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?

Where is my own mind set?

By Rick James

In my consultancy work, I talk a lot about changing mindsets – in communities, churches, organisations… But where is my own mind set? If I am being brutally honest, at the moment my own mind oscillates a bit between seeking my own comfort and worrying about what is going on in the world and with family and friends. It feels a long way from Romans 8:5 which talks about having ‘our minds set on what the Spirit desires’. My mind is not naturally ‘in step with the Spirit’.

But when I do intentionally create spaces to re-set my mind onto what the Spirit desires, then my perspective on everything changes. The burden I feel when thinking about preparing and leading groups at church shifts. Work priorities no longer feel so onerous. The global and national news does not provoke so much anxiety. My mind is a battleground. I need to try and take captive my thoughts, not be taken captive by them. The only way I can do this is by pressing the re-set button every day.

How do you re-set your mind to focus on what the Spirit desires?

Daily choices of character

By Rick James

“It is not what you achieve in life that matters, but who you become”. I was struck by this statement a few weeks ago in the wake of a friend’s death. Andy had certainly achieved a lot in terms of leading various organisations and churches, but in the end what mattered most was who he had become. He gave a short talk ‘In thin air’ after his diagnosis with a brain tumour, in which he said that in one sense a terminal illness changes nothing – after all we are all going to die one day.

He said, the choices we face today are the same as ever:
Are we going to follow Jesus today? Walking with him and looking for direction and guidance.
If so, then we choose to recognise God’s goodness every day, not give in to despair, darkness or discouragement.

Making these simple choices influenced who Andy became.

As I consider the week ahead, Andy’s example challenges me about where I put my attention:
Am I more focusing on what I achieve, the tasks ahead of me this week in my to-do list?
Or do I need to focus more on who I am becoming? How do I deliberately choose hope over fear?

A Christ-centred federation

By Rick James

Last week I facilitated a governance review for a global fellowship of 30 different leprosy missions. Such federations are notoriously difficult to manage. Large NGO families tend to be characterised by frustration, bureaucracy and division. But this one was different. The motivating glue that held them together was trusting relationships and highly impressive servant leadership. But at the heart of this network of organisations was a shared commitment to being genuinely Christ-centred.

This commitment went way beyond easy Christian jargon, but it was displayed through their behaviour and actions – particularly at times of crisis. To make it happen, they had created a diverse, global steering group of members to plan and guide implementation; wrote it explicitly into their strategy and measured it with indicators; invested considerable time and resources into a variety of prayer initiatives; ensured their sources of funding supported this and modelled forgiveness and servant leadership.

Considering that ten years ago the international board was concerned about losing their Christian identity, this is a testament to what is possible. I heard of another faith-based NGO this week, who calculated that they spent 14% of their work hours in prayer. These examples make me think:

How much time do I spend praying and listening to God in my work?
How will I model Christ in my inter-actions at work this week?

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.