Foolishness?

By Henrik Sonne Petersen

Working in the field of mission and theological education for many years I am repeatedly faced with a feeling of being useless, a kind of fool. The work is not progressing significantly. Looking back, I realise people were dealing with the same issues 20, 50 and 100 years ago – sometimes in more progressive and eloquent ways! Furthermore, I am reminded again and again how little I really know and how little I have achieved despite all my efforts. It makes me feel uncomfortable and vulnerable, especially in an urbanized, modern society, where status and success are highly valued.

Looking back in time even more, the Apostle Paul knew the feeling of foolishness. “We are fools for the sake of Christ,” (1 Cor.4: 10), which gave rise to the movement of “fools for Christ,” the ascetics and monks of the early church known also as holy or blessed fools. This Godly foolishness is not, however, about giving up thinking. If things are not going as hoped, it could be a vital reminder that we can do better. We must act in line with solid evidence and viable action plans. Yet this sense of foolishness could also be related to our fellowship with Christ – a fellowship of being (following him that emptied himself, serving God and humankind). It can look inefficient and foolish in the world’s eyes, but may be a transforming expression of God’s love for people.

This week, are there places you feel useless and inefficient? Is this a reminder to do better? Or should this be embraced as a consequence of fellowship with Christ?

Seemingly small things

By Richard Lister at Coaching to Thrive

Do you remember your first days at work? For Rev Mark, appointed ten years ago to pastor in one of the most deprived areas of Belfast, it was an unforgettable shock. The night after his appointment, his parish experienced the worst sectarian rioting Northern Ireland had suffered in years.  ‘Bullets, blast and nail bombs, petrol bombs and bricks and bottles rained down as tensions between the communities exploded’ (The Times). As Rev John says, with wry understatement, ‘God has a habit of calling you out of your comfort zone’. 

Over the last ten years, his church and wider community organisations have tackled the problems in the area in a range of ways. They’ve set up and run foodbanks, cross-community film clubs, drama classes and football games and prayer meetings with up to 800 people. Rev John has been quietly and faithfully serving and building relationships. 

He has also met the nearby Catholic Priest for a coffee every week in a local café. This seemingly small thing has proved to be deeply symbolic.  The situation is now much calmer.  He says ‘as we speak, in my church hall deep in loyalist territory, there are 15 Catholic people rehearsing a play.  There’s no way that could have happened before’. They’d have been barred entry or beaten up.

Small things matter. Building relationships across divides are important.

This week, what you could do, however small, to overcome divisions and make a lasting difference in your community?

Leading in love

By Elise Belcher

I can’t believe my first contribution to these weekly thoughts is linked to royalty. I like to think of myself as a British Republican, not wanting to have a monarchy as part of our constitution (perhaps so I can stand out from the crowd!), but often find myself swept up in the pageantry, drama and history of a family that commands attention. During the Queen’s funeral, Archbishop Justin Welby boldly went straight to the point when preaching to the global dignitaries gathered in front of him:

“The pattern for all who serve God – famous or obscure, respected or ignored – is that death is the door to glory…Jesus came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. People of loving service are rare in any walk of life. Leaders of loving service are rarer still. But, in all cases, those who serve will be loved and remembered when those who cling to power and privilege will be long forgotten.”

A few days later the American poet Amanda Gorman spoke to government representatives at the United Nations General Assembly. Despite the obvious differences in context, the power of her audience was similar and her message was powerfully similar too:

” To anyone out there, I only ask – That you care before it’s too late; That you live aware and awake; That you lead with love in hours of hate.”

It’s made me think – this week:
How can I make my leadership more of a loving service?
How can I better love those I lead and serve?

Being-with leadership

By Nick Wright

‘When the bombs were falling like rain, Jennie stayed here with us.’

As a leader in international NGO, Tearfund, Jennie had always struck me as a quiet and unassuming person. We visited community rebuilding initiatives together in Lebanon just after the harsh and brutal civil war. Amidst shattered buildings, lives broken by sectarian conflict, aerial bombardment of the Beirut power station (just as we arrived) and Syrian ‘peacekeeping’ troops everywhere, we met with Christian leaders who recounted countless stories of heartache and hope.

One of the things that struck me most was their deep reverence and respect for Jennie. Whenever she spoke, they listened with profound attention. Curious about this, I asked one of the leaders about it afterwards. He replied, ‘During the war, most NGOs withdrew because it became too dangerous for them to stay. Jennie was different. She refused to abandon us. When the bombs were falling like rain and we had nowhere else to run to or hide, Jennie stayed here with us.’

I felt completely speechless, humbled and amazed. I imagined myself in that same situation: how I would almost certainly have fled for my own safety – and have found or created very good reasons to justify myself for doing so. Yet what an impact now. The leadership and influence that Jennie was able to bring to this work by having been-with; not based on any hierarchical status, power or authority she held, but on a deep and incarnational, presence, relationship and trust.

Heartbreak and hope

By Nick Wright

​I spent last week in Ethiopia, facilitating a vision-casting, relationship-building and insights-sharing event for an inspiring group of committed human rights activists from countries and contexts as diverse as: Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, Egypt, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Kenya, Myanmar, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sweden, United Kingdom and United States.

Listening to their accounts of lived experience, alongside the oft-harrowing accounts of other people and communities too, was a deeply-sobering and yet, at times, life-giving experience. These activists are followers of Jesus from diverse backgrounds who commit their lives and expertise to help ensure, where possible, protection and support for people and groups facing unspeakable persecution. They often take considerable personal risks in the course of their own work too.

One day, I went into a local town for a short break. A very poor, elderly man walked up and called out from behind me, a stranger. He grasped my hand, looked earnestly into my eyes and said, emphatically, “Whatever you need, reach out to God. He has the power to help you.” Then, pointing upwards, as if to God, “He will give you whatever you need.” I felt completely entranced by this man’s presence. I asked his name. “ጥላሁን (Tilahun)”, he replied. I learned later it means: ‘shadow, guide, protector…’

This felt far more profound and spiritually-significant than a chance encounter. I returned to the work in a reflective mood, reminded of the mental and emotional burnout I had faced as a young human rights activist during the brutal civil war in El Salvador. At that time, my efforts had felt painfully impotent in the face of such overwhelming suffering. This mysterious figure reminded me to look upward as well as outward, and there beyond the heartbreak to discover transcendent hope.

The Heart of Waiting

By Stanley Arumugam

I am generally patient in things that are meaningful for me. I can work on a long assignment, wait for necessary inspiration, sit patiently with someone that is sick and needs company, watch a baby fall slowly to sleep and wait a whole year for my bulbs to bloom again as the seasons change.

I am less patient with long lines that go nowhere slowly; filling bureaucratic forms; going through the motions of life; playing politics and walking on eggshells around fragile people.

Sometimes waiting feels heavy when we are in places of desperation. How much longer Lord? This is when we feel the heavy weight of waiting. It’s hard, real and places us in vulnerable spaces when we are waiting for good outcomes out of our control.

When we wait for someone we love to get well and it just is an eternity; when we wait for our studies to be complete; when we wait for a friend to break the silence; when we wait for the sound of forgiveness; for that promotion or job increase to finally come through. Waiting for answers to difficult questions.

Sometimes when we surrender in our waiting, the weight is slowly lifted. Doors open; fear flys away; soft peace enters our hearts. Love and Light fill our souls. While we continue to wait.

Annual break and Weekly Challenge – Leading out of COVID

Dear colleagues,

As Space for Grace takes its own annual break over the next couple of months, why not take some time to reflect on how God has spoken to you during this time of endemic? How did the pandemic affected your relationship with God?

Over the coming months we wanted to showcase your own thoughts and experiences to the topic ‘Leading out of COVID’. Please do send your own responses to that question (however you interpret it). We’ll help you turn them into Weekly Thoughts that can be shared with this wider community…

Do send your responses to: Elaine Vitikainen elaine@ev-visuals.com

As ways to provoke your thinking you might consider questions like:

  • What have I learned about my leadership through this pandemic?
  • What do I hope to take with me and hold onto from this experience?
  • What does my leadership need to be like ‘post’-pandemic?
  • How would I reimagine my organisation to become fit for purpose in our radically changing world?

These are only questions to stimulate your thoughts, so don’t use them too prescriptively. They are not ones to structure your response around, unless you find that particularly helpful.

The next Weekly Thought will be posted on the 11th of September.

Cheers

Rick and Elaine

Leading by letting go

By Stanley Arumugam

Leadership is about both taking on and about letting go. But letting go is hard. We’re wired to take on more, give more, do more. Strategic plans bulge at the seams with new ambitions, new initiatives, new markets, new ways of working.

But letting go is also essential for leading well. It’s discerning when to stay, when to leave; it’s about knowing what works and be bold enough to recognise what doesn’t. When less becomes more. When the important matters more than urgent. When people come before tasks.

Letting go requires courage. It’s not giving up, acquiescing, compromising. It’s not a state of failure but one of intentionality. Letting go of the things that get in our way from being our best as individuals, teams and organisations.

Letting go of our ego is the biggest task of leaders. Our ego often gets in the way, creating blind spots and leaving us insecure and search of the approval of others.

This week, think about what you need to let go of, in your life and your organisation?