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Leadership is about inspiring and empowering people to become who they were created to be.  It is about relating and connecting in such a way that the world is impacted and changed for good. Although there will always be opinions about the characteristics of effective leadership, there is a specific characteristic that people want from you as their leader.  

In a recent Gallup survey of 10,000 followers, words like caring, friendship, happiness, and love were used to describe what people needed and wanted from their leaders. In a word, people were looking for leaders with compassion.  They are looking for leaders, whether spiritual, political, corporate, or educational, to listen to them, to care for them, and to love them.  To lead with compassion means contributing to the happiness and well-being of the people entrusted to your care. It is more than “being nice.” It is an intentional action to nurture people to their full potential. As their leader, you develop authentic relationships for the purpose of helping people become who they were created to be. 

Effective, Compassionate Leadership Characteristics

With that in mind, you become a compassionate leader by practicing compassion. The most effective leaders are those who are: 

1. Focused on Others

They shift the focus off themselves and onto the people entrusted to their care. Compassionate leaders have a healthy self-awareness and don’t have to be the center of all attention or activities.  They understand that shifting from self to others is essential in developing leaders.

2. Developing Relationships

They have care and concern for all people and build upon that care and concern to develop relationships. They are genuinely interested in the people around them. Besides being aware of their own gifts and strengths, they know the gifts and strengths of the people they lead. Through the development of relationships, they create healthy environments of trust where everyone is supported, encouraged, and celebrated.   

3. Listening

The amount of time they listen to the people entrusted to their care is a sign of how important people are to them. They invite comments and encourage discussion. Listening helps develop an environment where people feel good about their work and contributions. When people feel good about themselves, they are more fully committed to participating and offering their best.  

4. Positive

The best way to empower and motivate others is by being a genuinely positive person. When leaders develop a positive attitude, have something positive to say, and create a positive atmosphere, then people feel comfortable, safe, and secure in communicating what needs to be communicated.

Investing their time. Time is one of the most precious and protected resources people have. Leaders know that time invested in the people around them will produce good fruit. When people feel they have a strong relationship with their leader because their leader is deeply invested in who they are, they are willing to offer their best.

5. People of Integrity

They walk their talk. They lead from within and inspire others through encouragement and empowerment. People don’t forget being treated with respect and dignity. Leaders who lead out of who they are making a greater impact on the world. They cultivate leaders by modeling the leadership needed.  

6. Grateful

There are lots of ways for leaders to show they care. They mentor, support, guide, and encourage. But when a leader expresses gratitude and recognition, people feel appreciated and are willing to offer more of themselves to impact the community and the world.

Your Turn

Leading with compassion is foundational to who you are as a leader. Although processes are important, compassionate leaders focus on people more than the processes.

Remember, compassionate leaders seek influence, not authority. They don’t demand, they encourage. Compassionate leaders demonstrate hope. As you lead, continue to acknowledge and support the people around you to combine your collective efforts, strengths, skills, insights, passion, enthusiasm, and commitment to work together for the greater good.

Our world, our communities, and our churches need compassionate leaders. Your greatest success is to grow and develop the people entrusted to your care so that they make a difference in their families, their jobs, their communities, and their churches. Now is the time to step up and lead with compassion. 

Take a moment to think of the people entrusted to your care. What is one thing you can do to better the lives of the people around you? How will you show compassion this week? 

If you need and want help, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org, Sara Thomas and I (Tim Bias) are ready to assist you in becoming a compassionate leader.    

Have you ever had someone say to you, “You are an answer to prayer?” Have you heard those words when you did something helpful with a task or listened when someone had a problem?

I have said the words, “you are an answer to prayer” when someone, unexpectedly, has given me support or encouragement at just the right time.

The Harvest is Plentiful

This week, while reading the few last verses of Matthew 9, I was reminded of a special event in my life. The scripture reads as follows:

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.
(Matthew 9:35-38).

The event took place when I fourteen. I had told my Sunday school teacher and my pastor that I thought God wanted me to be a minister. I think the words I used were, “I think God wants me to be a preacher.”

On the Sunday after I had made my “big” announcement, my pastor stood and told the congregation that God was calling me into ministry. But he said it this way, “God has answered our prayers and has raised up another worker for his harvest, Timmy Bias.”

Send More Laborers

Since that time, this scripture has been special to me. In fact, in response to what my pastor said, I started praying, “Jesus, send more laborers into your harvest.”

When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. I can see it in my imagination. A flock of sheep milling around in a pen. Frightened and confused, stumbling blindly, bumping helplessly into one another, because they don’t know which way to turn.

Can you think of a better description of the day in which we are living? In the midst of this pandemic, we are wandering aimlessly, looking for a leader we can trust.

When Jesus saw the people, he was moved deeply. Out of his compassion he asked his followers to pray, “…ask the Lord of harvest to send out laborers into the harvest.”

Jesus, I pray that you send more laborers into the harvest.

What is your motivation?

The motivation is compassion, and most specifically the compassion you and I have experienced and received in and through Jesus. As much as we need to know and understanding some business principles, we are not a business enterprise. Our motivation is not an impressive bottom line. Our goal is not to enhance institutional pride. Our aim is not to be the biggest and the best.

Our motivation is compassion. There are people outside the walls of your church, people in the community in which your church building is located, who are lonely, confused, hungry, angry, hurting, dying. There are families who are disintegrating, young minds being destroyed by drugs, older people feeling forgotten. The need is almost overwhelming. Truly the harvest is plentiful.

In our scripture, Jesus sees the need and has compassion upon the people. He turns to his followers and says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into the harvest.”

Your Next Step

Take just a moment to name someone in your mind right now. Someone you know who is lonely or homebound or in need of care or a listening ear? It could be someone young or someone trying to find his/her way? It might be someone who is struggling with substance abuser or is a victim of a broken family? Who do you know who is down and out or even up and out? Someone who needs compassion and care. Get that person’s face in your mind and their name on your lips.

Jesus, I pray that you send more laborers into the harvest.

Catherine Marshall, in her book A Closer Walk, tells the story of Mary and Harold. They had moved to Chicago and were alone. Even though they had each other, they had no other friends. They were so lonely; they became irritable and unhappy with each other.

One thing they still did together was to read the bible. One night they read the words of Jesus from John’s gospel, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide” (John 15:16). Somehow the light of that passage penetrated their darkness. They realized that much of their unhappiness was caused by their self-centeredness. They asked themselves, “has Jesus chosen us for some kind of service? And what would it be in a city as big as Chicago?”

The first person they encountered after this discovery was the waitress who served them in a nearby restaurant. She appeared to be frustrated and Mary asked her if she were okay. The waitress said she had just moved to the city and was miserable. Mary and Herold said they would meet her after her shift, and they would be her friends.

A neighbor who was a widower became the second person they befriended. Soon a dozen people were meeting once a week for conversation and prayer. Out of those meetings grew a project called “Adventures in Friendship.” In less than a year, they had people gathering for prayer and conversation and involved in visiting the lonely and homebound in their apartment buildings and neighborhoods.

Mary and Harold became so absorbed in the needs of others that they soon forgot their own troubles. My guess is that they never thought of what they were doing as an answer to prayer. In the name of Jesus, they were simply showing compassion to people in need.

Be An Answer to Prayer this Week

Now, do you have a person in mind? Name on your lips? Someone who needs compassion and care?

Jesus had compassion on the crowd, He said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into the harvest.”

Okay. Jesus, I pray that you send more labors into the harvest.

Will you be an answer to my prayer this week?

How are you doing today? Seriously. How are you feeling? Since you are asked that question, in one form or another, several times a day, it should be an easy question to answer. Yet, it is difficult when you attempt to answer the question honestly.   

Even when you ask the question, you don’t always wait for an answer. If you are honest, you either don’t wait for an answer or you receive a perfunctory answer.  Neither your question nor the answer is offered seriously. So, let me ask again, “How are you feeling today?”  

How are you feeling?

You might deflect your feelings and hide behind figures of speech. When you are asked, “How are you doing?” Or “How are you feeling?” you might say, “On top of the world,” or “If I were any better, there would be two of me,” or “About half,” or “I’m down in the dumps,” or “I’m blue,” the list goes on.

Each statement allows you to evade having to confront, plainly and exactly, what you are feeling. Even though they are creative and descriptive, they often create a distance between your feelings and your words.  Thus, creating a false perception of a relationship. 

Over the past several weeks I have begun to be more aware of my emotions. I am learning that my feelings direct my thinking and if I am not honest with my feelings, I may not be making the best decisions for myself, my family, or for the people entrusted to my care.   

Emotions in Scripture

Feelings are not foreign in the scripture. You do not have to look far in the Bible to see examples of people letting emotions lead them down certain paths. For example, Adam and Eve and their desire to be like God. Cain’s jealousy over God’s favor toward Abel’s sacrifice. Jesus’ anger when he overturned the tables in the temple. 

What about King David and his lust for Bathsheba?  His emotional needs led to the death of Uriah and ultimately to the death of this first child. It was only after David dealt with his selfish actions that he became “a man after God’s own heart.” 

There are stories of strong emotions that led to life-changing decisions for the better. Mordecai’s public display of grief over the plight of his people and Esther’s courage to tell the king of a murderous plot. There were emotions like passion and anger to do good for others. 

Saul of Tarsus, later Paul the Apostle, is an example of how negative emotions of anger and hatred can be transformed into positive emotions of love and leadership. He encouraged early followers of Jesus to live with positive emotions like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control as opposed to negative emotions of jealousy, vengeance, and anger. He encouraged them to be forgiving and to deal with others with the love that Jesus had dealt with them.  

 Identify, Understand, and Express Emotions

We could go on.  The scriptures are filled with stories of how feelings become thoughts which become actions expressed in both negative and positive ways. 

With that in mind, during this stay at home order, you have time to identify and understand your feelings and to express them in positive and appropriate ways.  You also have time to listen to the people with whom you are related, whether they be family or people in the church. As a leader, identifying, understanding, and expressing your feelings are important in developing trust and confidence in your leadership.   

I’m not trying to add anything to your “to do” list, but I am suggesting that you look at your emotional condition. While you are at home these next few days, take time to reflect upon the following: 

  •  Recognize your feelings.

    • Take a moment to stop and to discern your emotional current reality. When you are willing and able to recognize your own feelings, you will be able to recognize, more accurately, the feelings of others. This provides an opportunity to be curious and to listen more honestly.
    • Your world has been turned upside down.  You are stepping into a new normal. You might have feelings of sadness or loss. Even anger or disappointment.  Once you have recognized these feelings within yourself, you will be more able to recognize the emotions in the people entrusted to your care. Your self-awareness will make you a better leader.
  • Understand your feelings.

    • Why do you feel the way you feel? Understanding your emotions is an adventure.  As you begin to understand “why” you feel the way you do, you also learn to understand “why” you react or respond to the feelings of others. This provides the opportunity to become vulnerable and to build trust in your relationships. 
    • Once you begin to understand “why,” you will be able to empathize with the people around you. Through understanding and empathy, you will become a better leader, as well as a better spouse, parent, friend, student, and colleague.
  • Express your feelings.

    • This is where you not only have the courage to be honest, but you begin to express your feelings in healthy and productive ways. It is in the “give and take” of expressing your feelings that relationships are potentially strengthened. 
    • Again, it is important to know yourself.  As you express your feelings you understand that you are stirring up feelings in someone else and vice versa. But the potential of understanding one another is there.  This provides you, as a leader, the opportunity to be sensitive as you listen, share, receive, and respond.
  • Choose one emotion to work on this week. 

    • Write it down and intentionally focus on it. Give yourself permission to name it and to feel it. Ask a friend to partner with you. Then, ask for feedback on your growth. 

You are more the leader God intends for you to be when you are emotionally healthy.

I once heard Mike Tyson say, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” What is true in the boxing ring is true in leadership.  So, along with permission to feel, give yourself permission to fail. When you start recognizing, understanding and expressing your feelings, there will be moments of joy as well as anguish.  When you lash out in anger, take a deep breath, and start again. 

For you to become who God created you to be, you will need to be vulnerable and courageous. You will need to be kind to yourself and apologize when you fall short. The payoff is worth it: better health, better decision making, better relationships, and a better you. 

So, let me ask again, seriously, “How are you feeling?”  I’ll be looking for an answer next time. 

 

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’!

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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God is with Us a Daily Devotional for all God's people Navigating COVID-19

You can do this.

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

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

1. Your Relationships

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

2. Your Personality

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

3. Your Attitude

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

4. Your Experiences

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

5. Your Strengths

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

6. Your Perspective

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

7. Your Passion

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

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

Your Next Step

So, here is what I want you to do. 

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

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

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

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For Such A Time As This

You have everything you need to navigate the COVID-19 crisis. Your relationships, experiences, and education, both formal and informal, are coming together to equip you for such a time as this. Although you might feel ill-equipped, it is your time to step up and out in leading people through this, never-before crisis the world is facing.

Truthfully, that’s the problem.

You have never faced anything like this before.  Your normal routines, how you approach your family, your work, your church, and your community have changed drastically.

Everything Changed, Instantly

If you still have employment, you are working from home. The schools are closed, the children are home, and you don’t know whether to even let them go outside for fresh air. The church as suspended services. The only contact you have with others is at the grocery store, where you can’t find what you need. The situation is so surreal. You can’t help but asking, “Is this really happening?” Yet, there is another part of you that feels you must protect yourself and your family.

When you listen to the press conferences and updates, you are glad there are people making decisions. You just wish it were different decisions being made. In your quiet moments, you are asking yourself, “How long will this continue?” Or, “I wonder if we will go back to life as we knew it before the virus?”

Draw on the Resources You Have

Although I have never faced this kind of crisis, I know the feeling of not knowing exactly what to do. On the morning of September 11, 2001, I had to mobilize staff to lead a congregation and, ultimately, a community in making sense of terrorist attacks. As I was trying to make sense of the tragedy, I had to help people grieve, address rising anxiety, and interpret reality in the swirl of misinformation and fear.

I responded the only way I knew how.  I had to draw upon the resources I had to address the moment. Because of 9/11, I found that I had more strength and resources than I had been using.  I discovered I was equipped to lead through the anxiety and uncertainty because of the relationships, experiences, and education that had shaped my life up to that point.

I am sure you have been equipped to lead for such a time as this. You are living in a new normal. How will step into and lead amid this time of anxiety and uncertainty?

Take One Step

Over the next few days, make one of the following opportunities a part of your work:

  1. Reflect upon what makes you who you are.

    • Who are the people who have impacted your life? What experiences and/or events have shaped your thinking, feeling, and living? What have you learned from relationships, experiences, and education that equips you for this moment?
  2. Claim what you have to offer.

    • In the midst of the limitations you are now facing (working at home, sheltering in place, suspended worship), what do you have to offer? This is your time to be creative. You have had ideas that you have wanted to implement but you haven’t for one reason or another. Is now the time to use those ideas to create something new?
  3. What are your strengths?

    • How do your strengths complement the strengths of family members? How do their strengths complement yours? Now, more than any other time, you can strengthen family relationships and offer the same to the people God has entrusted to you.
  4. Learn to use technology and social media.

    • It is strange that what connects us with people around the world has disconnected us from the people closest to us.  Learn to use technology to reach out and make a connection with the people you lead and serve.  If nothing more than a phone call, text, or email, you are staying connected.  Take a risk and use Zoom or Skype to connect with people you are accustomed to seeing on a regular basis.  Record or live stream worship or bible study. Maybe you can experiment with one or two forms of technology or social media and discuss these questions/opportunities.
  5. Stay present in the moment.

    • You are your best when you are present. If you spend too much time in the past upon what you have lost or what you should have done, you lose yourself in regret.  If you spend too much time longing for the future, wishing for something different, you lose yourself in worry.  Stay in the moment and take one step at a time.  Offer to walk with others who are lost in regret and worry.  Assist them in staying in the moment and stepping into a new day with hope and courage.

You Have Everything You Need

Now, decide which one of these opportunities you will address first. Be intentional.  Invite someone, either a member of the family or a colleague, to journey with you. Make the time to master that one before moving to another.

By the time you have completed the list, you will discover the strengths and resources that you didn’t know you had.  Those strengths and resources are exactly what is needed to navigate the anxiety and uncertainly of these days.

You have everything you need to lead for such a time as this.

Know that you can reach out to Sara Thomas or to me (Tim Bias) for assistance or direction.  Here are a few things that you might find helpful. Again, expect to hear from us regularly as we navigate this season on ministry.

Sign Up for the Daily Devotional, “God is With Us”

God is with Us a Daily Devotional for all God's people Navigating COVID-19

 

From the time you enter this world on the day you are born, you are growing in one form or another. From infancy through toddlerhood and eventually, to adolescence, you hear announcements like, “You are growing so fast” or “You have grown so much I didn’t recognize you.” From weight and height numbers recorded in “baby’s first book” to measurement marks on the door facing, you have evidence that you are growing. 

Then from adolescence into your young adult years, you experience moments, even years, of maturing. Whether physically, emotionally, or mentally, you can look back and see how much you have matured in stature, in knowledge, and in self-reliance. Through the moments of embarrassment, you want to forget, to the experiences of self-confidence you want to capture, you have evidence that you are maturing.

Interwoven into the fabric of your living, are experiences of being at one with God and creation. At times you recognize those experiences as growing spiritually, other times you articulate them as growing in faith, and still, at other times you are at peace with God and the people around you. These experiences are evidence that you are becoming who you have been created to be.

The Human Experience

Growing and maturing is part of your human experience. Yet when it comes to becoming more who God created you to be, sometimes you live as if you have arrived at a special place where your life and the world around you does not and should not change.

 You anchor your identity in special issues or beliefs and when those issues or beliefs are challenged there is no room for growth. Even to love the people who are challenging your life forming beliefs or tightly held positions is beyond open conversation and the possibility of transformation. Personal growth and emotional maturity are set aside as you draw a line in the sand, plant your stake in the ground, and refuse to interact with the people who hold different beliefs and opinions. 

Becoming Like Christ

For me, most of my growing and maturing has come with pain and discomfort because I had to change to live into the likeness of Christ. As one example, when I first became a Jesus follower, it was all about me being a good Christian. It was about me being saved, doing the right things, and believing the right beliefs.

As I have encountered Jesus in and through the people I have met over the years, I am grown to understand that being a Jesus follower means I am either a Christian or I am not a Christian. It is about my relationship with others, developing a sensitivity to people, and sharing life’s joys and hurts with people.

I have grown to understand I can only be who God created me to be when I am in a relationship with the people around me and that I can only know the joy of Jesus when I know the sorrow of Jesus.

Are You Growing?

That leads me to this question: how do you know you are growing in Christ? As a Jesus follower, what evidence is there that you have your eyes on Jesus and that you are maturing into a who God created you to be?

When I stop and reflect on these questions, Paul’s letter to the Philippians comes to mind. What I remember is this:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:5-11

The characteristics of Jesus’ life were humility, obedience, and self-giving. He did not desire to dominate but to serve. Jesus did not desire his own way but God’s way. He did not desire to exalt himself but to give himself for the glory of God and the goodness of the people around him.

Love So Amazing

So, to grow into the likeness of Christ means that you will exhibit humility, obedience, and self-giving in your ordinary daily living. Here are some things to remember.

  1. Jesus won your heart not by blasting you with power, but by showing you a love which moved your heart. My guess is, you did not say, “I cannot resist such power,” but you did say, “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all.” I bet you did not say, “I have been beaten to surrender.” But you did say, “I am lost in wonder, love, and praise.” It is not the might of Christ which reduces you to a defeated surrender; it is the amazing love of Christ before whom you kneel in transforming wonder. 

2. Growing and maturing is part of your human experience. So, imagine yourself growing into the likeness of Christ. The one aim of Jesus was to serve others, no matter what the cost of self-giving love. Jesus focused his eyes upon glorifying God. So, as a follower of Jesus, imagine yourself, not thinking of yourself but of others, not of your own glory but of the glory of God.

Can you see yourself with the same mind that was in Christ Jesus? 

Make Me Like Jesus

Let me tell you about Joe. Joe was known as a hopeless, dirty, drunk for whom there was little hope. Sleeping in the back alleys of the inner city, he was alone, known only as an alcoholic and a drug user. 

One night, trying to keep dry at the Salvation Army shelter during a heavy rainstorm, Joe met Jesus. Everything changed for him that night. He became the most caring person that anyone at the shelter had ever known. He spent his days and nights doing whatever needed to be done. Whether it was cleaning up the remnants left by a sick alcoholic or scrubbing the toilets in the men’s room, or offering words of encouragement to a person in detox, there was never a task that was too low or a person he considered beneath him. 

Joe greeted everyone with a soft smile. He was grateful for the chance to help. Joe could be counted on to feed the hurting and broken men who wandered in off the streets. He was known to tuck them into bed when they were too out of it to take care of themselves. 

Is Jesus Like Joe?

One evening, the shelter chaplain was delivering his nightly sermon to the usual crowd. Most people present were simply waiting for the sermon to be over so that they could eat the evening meal. 

At the end of the sermon, an invitation was given. One man came down the aisle to the altar. He knelt there and began crying for God to help him change. He cried out, “Oh God! Make me like Joe! Make me like Joe! Please, O God, make me like Joe.” 

The chaplain knelt beside him to assist him. He leaned over and said to him, “You know, I think it would be better if you prayed, “Make me like Jesus!” 

The man looked up at the chaplain and said, “Why? Is Jesus like Joe?” 

Who Does Jesus Look Like?

Does Jesus look like Joe? Or does Jesus look like Tim? Does Jesus look like Sara or Amy, Dennis or Greg, Karen or Bill, or does Jesus look like you? For people who don’t know Jesus or know about him, they will be looking at you. “Who does Jesus look like?” If they are going to know Jesus or anything about him, it will be through someone they already know, someone they recognize, someone who is familiar, someone who bears the likeness of Jesus, someone like you. 

Can you see yourself growing into the likeness of Christ for the sake of the people around you? 

Your Turn

Over the next week, respond to these questions with your actions.

1. How will your actions show Jesus?

Where will you show mercy? In our day, mercy seems to be rare. When people sense it, it always seems to be extraordinary. Whenever you show mercy, you show Jesus. To grow into the likeness of Jesus is to engage in acts of mercy. Where will you show mercy this week?

2. How will your words show Jesus?

What message will you share? Dorothy Day said, “If I have achieved anything in my life, it is because I have not been embarrassed to talk about God.” Take a minute to write down five things you want to say out loud about Jesus. Now, have a conversation with your spouse, your children, your parents, your best friend. Tell each of them about who Jesus is in your life. Ask each of them to help you grow into the likeness of Jesus so that when you speak, your words show Jesus. What message will you share this week?

3. How will your relationships show Jesus?

With whom will you express God’s love? The love you experience in and through Jesus keeps you in a relationship with the people around you. This Christlike love knows no bitterness and always seeks the good of others. It may reside in your heart, but it does not originate in your heart. God’s love is given to you so you have the Christlike ability to love the unlovely and the unlovable. The love of God is given to you because you will need it to love those who do not love you. It is the very essence of the life of a Jesus follower. It is what makes a lasting impact on the lives of people God loves through you. With whom will you express God’s love this week? 

What one step will you take to grow into the likeness of Christ? As a Jesus follower, you have this strange and wonderful authority from God to be Christ for others, to be the very presence and love of God. You will not always see it. But, God’s grace is shown and known in your acts of mercy, in your words of kindness, and in your friendships. God’s love, when fully realized, leaves a lasting impact on who you are and what you do. 

What evidence in your life shows you are growing into the likeness of Christ? If you are not growing in pointing people to Jesus, then what is the point of your life? 

There is in most of us a deep uncertainty and tension about change.  On one hand, you want to grow, develop, and expand. Even when it brings anxiety, you may like some level of adventure.  Growing is a part of who you are. The idea of becoming more than you are is exciting.

On the other hand, you recoil at the change.  There is fearful anxiety of the unknown.  What will the “not-yet-experienced” be like? Then, when someone or something even suggests that you change, you defend yourself, dig in, and protect who you are.

Then there is the tendency to do nothing.  You just don’t want to make the effort to adjust to what change means or calls forth?

These are some of the inner challenges you face as you change and grow. That is why I ask the question: Do you want to grow? As a Jesus follower, do you want to become who God has created you to be?

Are you willing?

If you have been baptized, I assume that you have said, at least symbolically, “I want to grow” or “I am ready to grow.” Because with baptism, you respond to God’s invitation to grow into who God has created you to be. So, you have a desire to grow.  That is what you bring to growth, your desire, your willingness, your response to God’s invitation.

You know, that really is all you bring to the process of growth: your willingness or unwillingness.  You are created so that you can choose to either grow toward God’s dream for you or to set yourself against the tide and refuse it.  If you want to grow, there is no end to what you can become. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “But this is precisely what is written: God has prepared things for those who love him that no eye has seen, or ear has heard, or that haven’t crossed the mind of any human being.” (I Corinthians 2:9) But if that desire does not exist, because it has been choked out by fear or pride or shame or resistance, not even the God who made heaven and earth is willing to force it upon you.

Questions from Jesus

Do you remember the story of Jesus walking beside the pool of Bethesda?  There were sick people gathered by the pool.  The tradition was that when the waters stirred an angel was nearby and the first person to get into the pool would be healed of his/her affliction.  People came from all around with the hope of being healed.  As Jesus moved through the gathering of sick people, his attention was drawn to one man who had been lying there for thirty-eight years.  Jesus went over to him asked, “Do you want to be healed?”

On the surface that sounds like a ridiculous question.  That man had been waiting for thirty-eight years. Of course, he wants to be healed. Yet Jesus was aware that change is never simple. Have you read the story?  The man’s response reveals his uncertainty and tension regarding change.  He begins to make excuses and shifts the blame to other people.  He says, “The problem is, I have no one to help me into the pool. When the water bubbles, someone else always gets in ahead of me.”

Jesus’ Persistence

Notice that Jesus does not let him sidestep the issue.   Jesus asks him again, “Do you want to be healed?”  I can imagine the conversation going like this, “Man, the real issue is your willingness to be healed. Have you become so accustomed to this life of lying here and blaming others that you really don’t want to change? After all, there are benefits to being sick. No one expects anything of you.  You don’t have to work.  You don’t have to face the pressures of being active. You don’t have to do anything any different than what you have been doing.

Truthfully, would you really accept the help if it were offered?  You would have to become vulnerable enough to acknowledge you need help and then accept it. You must swallow pride and shame and a sense of self-sufficiency.  So, I am asking you the real question. Here and now, do you want to be healed?”

The Answer

For the first time in thirty-eight years, the real issue was spelled out for the man.  He could no longer evade it or blame it on someone else.  So, when confronted by Jesus, the man dared to say, “Yes, I want to change.”  Immediately the process of healing began.  A thirty-eight-year cycle was broken, and a new way of living began to take shape.  He began to take responsibility for carrying his own load rather than being carried.

Sure, there were pains in this new life. Significant change brings both gain and loss. But, look at the new possibilities available to the man. Once he made the decision to grow, to change, he had a whole new world before him.  It is the same for you when you are willing to become vulnerable by stepping out in courage to brave the new reality. The good news is, it is never too late to start growing again. You are never too old to start. If after thirty-eight years of immobility this man could begin to move again, why can’t you?

Your Turn

Do you want to grow? As a Jesus follower, are you willing to do what it takes to become who God has created you to be? If so, then here is what you need to do:

  1. Name four trusted friends with whom you are willing to become vulnerable.
  2. Through prayer and reflection, focus upon who God has created you to be. Test your desires with your friends.
  3. Trust your friends to name what must be addressed for you to step out in courage to brave your new reality?
  4. What one thing will you do, today, to step into that new reality?
  5. Now, with the love, care, and encouragement of your friends, step out in faith to live the life God created for you.

Do you want to grow? If you do, then the sky is the limit.

God is “able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us…” Ephesians 3:20.

There is nothing more basic than the desire to grow. If the desire is present in your life, no number of obstacles can keep God from finishing that which God has begun.  If the desire is not present, then not even our great creator God can make God’s dream come true.

Do you want to grow?  Then, in the name of Jesus, get started!