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When was the last time you were excited about your next meeting? Or you had members of your board excited about anything? Most of us think of meetings as necessary to get to what we want to accomplish. So, they become necessary hoops through which we jump to make progress or to succeed.

Too often, our meetings become energy-draining and monotonous.

Recent research conducted by Harvard University found that when leaders focus on building relationships, they create conditions that lead to higher levels of commitment as well as increased accountability, hope, and satisfaction.

In building relationships, you know that people are your business. Even though you have finance meetings, programs to develop, and buildings to maintain, your focus is upon people. With that in mind, relational leaders make a shift from administering procedures to ministering to people.

Let Go of Business as Usual

Think of it this way. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus asks his listeners, “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone?” (Matthew 7:9).  The people entrusted to your care are asking for bread. They are looking to you for trust, compassion, stability, and hope. They are looking to you to provide opportunities to grow in their faith. Too often what they find are invitations to attend meetings. 

Long parliamentary-ordered business-as-usual meetings. 

As a relational leader, it might be time to make a shift.

Make a Shift

So, take a moment to think about it. In what area can you make a shift? Just as an example, let’s take business meetings. How could you shift the focus of most meetings from procedure to people?

Let’s do it together. When people are your focus, everything you do, as a leader, is to assist the people entrusted to your care to become who God created them to be. 

So, shift your thinking and your action.

Let’s continue with our example of business meetings. Meetings are important and necessary. But I have always thought of meetings as a means to an end and not an end in themselves. So, how do you use what you have, meetings, to develop relationships, and to assist people to thrive with the gifts, talents, and strengths they have?

Stone-like or Bread-like?

Let’s start with the current reality. Too many meetings are “stone-like” meetings. They do not take into consideration the needs or aspirations of the people attending. 

They are repetitious, incomplete, and opinion-oriented. There is a rush to judgment, with decisions being made with inadequate information, little reflection time, and no prayerful discernment. Too many meetings are cut and dried, with the real decisions having already been made. 

The people involved feel like they have little power to act or lead. At best, they feel used and powerless. At worse, they feel marginalized and useless. I am sure my assessment is a little harsh, but you get the point.

Have your goal in mind. Shift the culture of the meetings from “stonelike” to “bread-like.” Bread like meetings are focused upon images of God and the people of God in relationship with one another. Provide time to prayerfully discern God’s leading and call. Integrate inspiration with procedure so the meeting will feel more like “worship” than “meeting.”

Offer Bread 

How do you get to your goal? The following four practices will assist you in shifting from offering stones to providing bread in your meetings.  Build your agenda around these four areas. They are not in any particular order and they don’t require the same amount of time.  Sometimes one practice might be more appropriate than at other times.  What is important is, you are focusing on the faith development of the people involved.

1. Stories or Story Telling

As you get started in the meeting, ask the people attending to share with one or two people where they have experienced God over the past 24 hours, the past week, or since the last meeting. Take time to acknowledge each story and pray for the person sharing. This will help people become more aware and sensitive to God’s presence in everyday and ordinary situations and circumstances. This also gives people the opportunity to share openly and freely about their experiences of Jesus and of God.

2. Reflection or Bible Study

Before the meeting, designate someone to read scripture and to make a comment upon it. The stories from scripture, when interwoven with the lives and stories of the people, produce a spiritual center and a missional focus. This provides an opportunity to reflect and discuss scripture without having a formal bible study.  This also provides a safe place for people to share openly and freely their images of God and of God’s love.

3. Decisions or Prayerful discernment

Just as you take time to pray for one another and for the concerns of one another, take the time to prayerfully discern the decisions to be made. Use a spiritual eye rather than a rational or deductive process. This brings prayer to the center of the meeting.  This also creates the understanding that decisions made by the group, on behalf of the community, are important. Everyone is affected by the decision.

4. Future Planning or Visioning

This provides an opportunity to look ahead, to anticipate the fulfillment of trends as well as the intervention of God.  Given the reality that a board can make only a few good decisions in a year, ask the question, “What is the most important decision that we have to make this year?” Pick two or three major decisions and develop a process for consideration that includes good communication, lead time, and prayer. 

Stories, Reflection, Decisions, and Planning

It takes a little time and not everyone will like the shifts, but given time, people will begin to experience that the agenda of each meeting is grouped into stories, reflections, decisions, and planning.  As the leader, you have shifted energy-draining meetings into faith development experiences. You begin to offer bread to all who are asking for bread. 

So, what one thing will you do to begin to make the shift from “stonelike” to “bread-like” meetings? Will you have a conversation with several trusted leaders? Or maybe, you will pray and seek a plan for making the shift? Will you share this blog with friends to gain new insight and direction?

I’m sure some of you will take a step in becoming a better relational leader.  I am also sure that some of you will smile and say the district superintendent doesn’t know my people or my context. You will be right about your superintendent, but not about yourself as a relational leader. 

This week, what one thing will you do to make the shift in your life to become a relational leader? What one thing will you do to improve your relationships? 

Please know you are not alone. Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader. 

Check out LeaderCast. On the podcast this month, Sara and I are talking with leaders about relationships. Last week we talked about the four spaces you need to nurture relationships. This week, our conversation with Amy Graham focuses on nurturing the gifts God’s given you and others and what it can look like to be a relational leader. 

This is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the challenges of 2021. Remember, who you are is how you lead. Let’s face what is coming together.

Over the past several weeks you have been navigating the waters of conflicting values. Whether it has been the civil and political unrest, the numbers of people dying from COVID-19, or the displays of racism and white supremacy, the conflicts keep coming as angry waves in the midst of a storm. 

At best it is surreal and overwhelming.  At worst it is numbing and paralyzing.           

How do you care for people and lead during such upheaval and conflict? To answer that question, you must be clear regarding your values. 

Who you are is how you lead. 

Differentiate Yourself as a Jesus Follower

As a follower of Jesus, how do you differentiate yourself when you encounter people of different values?  To care for and lead the people entrusted to your care, you must know your values. Last week I asked you to look deep within to discover what values motivate you. 

To care for and lead the people entrusted to your care, you must be honest about your current reality. Last week I asked you to make an honest assessment of your current reality. To navigate the waters of conflicting values, you need to know yourself and know your context. This is where we stopped last week. 

So, let’s continue with naming another part of current reality. 

Know current reality. Be truthful about your context. 

Prolonged hatred leads to dehumanization. 

Dehumanization is the act of seeing a person as inferior, uncivilized, or less than human. This happens when feelings of hatred developed toward an individual become redirected toward the entire group that person belongs to.

When you see others as less than human, you rationalize violence, cruelty, and hate by comparing persons to animals. Individuals who would never murder another person find it easy to kill a “subhuman” enemy. Especially when you can shoot first and ask questions later.

When someone says “Black Lives Matter,” if you immediately want to dismiss it because you feel you are being left out or, even worse, you are elevating black persons to the same level you are, pause and check yourself.

What happened to “loving one another as I have loved you”? If you say, “Oh, that doesn’t mean everyone, only humans.” Once again, check yourself. Remember, who you are is how you lead.

Harboring Hate, Feeling Powerless

Hatred leads to a desire for revenge or to take action against a perceived threat. Some people harbor hatred for others, become energized by it, and express it through violent acts. 

I have learned that such people feel powerless. 

Rather than facing their anxiety they project it negatively upon another person or group of persons. They attach themselves to someone who they perceive has power.  Then, all in the name of power, they blindly follow the dictates of that person. To say that hatred can have you do some crazy things is an understatement.

There is little self-awareness, vulnerability, or empathy. This is the one big mistake that people motivated by hatred make. 

The power is not in strength. The power is in vulnerability.  

After all, it is the vulnerable act of Jesus dying on a cross that saves us. The power is in the new life brought about through vulnerability. Who you are is how you lead. 

Know where you are going. 

This is your mission or goal. For the sake of this article:

  • Create, equip, and resource a community of Jesus followers where radical love is practiced in acts of kindness and compassion; a community of relationships where love transcends cultural and racial division. When talking about such community and relationships, G.K. Chesterton put it this way, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” 
  • Create, equip, and resources a community of Jesus followers where poverty, hunger, and homelessness will not be tolerated; where racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry, and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of relationships to all people; where love and trust will be vulnerable in the midst of fear and hatred; and where there will be peaceful conflict resolution and reconciliation of adversaries.

Dr. Martin Luther King said it this way, “The end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opponents into friends. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men (people).” 

That sounds like a lofty goal, but it is the description of the kingdom of God. Isn’t God’s love our goal? Know your values, be honest about your context, and lead people toward the goal. 

A Few Reminders

Be vulnerable.

You have a right to protect yourself and your family. You don’t have the right to take human life. As a citizen of this country, you can stand your ground. As a citizen of the human race, you do not have the right to take a human life. Who you are is how you lead.

Develop self-control

Don’t use hurtful harmful words but helpful words, the kind that build-up and do good to those who hear them. It matters what you say and how you say it. What is on the inside will find its way to the outside. Who you are is how you lead.

Be generous

As a leader, you will encounter people who disagree with you, who disappoint you, and who say one thing and do another. Be generous in your response to persons. Considering the situation. Are they doing the best they can? How can you assist persons in becoming who they were created to be? Who you are is how you lead.

Show care

As difficult as it is, love the people around you as you have been loved. Be creative and commit yourself to be a model of unselfish compassion and service. Who you are is how you lead. 

I’ll have more to say about the above themes next week. Until then, reflect on what I’ve shared above. Know that each theme has boundaries. Knowing who you are is about defining expectations. I’ve outlined some expectations of Christian leaders in this two-part series. Next week, I’ll share more about boundaries.  

An Invitation

Please know you are not alone. Sara Thomas and I are with you in your leadership journey. If these expectations leave you recognizing you need support to lead in this way, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. We are ready to come alongside you as you deepen your understanding of courageous, faithful leadership.

Another place to begin is by listening to the LeaderCast podcast.

This month, Sara and I are talking with leaders about purpose. (See Episodes 159, 160, 161 and next week, episode 162). This is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the challenges of 2021. 

Remember, who you are is how you lead. Let’s face what is coming together.

When you think about leadership, what comes to mind? Trust? Compassion? Stability? Hope? Honestly, when I think of leadership, I think of you.

Over the past several months, you have discovered new ways of leading. Through the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, you have led people through protocols, live streaming, and Zoom meetings. You have learned to depend more and more upon the strengths and gifts of the people entrusted to your care. Whether you have liked it or not, you have done your best to respond with grace and compassion. 

Through the causes of the racial pandemic, you have learned more about the situations and circumstances of racist ideas and policies. You have discovered how these ideas and policies are intertwined with the systems and actions of everyday living. As painful as it is to confront the truth of racism, you have found your voice. You now yearn to speak up in the places you have been silent.   

Even in the midst of a political climate that is divisive, you have listened to opposing ideas, helped to keep people informed, and assisted in bringing people together. As time-consuming as it has been, you have worked to put your prayers into action, bringing hope and stability in the midst of complex and passionate conversations. You are to be commended. Thanks! 

The Most Important Characteristic of Leaders

As a leader, you have been a compassionate presence of stability as you have developed trust and offered hope. Trust, compassion, stability, and hope are the characteristics people look for in their leaders. 

These characteristics are, without a doubt, fundamental to good leadership. But there is one characteristic that is sometimes missing. I believe that the most important characteristic of leadership, especially in the times we are now living, is love. 

Yes, love. 

Love in Leadership

Now, I’m not talking about warm and fuzzy feelings centered on romance or friendship. Both romance and friendship are extremely important, but the kind of love I’m referring to is not centered on feelings. 

It is centered in action. It takes others seriously. It makes a place for relationships with people with whom we disagree. It is vulnerable and empathetic.  It listens without agendas and it works for the good of others even in the midst of misunderstanding. It provides a caring and safe place for people to become who God has created them to be. 

Love in Scripture

Paul described this love in his letter to the Corinthians: 

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now, we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

-1 Corinthians 13 

Who is the Focus of Love?

These words are rooted in God’s action on our behalf.  The problem is, we have made love more about ourselves than about God’s action and more about our preferences than the people given to us to love. 

We have limited the use of love by making it more about sentimentality, pushing it in the direction of weddings, babies, family, and friends. Each is important, but this is not the love referred to by Paul.  When he wrote those words, he wasn’t at a wedding. Although his advice would be good for a couple of young lovers, he was not writing a romantic road map. He was upset. 

Paul’s Reminder on Love

He wrote those words in a letter to the Christians in a little Greek seaport in the middle of the first century. He had started the congregation there around the teachings of Jesus, and now he was hearing stories of bickering, broken relationships, and bad behavior. The members of the church had forgotten the values that he had brought to them. 

They were fighting, splitting into factions according to who baptized them. They were suing each other. Sleeping with each other’s spouses. Some of them were demanding special treatment regarding Holy Communion, while others were just getting drunk at fellowship dinners. Paul wrote this letter and sent it into the midst of their dysfunction. He wrote emphasizing the characteristics and actions of love. 

Echoes of Paul’s Frustrations

When you listen closely, you hear some of the same sounds in our world today. The sounds are coming from political leaders, as well as some people in our congregations. Sometimes it even sounds like the conversations around the Thanksgiving dinner table. The very situation that moved Paul to write to the church in Corinth sounds a lot like many of the situations and circumstances in which you have been leading. 

Paul wrote because the Christians in Corinth had forgotten that at the center of being a follower of Jesus is love. Paul offered them the only way he knew to redeem the mess they had gotten into. They had stopped loving one another, so he wrote about leading with love. 

To Lead with Love is to…

1. Know the love Paul is describing. 

Most languages have several words that capture the different dimensions of love. In the language of the New Testament, there are three frequently used words to describe love: Eros, philia, and agape. Eros is romantic or sexual love. Our English word erotic comes from Eros. This was not the word used by Paul in his letter. Philia is fraternal, brotherly, or family love. The city of Philadelphia is called the City of Brotherly Love. As good as it is, this is not the word used by Paul in his letter. Finally, there is agape, which is love for others beyond ourselves. It is a sacrificial love that seeks the good and well-being of others, whether family, friend, stranger or enemy. This is the word used by Paul. 

2. Live with a firm commitment to act for the well-being of others.

It can be personal or political, individual or communal, intimate, or public. But it will never be segregated or shaped by personal preference. Because agape is rooted in God’s dream for each of us and for all creation, it is experienced and expressed in acts of care and compassion. Because its source is Jesus, it is the love that holds us together in the midst of disagreements, conflicts, and turmoil as well as the love that transforms us into the people God has created us to be.   

3. Model a life of humility.

You are patient and kind; not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. You are not concerned about getting your way but are working to make a way for everyone. You are not irritable or resentful. You rejoice in the truth. You are authentic and transparent. You are focused upon people, listening for the purpose of developing relationships, without pushing agendas.

4. Help others stay grounded in the midst of the chaos that has invaded lives today. 

It is to stay decent in indecent times. When selfishness excludes, love makes room and includes.  When selfishness puts down, love lifts up. When selfishness hurts and harms, love helps and heals.  When selfishness enslaves, love sets free and liberates. 

Lead with Love

You might lead through a pandemic, keeping people safe and healthy, but if you don’t lead with love, you do nothing more than irritate the people entrusted to your care. 

You might find your voice to speak up in advocacy of others, but if you don’t lead with love, you create more racism and participate unknowingly in the ideas and policies that perpetuate discrimination.   

You might know the qualities of trust, compassion, stability, and hope, but if you don’t lead with love, you have missed the point of becoming who you were created to be. 

Lead with love. It will not be easy but you will get stronger with practice. 

When Sara Thomas or I can be of encouragement or help to you, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. Sara and I are ready to assist you in becoming the leader you are created to be. Don’t hesitate to call upon us as we seek to assist you in deepening your relationship with Christ, the church, and your community

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. 

You have what it takes to be a leader! Facing the reality of the pandemic, you continue to stepping in, create strategies, and lead. You are engaging the people entrusted to your care in new ways of being and doing, and you are using your God-given talents, what you have learned, and the resources on hand to get face what you feel you are not equipped to do. 

Let me remind you what I have seen over the past several months. I have seen you as:

A compassionate leader. 

You are providing for the well-being of the people you are leading. It has not always been easy, but you are nurturing them to their full potential. You are intentionally developing authentic relationships for the purpose of helping people become who they were created to be. 

A hope-filled leader. 

You are holding before the people a picture of what is next. You’re empowering them to look beyond the darkness of today’s challenges and to see the light, God’s light, shining brightly upon a new day. You are leading them toward the future, adjusting and adapting to the changing landscape.  

A stabilizing leader. 

You are modeling integrity and consistency. You are addressing the fears of the people by leading with confidence and humility.  With competence, you are helping people name and understand the challenges of the future. You are using insight and wisdom from past experiences to show people how they can and will be part of the future.  

Leading with Self-Doubt

You have what it takes to be a leader, yet you are filled with self-doubt.  Because this is not what you were trained to, you are feeling tentative and a bit insecure. And because you don’t feel you are living up to expectations, you are lonely and somewhat isolated. This is not what you envisioned ministry to be and, at the very least, what you would be doing.  

What Do You Have Left?

I recently read a story of Itzhak Perlman. At age 75, he is known as one of the finest violists of our time. You might already know that as a child, he contracted polio. Today, he wears braces on both legs, and walks with the aid of two crutches.

Several years ago, while he was playing at the Lincoln Center in Washington, D.C., one of his violin strings broke. A gasp could be heard throughout the Center. The conductor as well as the audience knew that it is impossible to play a symphonic work with just three strings. But Perlman refused to stop and signaled the conductor to continue.

People reported that they could see him changing and recomposing the piece in his head. When he finished, there was absolute silence in the room.  And then, the audience and the orchestra jumped to their feet, cheering and applauding. They had experienced an artist at work, and they were appreciative.

Perlman smiled, wiped the sweat from his brow, and raised his bow to quiet the audience.  And then he said, You know, sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.”

You Are Gifted to Lead

You have been created and gifted to lead for this very time and place in history. If I may continue with this metaphor, God has put this incredible score in front of you. It is a masterpiece titled “Your Life.” You have what it takes to be a leader. Sometimes you feel a few strings short, but how much music can you make with what you have left?  If God has gifted you, what are doing with what you have been given?  

What Will You Do With What You’ve Been Given?

In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus tells of three servants who are given responsibility for the master’s property. Each is given a different responsibility. In other words, no one was given a complete set of strings.

When the master returned, two of the servants said, “We played the best we could with what we had.” The master says, “Well done, good and faithful servants, you’ve been faithful in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”

The third servant, who had convinced himself that he was “just a one string fiddler,” said to the master, “Look! I didn’t break any more strings.”

The problem is the music doesn’t depend on what you have. The music depends on what you do with what you have. And if you do nothing…?

Use your Gifts

God has gifted you and wants you to use your gifts, talents, strengths to lead God’s people through the confusion and chaos of the days in which we live. You have what it takes to lead.

Even though you might not in the best situation or have a lot of resources. Even though the work might be hard and exhausting, and the people are unkind and hurtful, you are gifted for this time. The question is “what will you do with what you have been given?”

As a leader, gifted for this time, focus upon the following:  

1. Mission

Regardless of the situation or the circumstances, the mission remains the same. With the mission in mind, lead with conviction. Be clear about where you are going. When you are clear regarding your direction, you can focus upon the people entrusted to your care. It is your focus that helps instill confidence and brings stability.  

2. Opportunity

Now is the time to deepen your relationship with God and to understand yourself. When you are in tune with God and with yourself, you can touch people in beautiful ways.

Let’s use one more violin illustration. A violin is a musical instrument that is both sensitive and strong.  It is sensitive in that it is affected by the slightest touch, and it is strong because its strings can withstand a good deal of pressure  A violin must be continually and properly tuned to be played well, for if it is not, even the finest violinist cannot call forth beautiful music from it. It is when you are in tune with yourself that God makes the greatest music.   

3. People

Build relationships with the people entrusted to your care. Be genuinely interested in them. Help them to discover how God has gifted them. As you develop your relationships, you will create a healthy environment of trust where everyone is supported, encouraged, and celebrated. I know you don’t have to be reminded, but you are in the people business. The best out who and what you have.

4. Being generous

Extend the most generous interpretation possible to the intentions, words, and actions of others. Assume the best of others. Give them the benefit of the doubt. When you are generous with others, they will be generous with you.

When in doubt, seek to understand and be slow to judge. Remember, people can only act upon what they know. Don’t hold them responsible for what they don’t know.

Brene Brown writes, “Our relationship is only trusting if you can assume the most generous thing about my words, intentions, and behaviors and then check in with me.” Be generous. Assume people are doing the best they can with what they know. 

5. Navigating the challenges

With your eyes on the mission, deepening your relationship with God, focusing upon the gifts of others, and being generous with those who seem slow coming around, move forward with confidence and grace.

Adapt to unexpected changes, face the unanticipated obstacles, and depend upon the strengths and gifts of others to follow through to reach the goal. Because you have developed your relationships upon trust and credibility, you have what is needed to complete the journey.

Your Next Step

In the words of Perlman, “Sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.” You have everything needed to make the impact people want and need in their lives and in the world. So, what are you going to do about it?

Take a moment to think of the people entrusted to your care. Every day this week, get one or two of them in mind and ask yourself “What is one thing I can do today to let this person know how much I appreciate being their leader?

When you start sharing your appreciation, listen closely. You will begin to hear that you have what it takes to be a leader. 

When you need and want help, contact us at connect@transformingmission.org. Sara Thomas and I (Tim Bias) are ready to assist you in becoming the leader you are created to be. We will assist you in deepening your relationship with Christ, the church, and your community.

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.

3. Vulnerability

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.

5. Generosity

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.

“If you think it and feel it, act on it.”

Is that reckless or compassionate?

Before you answer, let me ask you a few more questions.

  • Are you now working from home?
  • Are your kids home from school?
  • Have your events been canceled?
  • Has your schedule changed?
  • Are the normal rhythms of life disrupted?
  • Are you worried about someone because of pre-existing health conditions?

It’s likely you said yes to one of those questions.

Maintain & Nurture Relationships

Social distancing is different from relational disconnection. We need one another.

Yes, you need to do your part to flatten the curve. I do too. I hope you already are doing it. So that, together, our healthcare system and workers are not pushed to the brink. Yes, you also need to wash your hands (didn’t your momma teach you that anyway?) ?

You and I are wired for connection. Remember that. Be intentional about nurturing relationships.

Sure, things may look different for a few weeks.

If you think it and feel it, act on it

And that is where “if you think it and feel it, act on it” comes in.

Maintaining relationships with people you won’t see on a weekly or daily basis takes intentionality.

People are now working from home for the first time, many with children also in their midst, and trying to help individuals stay connected, motivated, and not isolated is going to stretch us all – it already has.

At a very basic level “think it and feel it, act on it” is about simply caring for one another.

I’ve already witnessed the kindness and compassion of people and the greed of people. I plan to nurture the compassionate part. Because whatever unfolds in the coming weeks, we can help one another through it.

So “if you think it and feel it, act on it”

Let’s Get Practical

  • When you think about a neighbor, check in on them.
  • If you noticed something off on that zoom call about a co-worker, follow-up.
  • When anxiety starts to show up, reach out to someone you love & talk about it.

You get the idea.

Take a Step Today

So here’s my “thinking it, feeling it, acting on it” for today:

Put down your phone.
Turn off the tv.
None of us need 12-18 hours of news or social media.

  • Forgotten what to do without your phone?
  • Go for a walk.
  • Organize your closets.
  • Bake some cookies.
  • Read a book.
  • Play a game.
  • Create something.
  • Make a pie. (It’s Pi day ?)
  • Do something that refuels your soul.
  • And at some point in the day…check in on someone you care about.

This has been one crazy week! ❤

And, yes, I’m also writing this to remind myself. Already made blueberry muffins this morning. A walk before the rain (make that snow) comes is next (I hope!)

Happy Saturday, y’all!
You are loved ❤

 

Originally published at https://www.sarathomas.net/if-you-think-it-feel-it-act-on-it/