life, your outward life will thrive. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:31).  Spending time with God, praying, reflecting, and meditating brings rest into our life.

3. Set aside time to reflect upon your day.

  • At the end of day, before bedtime, look back over the people and experiences of the day. Move from experience to experience. What opportunities did you take advantage of? What opportunities did you miss? What did you learn? Give God thanks for the people with whom you interacted and for what you have learned.
  • Make a note of the people who added value to your life. Are there people you want to thank for anything special? Individuals to whom you should apologize?  People to whom you should express your appreciation or care? This time provides an opportunity to learn the lessons that help you improve, but also provides an opportunity to clear your heart and mind of experiences that could keep you from a restful night. Looking back in reflection upon the day helps you gain clarity for looking ahead. 

4.Develop a balanced life.

  • As an effective and courageous leader, you need a healthy balance between your personal and professional life. It is not restful to take time off and continue to think about work or a task that needs to be accomplished. It is not fair to family or to friends to not be present when you are with them. Whether at work or at home, train yourself to be fully engaged in your present activity.
  • Rest requires being intentional and deliberate in disconnecting at appropriate times so you can be fully renewed and refreshed. 

Rediscover Rest

Rest allows you to rediscover the enthusiasm and energy you have for what you have been called to do. It is not only for your body, but for your mind and heart as well. When you include rest among your priorities, you will be a more effective leader who inspires better efforts of the people around you. Who you are is how you lead.

This week, what is one thing you will do to find the right rest rhythm for you? Will you set aside and protect the time for sleep? Will you find time to enjoy the relationship of a friend? Will you be intentional in setting aside time to reflect upon your day? How will you develop a balanced life which gives you an opportunity for the rest and relaxation you need to be an effective leader? 

Your Next Step

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. On the podcast this week, Sara and I present some ways you might rest, relax, and play. Join us for Episode 183 to Explore What Makes Rest & Relaxation Possible. 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 are living in a unique time filled with opportunity and promise. It is a critical time in the life of our country, our communities, and our churches. It is a time that calls for courageous leadership. This is the time for you to be the leader you were created to be. To step up and be the leader needed for this time, you must be in tune with yourself, because who you are is how you lead. 

A Few Reminders

We are in a two-part series on Leading Through Racial Unrest. In part one, you were asked to reflect upon the question, “How did I first learn about race?” You were asked that question because much of the way we view the events that take place around us and what we believe about the people with whom we interact has been shaped by the attitudes and behaviors of the people in our lives. So, to recognize your condition, or why you believe what you believe, or react the way you react is essential to leading courageously in the midst of racial and social unrest. 

In part one we explored an understanding of what racism is and what we believe as Jesus followers. What we know is the reality of racism is perpetuated in powerful ways. It comes through the clash of nations and races. It comes through the differences of cultures and politics. It comes through the assumptions we make about one another. It comes through the experiences we have and the teaching and modeling we have received from those who have gone before us. Racism is passed on when we teach our children what to believe about race. 

If you want to catch up quickly, you can read Part One or you can take a few minutes to do the following: Answer this question: “How did I first learn about race?” Write your thoughts down so that you can get a clear understanding of your first awareness and learnings. What experiences do you remember? Who was involved? What happened to leave an impact upon your memory?

Am I Willing?

Now, after you have an understanding of what racism is and how you first learned about race, you have another question to answer regarding leading courageously in and through racial and social unrest. It is the most important question regarding your leadership. The question is, “Am I willing to be transformed by the love of God?” Let me be clear, if your answer is “no”, there is no reason to continue reading this blog. If your answer is “yes”, then continue reading to become the leader needed for this time and place in history. 

With what you have learned or are learning about your condition is key to our hope in addressing the evil of racism. If you are ready and willing to be transformed by the love of God, read on. 

Biblical Foundations

My point in writing this next section is to lay a biblical foundation for courageous leadership. I am not writing to present a political point of view or to debate the meaning of certain passages of scripture. It is simply to lay a foundation for you and for me to answer the question, “Am I willing to be transformed by the love of God?”

There are several things we know beyond any doubt. Things that are not even debatable. Each statement is found in the scripture and is plain in its meaning. There are many passages throughout the bible. 

Old Testament 

Here are just three passages from the Old Testament:

  • Every person is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).
  • When immigrants live in your land with you, you must not cheat them. Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love them as yourself because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt (Leviticus 19:33-34)
  • Be careful when you pass judgment. You aren’t dispensing justice by merely human standards but for the Lord, who is with you. Therefore, respect the Lord and act accordingly, because there can be no injustice, playing favorites (II Chronicles 19:6-7).

New Testament

In the New Testament, every chance Jesus gets, he says and shows that every person matters to God and is a person of worth. Regardless of who the person is or what the person has done, he teaches and demonstrates that all people are equal in the sight of God. 

We have stories throughout the gospels of Jesus demonstrating the love of God. Do you remember the conversation he had with the woman from Samaria? She was at the well to draw water. Jesus asks her for a drink. She is the one who points out the racial divide. She says to Jesus, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink when Jews don’t associate with Samaritans?” Before the conversation is over Jesus has given her hope that will change her life. Why? Because Jesus will not let a racial divide keep anyone from hearing the good news of God’s grace. He will not allow a racial divide to get in the way of loving people. 

Jesus Bridges Racial Divide

Jesus was and still is the bridge of the great racial divide on this earth. Read the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church (Ephesians 2:14-20). Paul tells the people in Ephesus that Christ broke down the racial barriers on the cross. His statement came in the midst of a deep racial divide between Jews and Gentiles. The Jews hated the Gentiles. They called Gentiles dogs. They saw Gentiles as less than human. The Gentiles felt the same way about the Jews. They saw themselves as superior in culture and in language over the Jews. 

These two groups of people, who hated each other, God brought together to be the Church. It was the experience of God’s love that brought hope in the midst of hatred. Jesus taught love for all people. He demonstrated love for all people. His love was greater than human differences. The presence of God’s love in Jesus, lived out in and through the people called the church, was greater than historical, social, cultural, and racial differences. 

Our Hope is in Jesus

Where is our hope as a country? As a culture? As a Church? It is in the love of God found in Jesus. He is the bridge over the great racial divide in which you and I live today. 

I just heard one of you scoff. I just heard you say, “this is not realistic.” I want you to hear me clearly, God’s love for God’s creation is the only way we have not attempted to answer the racial divide we face today.

The Answer is NOT…

The answer to racism is not in the political workings of a nation, though politics are important to getting things done. Political leverage has never transformed a heart. It has shaped attitudes and behaviors to the extent we get what we want. It creates lots of rhetoric and even incites fear, but the political power and persuasion of groups of people is not the answer to racism. If it was the answer, we would not be living with the racial unrest we experience today. 

The answer to racism is not about our laws. Laws about equality are good, but laws don’t transform hearts. Jesus transforms hearts. Jesus can take a heart of hate and make it a heart of love. Jesus can bring enemies together to start a movement that transforms the world. Laws do not start such movements. In fact, many laws try to keep such movements from getting started. If laws were the answer to racism, we would not be living with the racial unrest we experience today. 

The answer to racism is not about training. Even though it is wonderful and each of us needs the training to respect and understand difference , to be empathetic, to not put people down or dismiss them, to understand different cultures, and to be tolerant of others, our hope is not in the training. Our hope is not even about tolerance. It is not about good behavior. Hear me, both are important and are needed. If training were the answer, we would not be living with the racial unrest we experience today. The answer is in the living and loving transforming power of Jesus Christ. 

Are you willing?

To move forward, my question is still the same, “Are you willing to be transformed by the love of God?” 

As Jesus followers, we know that the way to life is the way of love. Because love is the way, then leading through racial unrest is based upon allowing ourselves to be loved by God in and through the people around us. To love God and to love your neighbor are related to understanding yourself being loved. No matter who you are or what you think and do, you are loved. It is God’s decision to love, so if God loves you and all the people around you, then love yourself and all the people too. 

Bishop Michael Curry, in his book The Power of Love, writes that loving God and loving neighbor are based on a conviction that God knows what God “is talking about.” With that conviction he tells the following story:

I was a parish priest in Baltimore, and our youngest daughter, Elizabeth, was probably three years old. My wife went off to teach school, and I think our oldest daughter went off with her. It was up to me to take the young one to nursery school. So, I said, “Elizabeth, I need you to go and put your raincoat on.”

And she looks back at me, at three years old now. Mind you, I am the rector of St. James Church, the third oldest African American church in the Episcopal Church. A historic church, the church that gave you Thurgood Marshall and Pauli Murray. Yes, this is a serious church, and I’m the rector talking to this little three-year-old person. I said, “Elizabeth, go put your raincoat on.” And she said, “Why?”

I said, “Because it’s going to rain.” She ran to the window in the living room, and looked out the window and said, “But it’s not raining outside. I said, “I know that, but it’s gonna rain later.” She said, “Mommy didn’t say it was gonna rain.” I said, “I know Mommy didn’t say it was gonna rain, but Al Roker on the Today show said it was gonna rain.” I tried to explain to her about weather forecasting, and showed her the newspaper. And I finally said, “Why am I doing all this? Elizabeth, just go and put your raincoat on!”

She actually thought she knew better than I did. I spent more time in seminary than she’s even been on the earth. And she actually thought she knew more than I did. And it occurred to me that must be what we look like to God. 

Bishop Curry continues, “I have this fantasy of God putting his hands on his cosmic hips and just saying, ‘They are so cute! They think they know so much, but don’t they know that I was the one that called this world into being in the first place? Don’t they know that I created the vast expanse of interstellar space? Don’t they know that I told old Moses, Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt land, and you tell old Pharaoh, let my people go? Don’t they know that I’m the author of freedom? Don’t they know that I’m the creator of justice? Don’t they know that I’m the God of love? Don’t they know that I came down as Jesus to show them the way of love, to show them the way to life, to show them how to live together? Don’t they know how much I love them?’” 

God’s Transforming Love

On the day of Pentecost, God’s love was fully proclaimed and experienced. People were filled with the Holy Spirit. Another way of saying this is, people were filled with God’s presence and God’s power or by God’s transforming love. 

People from every nation under heaven were gathered. It was the greatest ethic, racial, and cultural division to ever gather. And the coming of the Holy Spirit, God’s transforming love, on that day brought unity to the greatest diversity imaginable. 

The answer to racism that day, on the day of Pentecost was the Holy Spirit. God’s holy presence and power. God’s transforming love. 

The answer to racism today is the Holy Spirit. God’s holy presence and power. God’s transforming love. 

The Same Love

We are the church, the body of Christ, the bringers of the love of God to a racially divided world. The same love that came to us in a baby, the same love that was shown to us on a cross, the same love that came in and through the Holy Spirit. 

So, are you willing to be transformed by the love of God? You were created to lead at such a time as this. As a Jesus follower filled with the love of God, you are what the love of God looks like in the 21st century. You are the answer to racism. By God’s grace, you can lead a movement of Jesus followers who will change the world. Filled with God’s love, you are a bringer of hope in the midst of racial unrest. Who you are is how you lead!

Your Next Step

This week, what is one thing you will do to show the love of God? Who will you contact? What action will you take? If you are unsure, contact me. It is the greatest joy of my life to introduce you to God’s transforming love in Jesus and get you started on the path of putting an end to racism.

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. On the podcast this week, Sara and I present some ways you might rest, relax, and play. Join us for Episode 182 for a fun episode about Ingredients for Joy and Meaning. 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. 

It has been a while since I checked in with you.  How are you doing? You have done well leading through a difficult time. I have said it before and I believe it today, you were created to lead in such a time as this. 

Which brings me to the question, “How have you been leading during racial unrest?” I’m curious. I am learning that each of us leads in different ways. Some believe that the less said the better. Others believe that they should call out racism when they see it. Some dismiss racism saying, “this too shall pass,” while others have difficult conversations. How have you been leading people to respond to racial and social unrest? 

We may be coming to the end of the COVID pandemic, but we are not coming to the end of racism. The day I am writing this blog is the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre. 

The Tulsa Race Massacre

My guess is that you are just learning about this event in our history. I say that based upon my own experience.  I did not read or hear about the massacre in high school. It was only after I was in college, as a Social Studies major, that I heard about it. And at that time, it was still called the Tulsa race riots.  

Just to refresh your memory, on May 31, 1921, a white mob marched into the predominantly Black Tulsa neighborhood of Greenwood, known as Black Wall Street, and set fire to businesses, homes, and churches. Over 300 black lives were lost, thousands of people were left homeless, 35 blocks of the city were burned, all within an 18-hour period. For many years there were no public ceremonies, memorials for the dead, or any efforts to remember the events of the massacre. In fact, until recent years, the event was not even taught in Oklahoma classrooms. 

How are you leading?

How do you lead in that kind of racial and social unrest and denial? I know that it takes some courage to even talk about race and the differences that have kept so many of us apart as human beings. But I think courageous leadership can be shown in another way which might bring about the deep change that is so desperately needed.  This week we will look at our condition. Next week we will look at our hope. 

Our Condition

Let’s start with our condition. An honest look at current reality will help you lead effectively with conviction and courage.  

What do we know? We know that racism is the belief that:

  1. Human beings can be divided into separate and exclusive biological entities.
  2. These exclusive biological entities possess distinct characteristics, abilities or qualities, that distinguish them as inferior or superior to one another. 
  3. These exclusive biological entities are inherited physical traits and traits of personality, intellect, morality, as well as other cultural and behavioral characteristics.
  4. The systemic oppression of a racial group to the social, economic, and political advantages of another racial group

In other words, racism is prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism, in our attitudes and actions, toward people who are different in ethnicity or race. Our attitudes and actions are usually rooted in the idea we are superior to those who are different. 

What else do we know?

We know that as Jesus followers, we believe:

  1. Racism in all its forms is sinful (James 2:1, 8-9)
  2. Racism goes against God’s design for the world. All of us belong to the family of God, we have a high calling to love other people as Christ has loved (John 13:34-35)
  3. Every person is created in the image of God and is worthy of our deep respect.
  4. When we treat anyone as lesser than anyone else, we simply are not in line with the gospel of Jesus.
  5. When we see life through the lens of God, every person we see is loved by God and equal in the sight of God.

The Reality of Racism

Even with an understanding of what racism is and what we believe as Jesus followers, the reality is racism is perpetuated in powerful ways. It comes through the clash of nations and races, the differences between cultures and politics. It also comes through the assumptions we make about one another.  Finally, it comes through the experiences we have and the teaching and modeling we have received from those who have gone before us. Racism is passed on when we teach our children what to believe about race. 

To understand our condition and to lead courageously in and through racial and social unrest, it is helpful to know how you first learned about race. What attitudes, actions, or events have shaped your life and ideas?   

South Pacific

As you think back upon your life experiences, let me tell you about the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, “South Pacific”. The issue of racial prejudice was explored through the musical. 

One song in particular created a controversy. It was sung by the character, Lieutenant Joe Cable, a United States Marine. He was in love with Liat, a young Tonkinese woman. Yes, he explored his fears of what might happen if he married her.  He struggled with his own racism. Lieutenant Joe Cable is able to overcome it sufficiently to love Liat, but not enough to take her home. He said, “Racism is not born in you, it happens after you are born.” Then he sings: 

You’ve got to be taught

To hate and fear,

You’ve got to be taught

From year to year,

It’s got to be drummed

In your dear little ear

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid

Of people whose eyes are oddly made,

And people whose skin is a different shade,

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,

Before you are six or seven or eight,

To hate all the people your relatives hate,

You’ve got to be carefully taught!

The production of South Pacific was almost cancelled because of this one song. Written in 1949, based upon the book, Tales of the South Pacific by James Michener, the producers were told to remove the song, or the production would not go forward. Rodgers and Hammerstein defended the song. They had a story to tell, so they built the musical around the song and its implications. Even if it meant the failure of the production, the song was going to stay in the musical.

Is the Song Correct?

Think about it.

Is the song correct?

Is racism taught?

How did you learn about race when you were growing up? Are you able to trace back to when, how, and by whom you were taught? Your understanding of yourself, attitudes, thoughts, and actions regarding race is important to you being the courageous leader needed to navigate the racial unrest of our day. 

This week, to better understand your current reality and to navigate the obstacles of racial unrest, reflect upon this question, “How did I first learn about race?” Set aside a few minutes to write your thoughts down so that you can get a clear understanding of your first awareness and learnings. What experiences do you remember? Who was involved? What happened to leave an impact upon your memory? 

Recognizing Your Condition

Recognizing your condition is essential to leading courageously in the midst of racial and social unrest. You are at a critical point in your leadership. This is a unique time filled with opportunity and promise. Who you are is how you lead. Will you step into this opportunity to explore who you are in relationship to the people around you? 

We will continue this discussion in next week’s blog. We will explore our hope in part two of “Leading Through Racial Unrest.”

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. On the podcast this week, Amy Burgess, Rosie Red, is our guest are we explore the theme of “Rest, Relaxation, and Play.” Join us for Episode 181. 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. 

Have you sensed the excitement of the people around you as the directives of the pandemic are being loosened? People are ready to get back to gathering. Whether it is with family, neighborhoods and playgrounds, schools and churches, weddings, graduations, birthday parties, reunions, funerals, etc., people are ready to get back to the community aspects of their lives. 

Before the pandemic, community life consumed most of our time.  Our interactions with one another influenced the way we thought and felt about the world and each other. We came together to exchange information, to inspire one another, and to develop relationships that brought a deep richness and joy to our lives. 

Community

Over the past year, the absence of gathering in community groups and activities has left a void that many people are ready to fill. Because people are hungry and yearning for the relationships of community, you have a unique opportunity to develop and nurture the social interactions people are missing. You were created to lead at this point and time in history. So, how will you lead? There might be other choices or alternatives, but the way I perceive it, you will either slide into the way things were before the pandemic or you will lead into a new way of living and loving. 

Remember, community is about the interrelatedness of people. It’s about belonging to something larger than ourselves. It helps people say, “I am a valued part of this body and have contributions to make”. The essence of community is a feeling of being in relationship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals centered in Jesus.  

With that in mind, I am assuming that you want to lead people into relationships that bring value and joy to their lives. So, how can you take advantage of this opportunity? Below are three questions to help bring clarity to your leading. 

1.What is the purpose of your gathering? 

To nurture community, you must keep your purpose or your mission in mind.  Your purpose becomes your plumb line for your decisions. 

Maybe you could think of it this way: We gather to worship. We gather to solve problems and make decisions. We gather to celebrate, to mourn, and to mark transitions. We gather because we need one another. We gather to honor and to acknowledge. We gather to strengthen our schools and neighborhoods. We gather to welcome, and we gather to say goodbye. There are many good reasons for coming together as a community, but too often we don’t know why we are getting together. What could happen if you looked at each gathering as an opportunity to focus upon your purpose?    

You nurture community by bringing meaning to your gathering. Without a focus upon why you are getting together, you end up meeting in ways that don’t connect with or nurture the people entrusted to your care. 

IRL Example

Let’s say the purpose of your community is to grow Jesus followers who live, and love like him.  Your Finance committee is gathering for their regular meeting. What is the purpose of their gathering? If you say the committee is meeting to oversee the finances of the church, to pay the bills, and to discuss ways to raise revenue, you would be correct in that is what they do. To focus only upon what they do without the plumb line of your purpose, people begin to solve all the problems of the church. They begin to talk about the people who only take but never give. The idea of scarcity sets in and they begin to protect the assets of the community. There is an uneasiness and tension which tears at the fabric of trust and compassion. 

I think you would agree, that is not the purpose of the Finance committee. You nurture community by leading the Finance community in developing the relationships that help people grow as Jesus followers who live, and love like him. So, as the leader, how do you take advantage of the opportunity? Could you introduce a devotional moment focused on scripture? Have members of the group answer a question like, “Who was someone who was influential in you becoming a follower of Jesus?” Or have members pray specifically for one another? 

You already know you can do the same with any group that meets. The question is, how will you take advantage of these opportunities to nurture relationships. 

Explore the blog and podcast page to explore examples of how others are leading and loving in a new way. (Note: Episodes 159 – 162 of Leadercast are all about Purpose.) The point is there are resources to assist you in developing and putting into action a plan for living into your purpose. 

2. Who are the people involved in your gathering?

To nurture community, you build up and equip the people entrusted to your care. People are your greatest resource. 

Every group is made up of different individuals who work for a common purpose. As the leader, you look for the potential in each person and you develop that potential. You not only recognize their strengths and gifts, but you also realize that a diversity of strengths and differences in ability are crucial for the health of the group.  

Each person has unique strengths and gifts for the good of the community. Individuals might find pleasure and joy in their specific gifts, but the gifts are given to the group. As a leader, you have the opportunity to assist in discovering and developing the strengths and gifts of the group. To put it another way, you have the opportunity to lead people into becoming who God has created them to be. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, wrote it this way, “…until we all reach unity in the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of God” Ephesians 4:13.

According to Paul, Jesus understood the importance of building up and equipping people.  From his perspective, the people nurtured by Jesus were the foundation stones of his movement, “some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 14:11). Each person was given unique gifts to enhance the community of followers.  The gifts were given not only for the enjoyment of the recipients but for the purpose of having all people become who God had created them to be.

Building Up and Equipping People

By building up and equipping the people entrusted to your care, you can find pleasure in developing their strengths and capabilities. There is satisfaction in finding the potential in others, treating even difficult people with dignity and compassion.

Maybe you will consider this. Jesus saw great potential in his disciples. The potential that might have been overlooked by others, was developed by Jesus investing his life in them.  Barnabas did the same in his relationship with Saul. He worked to develop that potential until he had the pleasure of seeing Saul become Paul (Acts 11:1-14:28). Paul did the same with Onesimus (Philemon 1-25). Consider the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 and Paul’s emphasis upon building up the lives of others in II Timothy 2:2

People are your greatest resource. Who are the people entrusted to you? In whom will you invest your life so they and you will become who God has created you to be? 

Sara Thomas can assist you in discovering the strengths of the people entrusted to you.

3. How will you model the love of God with the people around you? 

Jesus told his followers to love one another in the same way he loved them. This was a new and different kind of love. You live this love by:

  • Being quick to listen and slow to speak. You elevate the importance of a person when you take them seriously by listening. It is important for people to know that you care enough to listen to them.
  • Being patient and slow to anger. Regardless of how unkind and hurtful people might be, you show the same patience with others as God has shown to you.
  • Being kind. You build meaningful relationships when you are kind. Being kind helps with connection and cooperation, as well as trust and well-being.
  • Being generous. You are slow to pass judgment and quick to offer grace. You freely offer space and time for people to be who they have been created to be. Ask questions like “How can I help you?” or “What do you need from me to do what you need to do?”  

Showing Love

The early followers of Jesus showed love in everything they did.  For them, to love God and to love the people around them was the motivation for everything. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Everything should be done in love” (I Corinthians 16:14 CEB).

If you need assistance in living in the love experienced in and through Jesus, invite 3 to 5 people to join you once a week for an hour to discover and discuss what it means to live in a relationship with one another. Remember, at the heart of our relationships is the love of God we know in and through Jesus. Jesus is our common bond and it is greater than anything or anyone else.  It is the love of God who draws us into community and who loves us in and through each other. 

Again, you can explore blog posts and podcast episodes to encourage and guide you. In fact, this section on “How will you model the love of God with the people around you?” is directly from two blog posts: One Never-Before Opportunity to Lead and One Thing More Important Than Mission.

People are hungry and yearning for the relationships they have missed over the past year. You have a unique opportunity to develop and nurture those relationships for this point and time in history. So, how will you lead? Will you slide into the way things were before the pandemic or lead to a new way of living and loving? 

Who you are is how you lead. What is one thing you will do this week to help you lead into this new way of living and loving?

Reminders

As I have mentioned throughout this blog, when you need and want assistance, remember that Sara Thomas and I are with you in 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. On the podcast this week, Sara and I continue our conversation with April Casperson, the Director of Diversity and Inclusion for the West Ohio Conference. This will be Part 2 of our conversation of working better across differences.   

If you want to build community, or deepen community connections, join us for Episode 179. If you have not been a regular LeaderCast listener, you will want to start with this episode. LeaderCast is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the leadership challenges of 2021.  

We are on the downhill side of the pandemic.  Several of the mandates, like wearing masks outside and the number of people gathering in public places, are being relaxed. Much of what we could not do over the past year is coming back. With that in mind, how are you leading or preparing to lead into this “new normal”?

Are you expecting things to go back to the way they were? Are you building upon some of the things you learned? Do you have a plan for bringing people back together into community? Things have changed. How are you leading your community out of the pandemic and into a new reality? 

The Moment Things Changed

As you reflect upon these questions, let’s look at a moment in time when things changed and a new way of leading emerged. The moment of change is recorded in the bible as The Day of Pentecost found in the second chapter of The Acts of the Apostles. 

On the Day of Pentecost, one hundred and twenty discouraged, self-absorbed, willful, frightened, powerless men and women were transformed into new people. They lived through an experience that brought about a new intellectual and emotional reality.  

Through their experience, they began to communicate in ways that connected with people. In that connection, the people who were curious asked, “What does this mean?”  As in all new experiences, the people who were cynical viewed the experience as nonsense. 

An Opportunity to Lead

Both the curious questions and the cynical comments were received as an opportunity to lead people into a new reality. Simon Peter, taking advantage of the moment, began to give his account of what had happened, beginning with his experience of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and continuing through the presence of Jesus on that very day. He explained God’s offer of love (agape) and relationship (community) in Jesus. He clearly named current reality when he told them about people who had refused God’s invitation. Then he offered hope when he explained what could happen to those who would receive the invitation. 

Many of the curious, when they experienced the leadership of Simon Peter asked, “What shall we do?”  He was ready with clear direction. “It is time to change the way we have been looking at things. A new normal is here. God’s love is greater than we have ever imagined.” Then he gave clear directions for living into the new normal.   

A New Way of Leading

In the midst of the change, a new way of leading emerged. The people who followed, were received in a new normal of love and relationship, They devoted themselves to learning new ways to live together in koinonia (community). 

If you are saying that there is a world of difference between a COVID pandemic and the Day of Pentecost, you are correct. But just as the Day of Pentecost was an opportunity to love and live differently, the COVID pandemic provides the same opportunity.  

Do you have a plan for bringing people back together into community? Even though some things have changed, other things have not changed. As you are leading your community out of the pandemic and into a new reality, keep in mind the following:

1. You are part of a learning community

Be persisted in learning new ways for a new day.  Learn from the people around you. Learn from authors and teachers. Learning is at the heart leading.

2. You are nurturing community

The word “koinonia” means having in common or in fellowship.  At the heart of fellowship or relationship is the love of God (agape). We know that love in and through Jesus. Jesus is our common bond and it is greater than anything or anyone else.  It is the love of God we have experienced in Jesus who draws us into community and who loves us in and through each other.  

3. You are in a community of prayer

Community life is lived out as unselfish and non-manipulative concern and caring for one another. It takes time to be together to listen to each other, care, and be for each other.   Prayer together becomes the time of communication with God, who replenishes us, so we are unselfish in care and concern.

4. You are a worshipping community

In worship, we express outwardly the presence of God’s love living within us, as we affirm our love for one another. People are attracted to the joy of the community. They want to be with loving people. 

A New Way of Living

The reality is you are on the downhill side of the pandemic. You will either slide into the way things were before or you will lead into a new way of living and loving. 

You have an opportunity to lead into a new day. This opportunity never presented itself before and will be present only for a short period of time. So, what one thing will you do to change and be the leader people need and want for this new day? 

Remember, who you are is how you lead. So, keep your purpose in mind. Love the people around you. Communicate clearly and directly. And when the time is right, invite people to join you on this journey into a post-pandemic reality. We have been created for this moment in time. 

When you need and want assistance, remember that Sara Thomas and I are with you in 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.  

A Reminder

Check out LeaderCast. On the podcast this week, Sara and I have a conversation with April Casperson, the Director of Diversity and Inclusion for the West Ohio Conference. April shares grace-filled wisdom about community, relationships, and  diversity. Her role is to help people work better across differences. 

If you want to build community, or deepen community connections, join us for Episode 178. If you have not been a regular LeaderCast listener, you will want to start with this episode. LeaderCast is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the leadership challenges of 2021.  

Over the past year, in the midst of a pandemic, you have done some amazing things. You have kept yourself and the people you are leading focused upon the mission. You have learned new ways of doing important things. You have identified obstacles and navigated around them. You have even discovered and developed the potential in people who have stepped up to serve. Well done! 

As you reflect upon what you have accomplished, what would you say has been the most important thing you have done as a leader? Now, you might not agree with me, but as I look at it, the most important thing you have done is nurture community. 

What Does It Mean to Nurture Community?

Community is about the interrelatedness of people. It’s about belonging to something larger than ourselves. It helps people say, “I am a valued part of this body and have contributions to make”. The essence of community is a feeling of being in relationship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals centered in Jesus. 

Through a stressful time of disconnection, you have been a catalyst to holding people together. You have done more than manage people and coordinate events. You have nurtured community.

What does it mean to nurture community?    

Agape

To answer that question, let’s start with the biblical image of “agape”. Although “agape” is not a word we used in our everyday language, it is a concept found in the New Testament of the Bible. It is a Greek word, rarely found in the non-Christian Greek literature, used to describe the distinct kind of love found in the community of Jesus followers. It is the love embodied in the life and ministry of Jesus. This kind of love is at the heart of Christian community.  

Agape defines God’s immeasurable, incomparable love for us, all of us, as human beings. It is God’s ongoing, outgoing, self-sacrificing interest and concern for creation. God loves you, me, humanity, and all creation without condition. 

To put it another way, this love is not contingent on any value or worth of the object being loved. It is spontaneous and does not consider beforehand whether love will be effective or proper. It is the extension of God’s love lived out in and through our relationships with each other. 

Agape love is: 

More than an emotion. 

It is the highest form of love described and experienced in the Bible. As much as I like Hallmark Christmas movies, the love that holds the community together is not a Hallmark movie love. As much as we talk about the church being a family, this love is greater than friends and family. In fact, this love is greater than race, color, or belief.

More than unity. 

As much as I dislike conflict, this love is not about “getting along” with one another. Sometimes, for the sake of unity, we set this love aside and become nice instead of loving. It is in the midst of our differences and disagreements that this love is the source of our relationships. The purpose of the early church was not unity but agape, the love of God as experience in Jesus.

More than transactional. 

Too many times we talk of loving others so we can save their souls, get them into the church, or meet our budgets. This love is greater than our institutional concerns.  We love because God in Christ first loved us.  Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” This love is about being who God created us to be for no other reason that being who God created us to be.

Expressed through action. 

Too often we talk about love and loving others but are slow to live the love we talk about. John, in his first letter wrote, “Those who say, ‘I love God’ and hate their brothers or sisters are liars. After all, those who don’t love their brothers or sisters whom they have seen can hardly love God whom they have not seen! This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also” (I John 4:19-21).

I have a friend who tells of when his son came into his office one day and said, “Dad, can we go to the park and practice ball today?” My friend said he was busy and told his son they would go later. His son came to him everyday that week asking him to go to the park and practice ball. It so happened that every time his son came to him, he could not go to the park at that moment. At the end of the week, the boy came to him again, “Dad, can we go to the park today?” My friend replied that they could go later. It was at this point that the boy looked at his father and said, “Dad, we have been talking about going to the park all week.  When are we going to do it?”

A different kind of love. 

Jesus told his followers to love one another in the same way he loved them. This was a new and different kind of love. You live this love by:  

Listening

You are quick to listen and slow to speak. You elevate the importance of a person when you take them seriously by listening. It is important for people to know that you care enough to listen to them. Too often, in conversations, we are forming our responses and interrupting before the other person finishes speaking.  As important as your position and opinion might be, it is more important to listen, especially to those with whom you disagree.

Being Patient

You are slow to anger. You are patient with people more than patient with circumstances. Regardless of how unkind and hurtful people might be, you show the same patience with others as God has shown with you. The patience of love always wins.

Being Kind

On one hand, you are quick to compliment and to affirm, and on the other hand, you are clear with feedback. You build meaningful relationships when you are kind. Being kind helps with connection and cooperation, as well as trust and well-being.

Being Generous

You are slow to pass judgment and quick to offer grace. You freely offer space and time for people to be who they have been created to be. So, when people don’t move as fast as you, you are generous with “they are doing the best they can do.” Then you ask, “How can I help you?” or “What do you need from me to do what you need to do?” Being generous means, you are providing what is at the time. 

This love is so important, that the early followers of Jesus showed love in everything they did.  For them, to love God and to love the people around them was motivation for everything. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Everything should be done in love” (I Corinthians 16:14 CEB). Agape love is the essence of God. So, it makes sense to love one another as God has loved us. 

With that in mind, there is one thing more important than the mission. Without it, there is no mission and there is no church.

One Thing More Important

Fred Craddock tells the following story, “I was walking one afternoon, and I passed a corner where a man was doing something that fascinated me.  I stopped my walk and watched him.  He had a pile of bricks, and the thing he was doing was measuring each brick; how long it was, how wide it was, and how deep it was.  He threw a bunch of good-looking bricks out.  He said, “I have to get them all exactly the same.” 

I asked, “Why?” 

He said, “I’m building a church and I want it to stand.” 

Craddock said, “There are people who think that the way to really have a church is to get people that are from the same economic and social and educational background, then they will all be together.”  He said, “The man started stacking those brinks; they were all just alike.  I went by the next afternoon, and they were all just piles of brick.  They fell down.” 

I went on around the corner, and I saw a man with a pile of rocks.  You have never seen such a mess in your life.  No two of them alike, round one, dark ones, small ones, big ones, and little ones.  I said, “What in the world are you doing?” 

He said, “I’m building a church.” 

I said, “You are nuts!  The fellow around the corner had them all alike, and he couldn’t make it stand.” 

He said, “This will stand.” 

“No, it won’t.  It won’t stand.” 

“Yes, it will.” 

Craddock said, “You can’t get it to stand.  The fellow around the corner… 

The man said, “It will stand.” 

The man went over to a wood tray, took something like a hoe, and began to stir something back and forth.  It looked a lot like cement to me, but that’s not what he called it.  He put healthy doses of that between the stones.  I went back thirty-four years later, and it was still there.  It was that stuff in between that looked a lot like cement that made the difference.  That’s not what he called it.  But you know what it’s called. 

There is one thing more important than mission. You know what it is, don’t you? Let me know what difference it makes in how you lead within your community.

Remember, who you are is how you lead. 

A Reminder

When you need and want assistance, remember that Sara Thomas and I are with you in 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. On the podcast this week, Sara and I continue our discussion on “community” with our guest, Christ Wiseman. Chris is the pastor of the Marne, Smith Chapel, and Perryton United Methodist Churches. If you have not been a LeaderCast listener, I invite you to join us for Episode 177. LeaderCast is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the leadership challenges of 2021. 

If I ask you what you have learned over the past year, what would you say? “I’ve learned more about technology than I ever wanted to know.” Or “I learned how to relate to people without being face-to-face with them.” Or “I have learned more about myself and who God created me to be.” 

One of the things I have learned or relearned over the past year is “as a leader your character will be tested more than your competency”. People who look to you as their leader are looking for a person they can trust. They learn to trust you by paying attention to what you do more than listening to what you say. Remember, who you are is how you lead.

I’ll Keep You in Prayer

Maybe you can think of this way. Over the past several weeks I have heard some of you say, “I’ll be praying for you,” or “I’ll keep you in prayer.” I am grateful for your prayers. I know you are sincere in making your commitment. Now, understand, I am not complaining, but I often wonder if you, or any of us, actually deliver on that commitment to pray.   

In our culture, when a report of violence has taken place like a mass shooting, whether in a school, a shopping center, or a neighborhood, (there have been 48 mass shooting in the United States since March 18), I either hear people say, “My thoughts and prayers are with you,” or I read on social media simply, “Thoughts and prayers.” Again, it is a good gesture to offer thoughts and prayers, but do you think people making that commitment actually pray?

Are You Accountable for Your Commitments?

I confess there was a time in my life and ministry when I would honestly say, “I’ll pray for you.” It was truly a desire of my heart to pray for the person to whom I had made the commitment. Yet, I would not think of that commitment until the next time I saw that person. The thought would run through my mind, “Oh, I hope they are doing well. I forgot to pray.”

Then one day it occurred to me, that every time I said, “I will pray for you” or “I’ll keep you in prayer,” I was making a commitment to pray. Now, I don’t know whether anyone knew I was praying or not, but I knew. For me, that was enough to develop new habits of accountability. What I have learned is, people listen to the words of their leaders and then observe whether the leader actually lives what he or she says. The question is “Are you being accountable for your commitments?”

Deliver on Your Commitments

Accountability occurs when you reliably deliver on your commitments. You demonstrate accountability when you show others you can be trusted to do what you say you will do. When you take responsibility for your actions and decisions, you model for others as well as set a path of accountability they can follow.

So, let’s stay with the practice of prayer. When you or I say, “I will be praying for you,” you are making a commitment. Now, how does that commitment to pray relate to accountable leadership?

 1. Lead by Example

By your actions, you model leadership by showing others how they too can be accountable. As a leader, you demonstrate accountability with these behaviors:

  • Discipline – Stay focused upon your goals and be aware when you are getting derailed by competing desires or priorities. If prayer is your goal and you make a commitment to pray, set aside the time to pray. The excuse of “not enough time” or “I had a meeting” reveals the need for the discipline to order your life around your goals.
  • Integrity – Be who you are. Be authentic and trustworthy regarding commitments and honest and responsible when something goes wrong. When you make a commitment to pray for someone, pray for them.  As a person of integrity, if you make a commitment to pray but don’t pray, be honest and responsible enough to admit that you forgot or simply did not pray. You will gain a greater respect and effectiveness if you keep your commitments as well as being honest when you don’t. Integrity does not come by “faking it until you make it.”
  • Improvement – Develop new skills and behaviors that assist you in keeping your commitments. If you want to pray for others, set aside time to pray. Establish new patterns and develop new schedules for prayer. You will not need to tell people you are learning and implementing new habits, your living will reveal the depth of your praying.

2. Develop Accountable Leaders

When you provide people opportunities to be responsible, you are developing accountable leaders. Regardless of the work or task, people learn to deliver on their commitments when they experience the importance of being reliable and trustworthy in the eyes of others. Assist the people around you with opportunities to pray for one another. Give your leaders prayer partners and have them check in with one another every time you gather. Celebrate the new prayer habits. If someone hasn’t prayed, asked what he or she needs to develop the habit of praying for others.

 3. Communicate Clearly

When you communicate clearly and share information and knowledge that helps others meet their goals, you are demonstrating accountability. People will learn and take their cues from you. They will observe what you do, practice what they observe, and listen for clear direction and feedback. Remember, clear is kind. It is important to not only share information that shapes behavior but to, authentically live by the information you are sharing. So, communicate not only with your words but with your character.  

Your Character Over Your Competency

Let’s come back to “as a leader your character will be tested more than your competency”.  I practiced most of ministry thinking I knew all the right things to do and say. Yes, I attended workshops, seminars, clinics, and conferences for the purpose of sharpening my skills, so I could do what I was doing better. I am grateful, that through the assistance of good friends, colleagues, and honest feedback, I realized that who I was as a person affected my leadership more than what I could do or accomplish as a person. So, again I say, “remember who you are is how you lead.”

Do It Again, Lord!

Dr. J. Edwin Orr, as a lecturer at Wheaton College, would take students to visit places where Christian leaders had preached throughout history. In 1940 he took a group to England to visit the Epworth refectory where John Wesley had lived.

When the bus arrived at Epworth, Dr. Orr led the students off the bus and into the house. The group first saw the study of John Wesley. There was a bible on the desk and several books on the shelves. There was a feeling of awe as Dr. Orr explained that the beginnings of a great spiritual awakening had started in the heart of mind of Wesley in that study.

He then led them to the kitchen. The table was neatly but sparsely set. There were cups on the counter and plates on the shelves. Dr. Orr asked his students to imagine Wesley sitting at the table eating and taking nourishment for his preaching missions. He explained that deep spiritual conversations had taken place with colleagues and friends around that table.

He then led them into Wesley’s bedroom. It was a small room, barely large enough to hold the students as they filled in. There was a bed, neatly made, and a nightstand with a bible and a writing pad. Next to the bed, on the floor, were two worn impressions. Dr. Orr explained that those worn impressions were made by Wesley as he knelt in prayer every morning and evening.  He explained that it was Wesley’s prayers that had helped bring about England’s social and spiritual renewal.

When the visit concluded and the students were getting back on the bus, Dr. Orr noticed one person was missing. He waited for a moment before going back into the house to look for the student. He took a quick glance into the study. No one there. He looked quickly in the kitchen.  It, too, was empty.  It was when he entered the bedroom that he saw his student kneeling by the side of the bed. The student had placed his knees in the worn impressions on the floor. He was praying, “O Lord, do it again! Do it again! And do with through me.” Dr. Orr, knowing the schedule he had to keep, placed his hand on the student’s shoulder and whispered, “Come on Billy, we must be going.” At that moment the student, Billy Graham walked out of the house with this teacher and got on the bus.

Who You Are Is How You Lead

Who you are is how you lead. Your leadership is rooted in your character. You become an accountable leader when others know you can be trusted to do what you say you will do and when you take responsibility for your actions and decisions. 

You don’t need me to tell you what you need to work on regarding your accountability.  My guess is you already know. So, take a few minutes now to do the following: 

  • Thank God for making you who you are
  • Confess that you have not always been who you were created to be
  • Ask God to help you to live fully into God’s grace.  “Do it again, Lord, through me.”

Who you are is how you lead. Let me know if your conversation with God reveals anything about accountability to you. 

When you need and want assistance, remember that Sara Thomas and I are with you in 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. On the podcast this week, Charles Boayue joins us in discussing Accountable Leadership. If you have not been a LeaderCast listener, you want to start with this one. Check out Episode 174 of LeaderCast. This is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the challenges of 2021. Again, who you are is how you lead.