Weekly Thoughts

Look around your room

By Rick James

A psychologist friend of mine set us an exercise yesterday. He said, “Look around the room you are in and notice five objects”. As I let my eyes wander, I saw a family photo on my daughter’s 18th birthday; a picture of a beautiful malachite kingfisher from Malawi; clothing we’d bought at a World Music festival we’d been to with friends; a lampshade from a trip to Marrakesh… As I noticed these objects, I was filled with gratitude for so many wonderful experiences.

I heard on a Bridgetown Church podcast this morning that “anxiety is a kind of grasping of control of what we do not have in the future, gratitude is giving thanks for what we do have in the present” – and I would add ‘giving thanks for what we have enjoyed in the past’.

Gratitude is an antidote to anxiety. Colossians 3:15-17 talks about letting the peace of Christ rule in our hearts… singing songs with gratitude in our hearts…

How do we do this? I found the simple exercise of looking around my room a useful way to fight anxiety with gratitude.

Choose how you travel

By Rick James

These really are unprecedented times we are living through. In the midst of so much uncertainty I really appreciated Elaine’s reminder from Philippians that we should not be anxious about anything – even at a time of global crisis. It reminded me of a story that a good friend of mine, Mick Miller writes about in his forthcoming book ‘Choose how you travel’:

Three people travel on a plane from London to the USA. One is an elderly lady visiting her sister in New York; next there’s a middle aged man who’s heading off on holiday with his wife and kids; and finally there’s a businesswoman. She frequently flies to America.

The elderly lady has never been on a plane and she’s terrified. She worries her way through every minute of the journey, tightly gripping her armrests as if she might be sucked out of her seat at any moment.

The middle aged man has flown a few times before but doesn’t enjoy it. To take his mind off the whole experience he downs several large vodka tonics and a few beers. He ends up shouting at his kids (because they’re stressing him out) and gets into a row with his wife when she objects to the amount of alcohol he’s consumed.

The businesswoman remains calm and relaxed the whole way. She has a meal, watches a movie, then sleeps soundly for the rest of the flight.

All these people fly on the same plane and they all reach the same destination at the same time. But how they travel is completely different.

We can choose how we travel. Jesus said: ‘Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me.’ John 14:1 NLT

This week:

  • What areas of our lives do we need to entrust again to God?
  • What would it look like to be a peaceful, non-anxious presence in our workplaces, our communities and our families?

Rejoice always – even now?

By Elaine Vitikainen

Everyone is talking about COVID-19. The disruption to charities and churches may be huge. Some people are understandably concerned about elderly or vulnerable relatives. Many of my freelance friends are worried about the financial consequences. Multiple work contracts are being cancelled at an alarming rate. The security of being fully booked over the next months has suddenly been replaced by great uncertainty about the future.

Some are looking on the positive side. They hope it might be a time of healing for the earth as there are less flight emissions and less air pollution from factories. Some even see it as an additional occasion to spend with the family, a moment for self-learning, for re-evaluation and even, an opportunity for the elusive, but much needed rest.

I see this time as a time to encourage each other to choose joy and to speak life. As Philippians 4:4-8 says “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

With the rising fears surrounding us globally, let us remember that God’s perfect love casts out fear.

This week:

  • How can I receive God’s peace that transcends understanding – every day?
  • How can I let this deep peace and gentleness be evident to all around me?

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Ecological grief

By John Evans

Climate chaos is causing profound distress. We see more and more people suffering from ecological grief. You may even know someone in your family with ‘solastalgia’ (the emotional and existential distress caused by climate and ecological change).

It is hard to talk about grief. When we do it’s generally about the loss of a loved one. When we lose someone, we may go through stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. We anticipate understanding and compassion – partly because this human experience of deep loss is universal. But what happens when someone continues to deny the passing of someone you love? In their presence you may not feel able to grieve.

The grief associated with climate change can be like this. Not everyone yet accepts the reality of global warming. Some simply don’t see climate change as a threat and may dismiss those who do. Others know it’s happening, but haven’t come to terms with its implications. Dismissing grief or the right to grieve creates “disenfranchised grief” – when society says you shouldn’t be grieving, so you feel like you can’t talk about it. You can’t find support. You feel alone. You may even think your feelings are wrong.

This week, think about what it means to grieve for the environment. Have you become too comfortable, unable to think about the implications? Do you need to grieve more? Are there others you know suffering? What can you do about it?


Learning from the geese

By Rick James

This morning I was watching a flock of geese flying in their V formation. I thought about how they flew together as a synchronised team in the same direction. I thought about how each bird flies slightly above the bird in front, resulting less wind resistance for their colleagues and about how the birds each take turns in the leading role because it is so tiring.

We think we are so advanced as humans. Yet few of our own teams or organisations appear so coherent. Sadly in my experience they are more often characterised by conflict, confusion and sometimes chaos. Christian organisations are no better than secular ones. We argue endlessly about direction and strategy. We often leave one person to bear the brunt of leadership. And then we wonder why they get so exhausted and increasingly autocratic.

Maybe we could learn about strategy and leadership from simple geese. In our organisations, how can we move in the same direction? How can we organise in ways that share the leadership burden?

This week, what practical actions can we take to learn from the example of geese?

The Leader’s Bucket List

By Tobias Nyondo

If we were told we had a few more years to live, we might create a ‘bucket list’ of things we wanted to do before we die. Yet many of us live as though our life was endless – an illusion of immortality. We never identify what is on our bucket list and we never get around to doing it.

As I study the scriptures, I believe there are five must-haves on the leaders’ bucket list. These define the essence of a leader and the legacy that every leader should leave:

Positive impact on followers – Jesus Christ declared his bucket list in Luke 4:18. In
a nutshell, it was about bringing a lasting positive impact on those he came in touch with.
Identifying talent – for any organisation to survive, it needs to embrace talent. You
cannot exercise talent unless it has been identified. It is also important to create a conducive environment for the talent to be developed and used to its full potential.
Growth and multiplication – We are not only called to maintain what we have but to grow it. Leaders grow entities and they multiply.
Succession – God is concerned about his kingdom. His purpose and his will are
all reflected in his kingdom. He ensures that his kingdom will continue. Hezekiah cried out “for I have no one to inherit the throne”. Moses needed to develop Joshua. Jesus started with twelve disciples.
Have fun – A sense of humour is necessary in creating an environment that would help a leader reach out beyond his or her inner circle. People are attracted to laughter and humour. This gives an audience to fulfill the other “must-haves” above.

This week:
If you were given ten years to live, what would be on your bucket list?

Seven lessons from 30 years meddling with strategic change

By Rick James

An old, established mission agency, facing the need for fundamental change, asked me last week to present myself and my learnings about strategic change. I said if they were serious it would need:

  1. Tough decisions – The word decide means to ‘cut off’ other options. Strategy is more about what not to do or stop doing. It is a clear direction of travel, not multiple ones.
  2. Strong motive for change – Intellectual assent to the need for change was not enough. It needed a sense of crisis, that ‘business as usual’ would result in disaster.
  3. Leaders open to changing their own attitudes and behaviours – An organisation’s openness to strategic change is directly correlated to leaders’ openness to their personal change.
  4. A united top team – To take and implement tough decisions, the top team needs to be operating with huge levels personal trust. Are people in top team prepared to attend to their own stuff which lies beneath and open themselves up to God’s presence?
  5. The Holy Spirit to bring human change – We do not change fundamentally through brute logic. It the Holy Spirit who transforms hearts and minds, and deals with our hurt, resentments, self-interests, and frustrations.
  6. Trust from staff and stakeholders to implement change – A major strategic shift will be painful for many people who are accustomed to past ways of doing things. Hurts need managing compassionately. In the end it may come down to whether people trust the leadership to take them where they may not want to go.
  7. Time and effort – Major change does not happen overnight. It may take 5-10 years of careful and intentional work. It takes commitment to see such change through.

This week, think about a change your own organisation wants to make. Which of these areas needs strengthening?

Feeling the heat

By Stanley Arumugam

As part of our leadership Programme in Arusha, we invited a group of traditional dancers and drummers to entertain us in the evening. Before their performance they lit a fire and set the drums around it. I was curious about what they were doing. One of the drummers said “we make the fire to heat the skin of drum to get good sound”.

Leadership work is a performance and we are like the drums. If we are hard and unprepared we may break when the beating starts. To prepare us – we go through the fire process. We are warmed up, stretched out and made ready for our beating. As the Bible says we go through the refiner’s fire.

That night we enjoyed a great performance of drumming and dancing. The prepared drums proved fit for purpose. But not everyone attending the performance witnessed the heating and stretching earlier that evening. Our secret preparation is revealed in our public performance.

This week:                                                                                                                                                                             Reflect on where we are getting heated up in leadership?
What private preparation can help our leadership?

Selling all we have for the pearl of great price

By Rick James

Last week we considered whether mobilising the church and community together was the pearl of great price. I wonder whether, in all our activity as churches, mission or development agencies, we are missing this pearl or at least not giving it the focus and effort it merits. Faith based organisations talk easily about the added value of faith in international development; how the local church is so widely spread; in the poorest, most remote areas; present for the long term; and a respected voice influencing behaviour. Yet so much of our funded development projects actually bypasses the local church. Have a look at some different approaches.

Jesus tells the parable of the merchant who sold all he had when he found the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45-46). Some agencies are certainly experimenting with these local congregation-based approaches under a variety of labels, but few are selling all they have to concentrate on it. To be honest, all but one or two, are pretty half-hearted, maintaining existing traditional projects because such projects are easier to raise money for and better fit our grant-making systems.

This week consider:
What would it mean for our congregation, our mission or development agency to sell all we have for this pearl of great price?