JESUS-SHAPED LEADERSHIP IN UNCERTAIN TIMES (LIKE PANDEMICS!)

How should church leadership respond to challenging days? How do we stay on kingdom business regardless of what is going on around us? Excellent thoughts in this article —

[Reblogged from Bob Rognlien, March 19, 2020]

https://www.bobrognlien.com/blog/nbspjesus-shaped-leadership-in-uncertain-times-like-pandemics?mc_cid=09a12ffbef

As Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray… But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” (Matthew 24:3, 36)

We live in uncertain times. The coronavirus. A plunging stock market. Cancelled flights. Closed borders. Schools and workplaces shutting down. Empty grocery shelves. It can feel like this is a new thing, but it is not. The truth is, life in a broken world is always uncertain and disruptive. While most of us have never experienced these dynamics before, the fact is that unexpected and upending disasters have been a constant of human history.

When his disciples asked him what the future held, Jesus warned them of sudden and calamitous events to come: “wars and rumors of wars,” “nations will rise against nations,” “famines and earthquakes,” “tribulations,” “lawlessness,” and “false prophets.” It didn’t take long for Jesus’ followers to experience these very things.

Some sixteen years after Jesus said this there was a massive famine that hit Judea and so affected the early Christian community that Paul carried out an extensive relief effort among the new Gentile churches to help the believers in Jerusalem (Romans 15:25-28). Forty years later rebellion against Rome broke out among the Jews which resulted in Roman legions destroying Jerusalem and slaughtering large swaths of the population, just as Jesus predicted. Sixty-two years after that a second Jewish revolt resulted in all the Jews, including the followers of Jesus, being driven out of Jerusalem by the Romans.

While Jesus warned his disciples that these kinds of experiences were coming, he repeatedly told them that there is no way to predict exactly how and when disaster will strike. What he did tell them is to prepare for these challenging times by being focused on doing the Father’s will no matter what is happening in the world around us. So then, what does it mean for those of us who follow Jesus and lead others to “stay awake” and be “faithful and wise servants” in times of turmoil and uncertainty? Here are six lessons I am learning about Jesus-shaped leadership in times of crises, like a pandemic:

1. A Non-Anxious Presence: Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. (Matthew 5:25) The followers of Jesus are by definition people of faith which means we are certain of things we cannot yet see. Although we don’t know what specific events will happen or when they will come to pass, we do know our future destiny and that the One who will

bring it about is incredibly good. This means, in the face of unexpected challenges, we can live in peace and hope as fruit of the Spirit, even if we feel fear or dread in our flesh. Those of us who lead must model what it means to exercise faith in a good God during uncertain times, even as we are open about our very real human experiences. Faith comes by hearing and it is those who are listening and responding to what God is saying in times of crisis who find the faith it takes to help others navigate seasons of uncertainty.

2. Gathered and Scattered: From the very beginning believers followed Jesus’ pattern of gathering and scattering. The first church in Jerusalem gathered in the Temple courts to hear the teaching of the Apostles and then scattered to extended family homes to share life and carry out the mission of Jesus. When persecution hit, the followers of Jesus were scattered out of Jerusalem to Samaria, Cyprus, Antioch, and north Africa just as Jesus had foretold before he ascended into heaven. This is how the movement of Jesus began to spread. For many of the first three centuries Christians were not able to gather in places larger than an extended family home and yet the movement was unstoppable! Why should it be different in our time? Maybe the current restrictions on large group gatherings will help us to recapture this healthy and fruitful rhythm of a decentralized church that knows how to function in both large gatherings and in extended spiritual families? We can take the opportunities God is giving us in this season to become a more Jesus-shaped church.

3. An Anti-Fragile Church: Some mechanical systems are so complex and dependent on each component working a certain way that it only takes one small disruption to bring the whole thing to a screeching halt. Think of the copier in your church office. All it takes to bring it down is for one tiny part to fail. The fact that the copier repair person knows everyone in your office by first name tells you it is a fragile system. Organic systems are quite the opposite, what we call “anti-fragile.” Biological organisms are designed to thrive under pressure. Some parts of your body, like your bones and muscles, actually require stress in order to remain healthy and become stronger. The early church was a profoundly anti-fragile system which only grew stronger the more it was subjected to stress. When our church programs rely exclusively on an elite few to lead them and a public gathering place to hold them, it becomes a brittle, fragile system. This is an opportunity to learn how to operate as a spiritual family with a network of vital relationships where everyone is being trained to lead someone so that our churches become a more fruitful, adaptable, and vital movement of God’s Kingdom, especially in times of disruption and uncertainty.

4. A Balanced Wisdom: Stress and uncertainty tend to polarize people who don’t have a solid foundation. When we are afraid, we move toward either extreme reactions or irrational denial. Should we hide out in our homes hoarding toilet paper or ignore the warnings of health officials and party at the bars? Uncertain times create dilemmas we must face and navigate wisely. The Word of God, both the written Word of the Bible and the living Word of Jesus speaking to us through the Holy Spirit, is an unchanging, unshakable Rock on which we can stand and discern the will of God in disorienting times. When we are isolated, we can lose sight of reality and fail to rightly interpret the data we receive. When we live in community and benefit from the wise counsel of the saints, we gain perspective and insight. This is why it is so important to listen to God’s Word and hear other perspectives of faith before we face the roar of news outlets and social media! Are you trying to lead by yourself? Are you listening to

the wrong voices? To lead effectively in times of uncertainty we need listen to the Spirit speaking to us through God’s Word and God’s people.

5. Abiding and Fruitfulness: Jesus was very clear that good and lasting fruit comes from intentional connection to him. He also explained that those branches on his vine that bear fruit will get pruned in order that they might bear more and better fruit. The frenetic pace of our modern western culture often keeps us from the consistent abiding that would dramatically increase our fruitfulness. As public institutions shut down and we practice social distancing it is clear that this is a season of pruning meant to give us an opportunity to slow down, rest, and take more time to connect with God and the people closest to us. We will squander this opportunity if we simply isolate ourselves, nurture fearful stress, and try to escape by binging streaming and social media. Jesus-shaped leaders set an example for those they lead by modeling this Way of Jesus and teaching their people how to establish predictable patterns of abiding in God’s Word and Spirit. Don’t miss this opportunity which will lead to greater fruitfulness!

6. A People for Others: When we are subjected to threats, our natural survival instinct turns our focus on ourselves and our own needs. When Jesus was on the cross, his moment of greatest crisis and disorientation, he comforted a dying criminal and ensured his mother would be recognized as part of the spiritual family. This was the final expression of Jesus’ consistent orientation toward caring for the well-being of others. The German martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writing from a Nazi prison cell called Jesus “the man for others.” The early church followed this pattern of Jesus’ life and become known as those who showed extraordinary love and generosity, even toward those outside their own community. The Antonine Plague of the second century and the Cyprian Plague of the third century wiped out a huge part of the Roman empire, but the followers of Jesus became known as those who courageously cared for and ministered to the sick and dying. What are the opportunities for us to love our neighbors in this pandemic even as we exercise wise discernment? When we take our eyes off ourselves and consider how we can show others the love of God we are learning how to lead like Jesus.

I believe with all of my heart that times of challenge and suffering are when the true church of Jesus shines! I am so grateful that we don’t have to live in fear even when we feel anxious and don’t know exactly how or when challenges are going to come. I am so glad we don’t have to face it alone when the crisis hits. If you are called to lead others in the midst of uncertainty, keep your eyes on Jesus, listen to what the Spirit is saying, share the journey with others who are doing the same, and he will show you the way forward.

Staying Mentally Healthy During Quarantine

**This is not my first time living under Stay At Home orders thanks to our former life in West Africa! There is some great advice in here. – Mindy **

Helpful advice from a psychologist (who wished to remain anonymous) regarding mental health during the pandemic. There are 25 tips – start with 1-2 and work the others in as best you can!

“After having thirty-one sessions this week with patients where the singular focus was COVID-19 and how to cope, I decided to consolidate my advice and make a list that I hope is helpful to all.  I can’t control a lot of what is going on right now, but I can contribute this.  Edit: I am surprised and heartened that this has been shared so widely!  People have asked me to credential myself, so to that end, I am a doctoral level Psychologist in NYS with a Psy.D. in the specialities of School and Clinical Psychology.”

MENTAL HEALTH WELLNESS TIPS FOR QUARANTINE

1. Stick to a routine.  Go to sleep and wake up at a reasonable time, write a schedule that is varied and includes time for work as well as self-care.

2. Dress for the social life you want, not the social life you have.  Get showered and dressed in comfortable clothes, wash your face, brush your teeth.  Take the time to do a bath or a facial.  Put on some bright colors.  It is amazing how our dress can impact our mood.

3. Get out at least once a day, for at least thirty minutes.  If you are concerned of contact, try first thing in the morning, or later in the evening, and try less traveled streets and avenues.  If you are high risk or living with those who are high risk, open the windows and blast the fan.  It is amazing how much fresh air can do for spirits.

4. Find some time to move each day, again daily for at least thirty minutes.  If you don’t feel comfortable going outside, there are many YouTube videos that offer free movement classes, and if all else fails, turn on the music and have a dance party!

5. Reach out to others, you guessed it, at least once daily for thirty minutes.  Try to do FaceTime, Skype, phone calls, texting—connect with other people to seek and provide support.  Don’t forget to do this for your children as well.  Set up virtual playdates with friends daily via FaceTime, Facebook Messenger Kids, Zoom, etc—your kids miss their friends, too!

6. Stay hydrated and eat well.   This one may seem obvious, but stress and eating often don’t mix well, and we find ourselves over-indulging, forgetting to eat, and avoiding food.  Drink plenty of water, eat some good and nutritious foods, and challenge yourself to learn how to cook something new!

7. Develop a self-care toolkit.  This can look different for everyone.  A lot of successful self-care strategies involve a sensory component (seven senses: touch, taste, sight, hearing, smell, vestibular (movement) and proprioceptive (comforting pressure).  An idea for each: a soft blanket or stuffed animal, a hot chocolate, photos of vacations, comforting music, lavender or eucalyptus oil, a small swing or rocking chair, a weighted blanket.  A journal, an inspirational book, or a mandala coloring book is wonderful, bubbles to blow or blowing watercolor on paper through a straw are visually appealing as well as work on controlled breath.  Mint gum, Listerine strips, ginger ale, frozen Starburst, ice packs, and cold are also good for anxiety regulation. For children, it is great to help them create a self-regulation comfort box (often a shoe-box or bin they can decorate) that they can use on the ready for first-aid when overwhelmed.  

8. Spend extra time playing with children.  Children will rarely communicate how they are feeling, but will often make a bid for attention and communication through play.  Don’t be surprised to see therapeutic themes of illness, doctor visits, and isolation play through.  Understand that play is cathartic and helpful for children—it is how they process their world and problem solve, and there’s a lot they are seeing and experiencing in the now.

9. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and a wide berth.  A lot of cooped up time can bring out the worst in everyone.  Each person will have moments when they will not be at their best.  It is important to move with grace through blowups, to not show up to every argument you are invited to, and to not hold grudges and continue disagreements.  Everyone is doing the best they can to make it through this.

10. Everyone find their own retreat space.  Space is at a premium, particularly with city living.  It is important that people think through their own separate space for work and for relaxation.  For children, help them identify a place where they can go to retreat when stressed.  You can make this place cozy by using blankets, pillows, cushions, scarves, beanbags, tents, and “forts”.  It is good to know that even when we are on top of each other, we have our own special place to go to be alone.

11. Expect behavioral issues in children, and respond gently.   We are all struggling with disruption in routine, none more than children, who rely on routines constructed by others to make them feel safe and to know what comes next.  Expect increased anxiety, worries and fears, nightmares, difficulty separating or sleeping, testing limits, and meltdowns.  Do not introduce major behavioral plans or consequences at this time—hold stable and focus on emotional connection.

12. Focus on safety and attachment.  We are going to be living for a bit with the unprecedented demand of meeting all work deadlines, homeschooling children, running a sterile household, and making a whole lot of entertainment in confinement.  We can get wrapped up in meeting expectations in all domains, but we must remember that these are scary and unpredictable times for children.  Focus on strengthening the connection through time spent following their lead, through physical touch, through play, through therapeutic books, and via verbal reassurances that you will be there for them in this time.

13. Lower expectations and practice radical self-acceptance.  This idea is connected with #12.  We are doing too many things in this moment, under fear and stress.  This does not make a formula for excellence.  Instead, give yourself what psychologists call “radical self acceptance”: accepting everything about yourself, your current situation, and your life without question, blame, or pushback.  You cannot fail at this—there is no roadmap, no precedent for this, and we are all truly doing the best we can in an impossible situation.  

14. Limit social media and COVID conversation, especially around children.  One can find tons of information on COVID-19 to consume, and it changes minute to minute.  The information is often sensationalized, negatively skewed, and alarmist.  Find a few trusted sources that you can check in with consistently, limit it to a few times a day, and set a time limit for yourself on how much you consume (again 30 minutes tops, 2-3 times daily).  Keep news and alarming conversations out of earshot from children—they see and hear everything, and can become very frightened by what they hear.

15. Notice the good in the world, the helpers.  There is a lot of scary, negative, and overwhelming information to take in regarding this pandemic.  There are also a ton of stories of people sacrificing, donating, and supporting one another in miraculous ways.  It is important to counter-balance the heavy information with the hopeful information.  

16. Help others.  Find ways, big and small, to give back to others.  Support restaurants, offer to grocery shop, check in with elderly neighbors, write psychological wellness tips for others—helping others gives us a sense of agency when things seem out of control.  

17. Find something you can control, and control the heck out of it.  In moments of big uncertainty and overwhelm, control your little corner of the world.  Organize your bookshelf, purge your closet, put together that furniture, group your toys.  It helps to anchor and ground us when the bigger things are chaotic.

18. Find a long-term project to dive into.  Now is the time to learn how to play the keyboard, put together a huge jigsaw puzzle, start a 15 hour game of Risk, paint a picture, read the Harry Potter series, binge watch an 8-season show, crochet a blanket, solve a Rubix cube, or develop a new town in Animal Crossing.  Find something that will keep you busy, distracted, and engaged to take breaks from what is going on in the outside world.

19. Engage in repetitive movements and left-right movements.  Research has shown that repetitive movement (knitting, coloring, painting, clay sculpting, jump roping etc) especially left-right movement (running, drumming, skating, hopping) can be effective at self-soothing and maintaining self-regulation in moments of distress.

20. Find an expressive art and go for it.  Our emotional brain is very receptive to the creative arts, and it is a direct portal for release of feeling.  Find something that is creative (sculpting, drawing, dancing, music, singing, playing) and give it your all.  See how relieved you can feel.  It is a very effective way of helping kids to emote and communicate as well!

21. Find lightness and humor in each day.  There is a lot to be worried about, and with good reason.  Counterbalance this heaviness with something funny each day: cat videos on YouTube, a stand-up show on Netflix, a funny movie—we all need a little comedic relief in our day, every day.

22. Reach out for help—your team is there for you.  If you have a therapist or psychiatrist, they are available to you, even at a distance.  Keep up your medications and your therapy sessions the best you can.  If you are having difficulty coping, seek out help for the first time.  There are mental health people on the ready to help you through this crisis.  Your children’s teachers and related service providers will do anything within their power to help, especially for those parents tasked with the difficult task of being a whole treatment team to their child with special challenges.  Seek support groups of fellow home-schoolers, parents, and neighbors to feel connected.  There is help and support out there, any time of the day—although we are physically distant, we can always connect virtually.

23. “Chunk” your quarantine, take it moment by moment.  We have no road map for this.  We don’t know what this will look like in 1 day, 1 week, or 1 month from now.  Often, when I work with patients who have anxiety around overwhelming issues, I suggest that they engage in a strategy called “chunking”—focusing on whatever bite-sized piece of a challenge that feels manageable.  Whether that be 5 minutes, a day, or a week at a time—find what feels doable for you, and set a time stamp for how far ahead in the future you will let yourself worry.  Take each chunk one at a time, and move through stress in pieces.

24. Remind yourself daily that this is temporary.  It seems in the midst of this quarantine that it will never end.  It is terrifying to think of the road stretching ahead of us.  Please take time to remind yourself that although this is very scary and difficult, and will go on for an undetermined amount of time, it is a season of life and it will pass.  We will return to feeing free, safe, busy, and connected in the days ahead.

25. Find the lesson.  This whole crisis can seem sad, senseless, and at times, avoidable.  When psychologists work with trauma, a key feature to helping someone work through said trauma is to help them find their agency, the potential positive outcomes they can effect, the meaning and construction that can come out of destruction.  What can each of us learn here, in big and small ways, from this crisis?  What needs to change in ourselves, our homes, our communities, our nation, and our world?