Do you remember those old-world maps in textbooks? They were created when a lot of the world was still unexplored. When the mapmakers reached the edge of what had been explored, they drew a line and showed dragons and monsters beyond it. This was their way of identifying uncharted territory.
There is a story of a first century Roman commander who had to lead his troops beyond the line on the map and into “dragon” territory. He sent a messenger back to Rome with the message, “Send new orders! We have marched off the map!”
Have You Marched Off the Map?
As a leader, you might be feeling you have marched off the map.
You are leading where you have not led before. The people entrusted to your care are looking for peace and security as you are looking for direction in the midst of change and chaos. You might very well be thinking, “Send new orders! We have marched off the map!”
I understand your anxiety. I have been there several times over my ministry. Whether it was in the uncertainty of leading a congregation through the anxiety and fear of 9/11 or in forming a new ministry team, experiencing the rockiness of new relationships and the storminess of change. When I was able to adapt to the changes and normalize the new ways of relating and living, I was able to be the leader I needed to be for that time and place.
The Messy Middle
Brene Brown says, “The middle is messy but it is where the magic happens.” Friends, we are in the middle of converging pandemics. It is like you have entered a cave. It is dark. So dark that you can’t see your hand in front of your face. You want to turn around and go back, but you are too far to turn around, but you are not close enough to the end to see the light. You feel as if you are at the point of no return. You hear voices, conflicting voices, calling out advice, direction, opinions, hope, and despair. All you want is to get through and to the end of the cave. “Send new orders. We have marched off the map.”
Regarding the Covid-19 pandemic, we do not know how long it will last or how far we must go get to the end. We are six months into this weird way of living. Every day we experience attempts to go back to what we say is normal, whether it is with schools opening, work outside of home, looking for work, playing football, childcare, worshipping in the sanctuary, singing hymns, shaking hands, the list goes on.
In the Messiness, We Learn New Ways
The people around us are trying to override what we know we need to do to contain the virus. We are in the midst of some messiness. If we are not careful, we will make bad decisions because we lack the willpower to stay the course.
We want things the way they were. Yet, it is in this messiness that we learn new ways, adapt to new situations, discover new relationships, and different ways of living. Regardless of how long it takes, there will be an end to the pandemic. It is how we adapt and what we learn in the middle that is important today. “Send new orders. We have marched off the map.”
There is No Turning Back
Regarding the racial reckoning pandemic, there is no turning back. We don’t know what it will look like, but we do know that it is long overdue, and it is the right thing to do. It has taken us too long to name and recognize the pain and injustice of racism.
It has taken us too long to admit our participation in the racist ideas and policies from which we benefit. We are in the midst of some messiness.
If we are not careful, we will convince ourselves not to talk about our racism, not to not learn about our biases, not recognize our privilege, and again, do nothing about it. We want things the way they were.
Yet, to go back is not acceptable. How long we have yearned for and imagined love and justice. And how many times have we failed to make it a reality. It is messy and hard work, but it is necessary work. In the messiness we will become the people God created us to be. “Send new orders. We have marched off the map.”
We Are Resurrection People
We are experiencing the messiness in our own denomination. We don’t know what the future holds, yet the one thing we all have in common is the resurrection.
As people of the resurrection, people of hope, our life together does not depend upon agreement. It depends upon love and forgiveness. Reinhold Niebuhr wrote, “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore, we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we must be saved by love.”
The writer of 1 John wrote, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us in that we should be called God’s children, and that is what we are! Dear friends, now we are God’s children, and it hasn’t yet appeared what we will be. (1 John 3:1-2 CEB).
Navigate Uncharted Territory
We are in the messiness of becoming who God has created us to be. We don’t know how we will turn out, but we do know that as God’s children, we will be far more wonderful than we can imagine.
Even though you are in uncharted territory, there are some things that have not changed. You can depend upon these things to get you through to the end. Even though you might feel you need new orders, as a leader, you need the following:
1. Trust in God
A deep and abiding faith that shapes your relationships, assumptions, attitudes, and actions. This trust has nothing to do with politics or positions on issues. This trust is experienced and anchored in the love of God and is expressed and demonstrated in loving others, just as God in Christ has loved you.
2. Focus upon Purpose
A clear and intentional focus upon getting through the messiness. You might not know how long you are in this middle, but you do know there is an end to the messiness. Your focus upon purpose will allow you to adapt to what you can’t change and learn to change what you can.
You have not been this way before. To lead through the messiness, you will stumble and make mistakes. When that happens, you get back up, dust yourself off, and continue through to the end. Your trust in God and focus on purpose will keep you moving toward what God has is store for you.
4. Authentic Relationships
You are not alone in this messiness. You are surrounded by people who are not only depending upon you but who love you. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to have your life enriched by the people God puts into your life. Each person has something to offer to you, as well you to them, to help you become more who God created you to be. So, join hands, lock arms (both strange images in a time of social distancing), and become a force of love and justice. Experience God’s love and acceptance in and through those relationships.
This generosity is to love others as you have been loved. In these times of anxiety and stress, give people the benefit of the doubt, even if they are not doing the same to you. You don’t love people because they love you. You love because God loves you. Be as generous with people as God has been with you.
You Will Persevere
No matter how messy life becomes, if you live into these five things, you will persevere to the end. So, what are your new orders? Keep going! Don’t give up! You are not alone! You are a beloved child of God. Keep going. God is not finished with you or your leadership. Don’t give up!
Sonya Renee Taylor writes, “We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalize greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate, and lack. We should not long to return my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.”
Don’t Give Up! Keep Going!
You might feel like you have marched off the map, but you are about to discover a whole new life of love and justice. Don’t give up! Keep going! Perfect love cast out fear! Don’t give up!
Remember, Sara Thomas and I (Tim Bias) are available to assist you and your congregation in the midst of the messiness. Don’t hesitate to call upon us as we seek to assist you in deepening your relationship with Christ, the church, and your community.