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

Our everyday and ordinary lives have been disrupted.

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

A New Normal

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

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

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

Pandemics Don’t Shut Down Love

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

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

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

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

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

Pandemics Don’t Shut Down Poverty

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

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

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

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

Pandemics Don’t Shut Down Racism

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

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

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

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

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

Similarities between Covid-19 and Racism

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

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

Differences between Covid-19 and Racism

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

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

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

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

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

Your Next Step

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can also find the original Facebook post here.

Approximate Time Stamps, Notes, and Questions Covered 

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

How are you doing this week? I know it was another challenging week. You got word that your congregation could gather for worship on May 24, and then you received guidelines for worship that seemed to make it impossible to gather.

As you look for direction in the midst of conflicting voices, you continue to face a time of uncertainty. It is a time of disappointment, lack of security, and fear of the unknown.

How Are You Responding?

You can respond in one of several ways.

You can spend time focused on what has gone wrong.

It is easy to get lost in grieving the things that have been put on hold. You miss gathering with family and friends, singing hymns and songs of praise, celebrating holy communion, exchanging greetings with handshakes and hugs, serving coffee as hospitality, and gathering as a worshipping community.

Personally, I have come through several times of uncertainty. Times of not knowing what the future might hold and being paralyzed regarding what decisions to make. Being uncertain about the future, I felt confused, disappointed, and alone. I confess, I spent a lot of time thinking about could have, would have, and should have been.

You can spend time focused on what is going right.

I’m not denying the situation you and I find ourselves, but there is another way to respond. Instead of grieving the loss of activities, celebrate the relationships each activity provided.

In the midst of my anxiety, a colleague and friend stepped in to help me face my uncertainty. I didn’t get a lot of sympathy, shallow agreements, or unrealistic platitudes. Who I got was a person of faith who did two things: allowed me to be me and helped me discover a new perspective.

Love Remains

What I learned then and what to reaffirm now is, when everything seems to be taken away, there is one thing that cannot be taken away: love.

So, first, let me remind you to recognize, understand, and name your feelings. It is okay to grieve. Your feelings are your feelings. For you to become who God created you to be, you will need to be vulnerable and courageous. You will need to be kind to yourself and generous with the people around you. As I have written in the past, the payoff is worth it: better health, better decision making, better relationships, and a better you.

Then, second, love your neighbor. It is okay to need people.  You are created to love others. It will be in your relationships that you will find hope and healing, as well as a way to face the uncertainty of this pandemic.  It will be in and through your relationships that you will discover the power to face your grief and develop a new perspective for stepping into the future.

Together

Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, the 19th Surgeon General of the United States, in his book Together writes about healthy relationships being as essential as vaccines and ventilators for our global recovery. He says we have the opportunity to fortify and strengthen our connections and communities during this crisis.

He writes,

“There is a need for medications such as antibiotics, for blood pressure, and antidepressants.  Medicines can help, but there is nothing more powerful than love in its ability to heal.”

He goes on to say that the clearest way we feel and experience love, is through relationships; authentic, open relationships.” Building community, developing relationships, is essential for healing. We are born to be relational. Our connection to one another is necessary.

Who would guess, something so simple, something we take for granted, has the power to heal in such extraordinary ways? So, how do we move the world toward love?

Tip the World Toward Love

This pandemic is giving you the opportunity to do just that, one person at a time. It begins with the decisions you make every day. So here is one place to begin:

  1. Wear your mask in public.

Wearing your mask is not so much for you as it is for others.  By wearing your mask, you are saying, “I care about you.  I take you seriously.”

2. Observe physical distance.

We are calling it social distance, but you want to maintain your social connections.  By observing the physical distance of 6 ft or more, you are saying, “I am thinking of you and I want you to be healthy.”

Those are just two ways you can begin to tip the world toward love.  It seems simple, but it is the sacrifice that will be noticed.

Intentionally Develop Relationships

If you are wearing your mask and observe the appropriate distance, then practice developing relationships outside the activities that are on hold.  Start with someone you know.  Here is what you can do:

  1. Identify a friend or colleague to be your conversation partner.
  2. Call, text, email, zoom, your partner. Make arrangements for a 15-minute conversation.
  3. Before the conversation, give yourself permission to be vulnerable and to be your true self.
  4. Then, explain to your partner you are seeking to tip the world toward love. Give your partner permission to love you by allowing you to be yourself and by helping you discover a new perspective.

This will seem silly and unnecessary at first.  Then as you seek to develop relationships with others, this exercise will become more difficult. It will require the courage to be vulnerable.  But you will begin to take a chance on others as you begin to believe more in yourself. As you build relationships in your life, you will make it possible to build a more relational world.

So, let’s try it.  Love your neighbor. Whether you are a pastor, teacher, congregational or community leader, you can tip the world toward love.

The clearest way to feel and experience love is in and through relationships.  This is our hope. To love your neighbor as yourself.

Let’s take advantage of this pandemic and tip the world toward love.

 

 

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

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

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

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

What You Need

  1. Self-kindness

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

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

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


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

What Gets in the Way?

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

  1. Self-judgment

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

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

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

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

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

One Final Reminder

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

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

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

Enjoy our conversation with pastors about this topic, too.

I’m back to my old question, “How are you doing today?” You just celebrated your first Easter at home. No in-person crowds, or music, or Easter rush. It doesn’t mean that you didn’t have more people watching online, or rousing Easter music, or any less work and excitement, but did you ever think that you would spend an Easter Sunday at home?

What about the post-Easter letdown? Have you given thought to what next Sunday will be? Usually, you plan special events for the Sunday after in order not to be hurt and embarrassed by the noticeable collapse in attendance. But, because of the pandemic, this Easter is different. 

Discover a New Normal

Things are different. Did you take this week off? Where did you go? How are you relaxing? I know your answer. So, how are you doing?

As great and as wonderful the music, the worship, and the people, Easter Sunday is a lot of work. I’m confessing here. I spent hours planning the worship experiences for Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. I wanted people to experience the story of Jesus’ passion. But, after the excitement of Easter Sunday, the pressure of preaching a message of hope, and the activities for people of all ages, there was a part of me that whispered, “Easter is over. Now we can go back to normal.”

But, in the middle of my ministry, I discovered a new normal. A shift took place. I began to look at every Sunday as Easter Sunday. Instead of Easter becoming a disruption of what was normal, Easter became the new normal. 

The Resurrection in John

Of all the Gospels, John seems to be most aware of the problems created by Easter. Easter is the resurrection of Jesus. No one denies that. But John understood that Easter is also the departure of Jesus. The Gospel of John consists of twenty-one chapters. The public ministry of Jesus ends in Chapter 12. The remaining 9 chapters are a farewell. There is a farewell meal, farewell discourses, a farewell prayer, and then the farewell. John, more than any other writer, sets the tone for the new normal. “Let not your hearts be troubled. You believe in God. Believe also in me. In my father’s house are many rooms” (John 14:1–2). 

There is a deep and profound change. The disciples are like children sitting on the floor playing with their toys when suddenly they look up to discover that Mom and Dad are getting to leave. They ask three questions: “Where are you going? Can we go? Well, who will stay with us?” 

Jesus answers, “Where am I going? I’m going to my Father and your Father.”

They ask, “Can we go?”

Jesus: “Where I am going you cannot go now. You can go later.” 

Disciples: “Then who will stay with us?”

Jesus: “I will ask the Father and he will send the Spirit, who will be with you always.”

John understands Easter to be a new normal, but the disciples are ready to go back to what they perceive as normal. Simon Peter and six others go fishing. Easter was over. It was good while it lasted. It was wonderful to be sure, but you can’t squeeze a lifetime out of one moment. Peter says, “I’m going fishing.” In other words, “I’m glad things are back to normal.” But while he and his companions are fishing, Jesus appears. After they have breakfast together, Jesus looks at Simon and says, “Simon, do you love me?” “Feed my sheep.”

What has changed your life more?

So, I’ve been thinking. What has changed your life more, the pandemic or the resurrection?

Maybe a better question is, how as the pandemic made you more aware of the resurrection? As Easter people (as Jesus followers) there are some things you might do so show the reality of the resurrection: 

  1. Keep in mind and heart that relationships are as important as ever. How you relate to people during this time is as important as what you do. Care and compassion reveal more of Jesus than anything you might know or do.
  2. Be generous in your assumptions.
  3. Deliver groceries to the people who are in isolation.
  4. Share the hard to find commodities with those who are experiencing financial difficulties or with those who can’t get out to buy them.
  5. Cook a meal and offer it to your neighbors. You might do this as an individual or as a church.
  6. Offer entertainment and relationship to those filled with dread.
  7. Help people find the resources they might need. In times of crisis, it is difficult for some people to keep up with the facts, relevant news, and the resources provided. Be loving and kind in sharing what you know.
  8. Learn to make masks and offer them to your neighbors.
  9. Keep in mind that there are systemic problems, not problem people.
  10. You have other ideas. Remember, all you do is with love and grace.

May the Resurrection be Your Normal

Maybe this pandemic has awakened the true normal and is offering you another opportunity to be the evidence of the resurrection. The pandemic surely changes your living, but it will not have the changing impact as the resurrection.

Maybe you can think of it this way: Suppose you have a ten-thousand-dollar bill. After several days of admiring it, being in awe of it, showing it to your friends, what do you do with it? You don’t hand it over to pay for your cup of coffee. You don’t use it to pay for hotdogs and hamburgers. That ten-thousand-dollar bill will have meaning only after you have changed it into a sack full of concrete acts of grace. 

Now, what will last longer, the pandemic or the resurrection? After breakfast, Jesus looks at Simon and says, “Simon, do you love me?” “Tend my lambs and feed my sheep.” When you answer that question, you are telling me how you are doing. 

May the resurrection be your normal.

Holy Week

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

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

Good Friday

How are you seeing grief expressed right now?

Holy Saturday

What’s the confabulation you’re creating?

Easter Sunday

What’s the hope you’re counting on?

Listen to Sunday is Comin’!

Watch Sunday is Comin’!

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

Good Friday

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

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

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

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

A Message of Care

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

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

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

Even Jesus was expressing grief.

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

You, Grief, and Good Friday

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

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

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

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

He was speaking of the pandemic.

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

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

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

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

I still…

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

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

You see…Bargaining is a classic part of grief.

Dang it.

The World We Knew Is Gone Forever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s What Grief Does

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

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

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

“Exactly.” I want to respond sarcastically. 

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

Here’s the thing. 

Comparative Suffering

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

“Who are you not to?”

Dang it.

Stop. 

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

I grumble beneath my breath.

Shush. I say to that memory.

“You can’t shush me.” It responds.

You see, I know better. 

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

I see it in…

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

I see it…when I look in the mirror.

And, dear one, so do you.

The world we are accustomed to is gone. Forever.

Collective Grief

We are collectively grieving.

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

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

So what has changed?

Everything and nothing.

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

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

Pause. Sit. Experience Transformation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

How are you doing this week?

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

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

Chicken Little or Not Doing Enough?

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

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

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

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

Who Do You Need to Be?

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

So, here is what I have been thinking:

  1.   Keep focused upon who you are

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

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

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

  • Keep the mission of the church in mind – Whether you articulate the purpose as “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” or in another way, remind yourself of the church’s purpose.
  • Stay grounded upon your call to ministry – Your call is to people
  • Continue your study of and reflection upon the scripture – Something that might be helpful is the God Is with Us daily devotional
  • Continue to keep the people entrusted to your care focused upon God’s love and care for them. How are you engaging them in the study of scripture? Worship? Care?   

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

  1.   Begin to focus upon your strengths.

  • Do you know your strengths? If not, this would be a great time to learn your gifts.
  • How do your strengths complement the strengths of family members? 
  • How do their strengths complement yours?

Now, more than any other time, you can strengthen family relationships and learn the strengths of others as you lead and care for the people God has entrusted to you.

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

  • We are presently in a “transitional normal.” Stay present as you step into new and different ways of working and living
  • We are moving toward a “new normal.” No one of us knows exactly what that means, but when you stay focused and present helps you model and lead through all transitions.
  • Remember: If you spend too much time in the past upon what you have lost or what you should have done, you lose yourself in regret.  If you spend too much time longing for the future, wishing for something different, you lose yourself in worry. 

Stay in the moment and take one step at a time.  Offer to walk with others who are lost in regret and worry.  Assist them in staying in the moment and stepping into every day with hope and courage.

  1.   Learn to pace yourself. 

  • We are in the midst of a long transition.
  • Keep yourself healthy – Get enough rest, exercise, eat healthy meals. Your health is essential as you lead others into and through this crisis
  • Stay open to learning new systems and new ways of providing the care and services you have been providing.
  • Continue to improve your use of technology and social media.  Record or live stream worship or bible study. Maybe you can experiment with one or two forms of technology or social media and discuss this blog or earlier blogs.
  • Continue to use technology to reach out and connect with the people you lead and serve.  If nothing more than a phone call, text, or email, you are staying connected. Take a risk and use Zoom or Skype to connect with people you are accustomed to seeing on a regular basis.

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

“We Made It, Together!”

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

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

 

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

These two things are also essential for self-leadership.

What are these two things?

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

Stockdale Paradox

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

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

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

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

“Brutal Facts” and Hope

Consider for a moment these brutal facts:

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

As of 1:08 p.m., Sunday, April 5…

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

Those are a few of the “brutal facts.”

How about hope?

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

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

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

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

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

1) Foundation

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

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

  • Worship
  • Discipleship
  • Missions
  • Pastoral Care 
  • Administration

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

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

2) Services and Supplies

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 ) Leadership and Processes

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

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

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

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

Again, what does this new reality make possible?

4) Congregation and Community 

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

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

Questions to Consider

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

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

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

5) Context 

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

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

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

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

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

Your Next Step

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

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

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

 

Watch a conversation about the Stockdale Paradox

Listen to the conversation about the Stockdale Paradox

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You can do this.

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

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

1. Your Relationships

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

2. Your Personality

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

3. Your Attitude

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

4. Your Experiences

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

5. Your Strengths

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

6. Your Perspective

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

7. Your Passion

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

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

Your Next Step

So, here is what I want you to do. 

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

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

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

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