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How are you doing this week? Has anyone told you that you are doing a great job? Even though I can imagine that you don’t feel that you are, I want to assure you that God has not abandoned you.

The people entrusted to your love and care are looking to you for connection. Those with whom you live, work, and see from a distance on Zoom, or some other form of social media, are looking to you, as their leader, to keep them connected to one another and to God.  

Please understand, I’m not trying to put more on you.  I am stating a fact.  You were created to lead through an unprecedented worldwide health crisis. 

Navigating Uncharted Territory

With no warning, you have altered the way you do just about everything. You have watched more than one black man be murdered in the street. You have learned of levels of racism that you never dreamed afflicted your family, your friendships, or your leadership. As you have tried to make sense of it all, you have done it without a single hug or needed affirmation.  

Although you hear me say that you were created to lead in such a time as this, you don’t feel equipped for this. You feel overmatched and overwhelmed. And at best, you feel disconnected from the community that has shaped, formed, and affirmed your identity. 

From where I stand, I think you have done a fantastic job navigating uncharted territories. As you have met the challenge, you have become who God created you to be. I want to affirm your leadership by reminding you, that as a follower of Jesus, your leadership is rooted in your relationship to God and to the people entrusted to your care. 

Jesus’ Teaching

From the perspective of Matthew, the first followers of Jesus were to teach others to obey everything Jesus had taught them (Matthew 28:20) with the assurance that Jesus would be with them. The question is “What had they been taught?” 

From Matthew’s perspective, God sent Jesus to teach us how to live before God or how to live a holy life.  For Matthew, at the heart of holy or righteous living was relationship. The words “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” is what Matthew wants us to know about living in relationship with all the people around us. Being in relationship with God and with one another is what it means to be a Jesus follower.  Being in relationship with God and with the people entrusted to your care is the foundation of effective leadership. 

5 Reminders about Effective Leadership

Let’s think of it this way. Effective leadership is rooted in: 

1. Healthy relationships

Whether with family, friends, strangers, or enemies, you have been taught to be proactive in how you treat others.  You act on behalf of others not because they have acted on your behalf but because loving others is who we are as a Jesus follower.

2. Self-respect

Having respect for yourself in such a way that you are a person of your word.  It means that you are integrated in your living, that what you are living on the outside in your relationships grows from the convictions of your inner life. 

3. Seeking first the kingdom of God.

Being self-aware and keeping all aspects of life in a healthy perspective.  

4. Caring for others in such a way that you are caring for Jesus himself. 

You are growing to the point that caring for others becomes so natural that you don’t even know that you are caring for Jesus.  You lead with care, not to become holy, but because you are holy. 

5. Being proactive in forgiveness. 

Relationships are so important; your leadership is about investing your life in the people around to the point that broken relationships are restored and become productive.    

Being the Leader You Were Created to Be

Jesus says “to obey” the things you have been taught. In other words, it is easy to talk about effective leadership, but it is not easy to be the leader you were created to be. There are times that you are vulnerable and you step out in faith to live out your purpose. You become who God created you to be as you practice your faith.  

Fred Craddock tells the story of a missionary, Oswald Goulter, who served in China in the 1940’s. An agricultural missionary, he taught people to raise their own food as he loved and cared for their families. When the Communists came to China, they forced him to leave. So, his supporters in the United States wired him money for a ticket home.  

His journey home took him to India. While he was there, he discovered there were Jews living in barn lofts, attics, and sheds throughout the city. They were there because India was one of the few countries that welcomed Jews after Hitler expelled them from Europe.

Goulter was glad to see them. It was Christmas time and he visited them in the barn lofts, attics, and sheds saying, “Merry Christmas!” They said, “But we are Jews.”

“Oh, I know, but Merry Christmas anyway. What would you like for Christmas?” They said, “But we are Jews.”

He said, “Oh, I know. But is there anything you want for Christmas?” 

Several of them thought about it and said, “It has been years since we have had German pastries.”

Goulter went all over the city and found a shop that sold German pastries. He cashed in his ticket to the United States and bought boxes of pastries. Then he delivered them to the Jews in the barn lofts, attics and sheds. Handing them out, he said, “Merry Christmas! Merry Christmas!”

Years later, that story was told in a gathering where Goulter was present. After the story was told, one young preacher in the back of the room stood and asked, “Dr. Goulter, did you really do that?” 

Goulter, a little taken back said, “Yes. Yes, I did.”  

The young preacher said, “I can’t believe you did that.”

Dr. Goulter asked, “Did I do something wrong?” 

The young preacher said, “Those people aren’t Christians. They don’t even believe in Jesus!” 

Dr. Goulter responded, “But I do!” 

The effectiveness of your leadership is seen in your faithfulness to your relationship with God and with the people entrusted to your love and care. 

You might not feel equipped. Maybe you feel overmatched and overwhelmed. You might even feel disconnected from the community that has shaped, formed, and affirmed your identity. But the good news is, you are not alone.  Jesus is with you as you lead into and through the chaos, confusion, and uncertainty. 

Your Next Step

So, here is what I want you do:

  • Give God thanks for the opportunity to live and work in this time of chaos and confusion.
  • Confess your need for relationship with God and with the people entrusted to your care.
  • Place the people, situations, and circumstances into God’s hands.
  • Ask God to use you as an instrument of peace and love. 

O God, thank you for the opportunity to live and work at this time in history. I confess that I do not know what to do. But, I do know I need you and I need the people you have given me to love and to serve. I place my relationships, the church, and the people around me into your hands. I pray that you will use me as an instrument of your peace and love. By your grace, I offer myself to you in the name of Jesus.  Amen. 

Let me say it again, from where I stand, you are doing a fantastic job navigating uncharted territories. You are growing into the person and leader God has created you to be. Remember, you are not alone. As a follower of Jesus, lead on.  We need you to lead us now more than ever before. 

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

Our everyday and ordinary lives have been disrupted.

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

A New Normal

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

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

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

Pandemics Don’t Shut Down Love

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

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

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

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

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

Pandemics Don’t Shut Down Poverty

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

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

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

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

Pandemics Don’t Shut Down Racism

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

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

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

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

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

Similarities between Covid-19 and Racism

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

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

Differences between Covid-19 and Racism

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

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

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

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

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

Your Next Step

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can also find the original Facebook post here.

Approximate Time Stamps, Notes, and Questions Covered 

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

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

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

How Are You Responding?

You can respond in one of several ways.

You can spend time focused on what has gone wrong.

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

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

You can spend time focused on what is going right.

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

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

Love Remains

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

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

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

Together

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

He writes,

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

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

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

Tip the World Toward Love

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

  1. Wear your mask in public.

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

2. Observe physical distance.

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

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

Intentionally Develop Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

How are you feeling?

You are six weeks into a stay at home order and you have done well at adjusting to this pandemic.  You are learning to use social media for preaching and teaching, and you have been intentional in connecting with church members. You have even discovered new ways to connect with the community.

So, how are you feeling?

You might be feeling disappointed if you were expecting to be back to worship in the sanctuary by the first of May or feeling angry if you have been thinking that this stay at home order and no public worship is not fair. Then again, you might be feeling relieved because you have been fearful for your health and the health of your family. So, how are you feeling?

I admit that I have conflicting feelings. I have been grieving not being able to meet with you, who have been entrusted to my care, and with family and friends for whom I care.  I am missing in-person smiles and facial expressions, as well as personal contact. On the other hand, I am adapting to the situation and circumstances in which we are living, with the hope that each of you will use your best feeling and thinking in navigating the days, weeks, and months ahead.

Our Current Reality

Here is what I know:  The pandemic is with us for the next 12-18 months. The end will come only when there is a vaccine.

There are no easy 3 steps here or 5 steps there through this pandemic. For the moment, there is a protocol for living into the next days, weeks, and months ahead. It will include phases with each phase having its own set of rules and patterns to follow.  There are no experts to call or conferences to be attended that will make this pandemic go away. We must trust those who are working, not only to develop a vaccine, but who are leading us in flattening the curve. We are all learning as we do. Pay attention to what comes next.  There are not easy formulas or steps to end this pandemic.

Leading Through the Pandemic

As a leader, you must lead people through this pandemic. Even though you have never been here before, God has gifted you for this moment to lead through these days.

There is no strategic plan through this pandemic.  That doesn’t mean you don’t plan or strategize how to navigate through what is coming. It does mean that the people you must be listening to are the people, (the public health officials, doctors, scientists, your bishop), who are discovering what is next as they go.

There will be other voices, each one important, but, as you know, we are living in the midst of great complexity.  So as a leader, keep centered upon who you are, why you are doing what you are doing, and the people entrusted to your care.

Even though it may not seem this way, you have never had an opportunity like this before. So, here is what you do:

Know and Name Current Reality

Be realistic about the challenges and obstacles you face.  The people who are following your lead need to know that you can be trusted because you are self-aware, competent, and honest.

You know what you are facing and the resources you have. Be transparent and caring. The temptation is to downplay the severity of the situation in hopes of keeping everyone together.  You will have more respect as a leader if you care for the truth as you care for the people.

Know Yourself and Your Strengths and Gifts

Know when to be vulnerable and when to empathize. As the leader you are helping people navigate the challenges. Be emotional healthy. Sometimes during times of crisis and decision-making, leaders become the problem because they are focused more upon themselves than they are upon the challenges they are facing. Leadership is not about being liked or pleasing people. Leadership is about assisting people to become who God created them to be.

Stay Focused Upon Why You Are Doing What You Are Doing

There has never been a greater time in your lifetime to help people love God and to love neighbor.  You have been working to discover, learn, and develop new ways of connecting with people regarding their love for God. How will you model for your community and the world how to love your neighbor?

Paying attention and helping your congregation pay attention to the protocols of health and safety will go a long way in saying to people that you take them seriously.  I am sure you have already begun to think of other ways to keep people safe and at the same time tell them they are important to and loved by God.

Strengthen Present Relationships and Develop New Ones

Relationships are key in developing trust. Who are the people you are presently related to within the church and community? How are you feeding and strengthening those relationships?

Who are the people in the community (teachers, principals, political leaders, first responders, etc.) you can reach out to and develop relationships?  You will never have this time again. Take advantage of the opportunity, think outside the box, and step out in courage to lead like you have never led before.

Equip People To Take the Lead

As the leader, your job is to name current reality, model calm and compassionate behavior, assist people in the direction of hope, and identify and provide what is needed for people to succeed.

Your leadership will determine whether the church you lead is stronger or weaker on the other side of this pandemic. You have never had an opportunity like this before in your ministry.

To help you determine how you will lead people through this crisis, Sara Thomas and I (Tim Bias) are offering a one hour Zoom call for you and your leadership team. To participate, go to

https://Transformingmission.org/trust. This resource will help you and your leadership team position yourselves for navigating through this pandemic and to becoming a stronger congregation on the other side.

Regardless of how you are feeling, know there are people who love you and who ready to walk with you through these days. Go to https://Transformingmission.org/trust. Your best days are ahead.

 

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’!

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

Good Friday

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

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

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

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

A Message of Care

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

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

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

Even Jesus was expressing grief.

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

You, Grief, and Good Friday

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

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

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

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

He was speaking of the pandemic.

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

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

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

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

I still…

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

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

You see…Bargaining is a classic part of grief.

Dang it.

The World We Knew Is Gone Forever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s What Grief Does

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

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

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

“Exactly.” I want to respond sarcastically. 

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

Here’s the thing. 

Comparative Suffering

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

“Who are you not to?”

Dang it.

Stop. 

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

I grumble beneath my breath.

Shush. I say to that memory.

“You can’t shush me.” It responds.

You see, I know better. 

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

I see it in…

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

I see it…when I look in the mirror.

And, dear one, so do you.

The world we are accustomed to is gone. Forever.

Collective Grief

We are collectively grieving.

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

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

So what has changed?

Everything and nothing.

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

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

Pause. Sit. Experience Transformation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

How are you doing this week?

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

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

Chicken Little or Not Doing Enough?

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

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

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

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

Who Do You Need to Be?

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

So, here is what I have been thinking:

  1.   Keep focused upon who you are

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

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

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

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

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

  1.   Begin to focus upon your strengths.

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

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

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

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

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

  1.   Learn to pace yourself. 

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

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

“We Made It, Together!”

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

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