Weekly Thoughts

Liberated from the myth of control

By Rick James

2020 feels like an Ecclesiastes moment to me. The current pandemic and its likely consequences are revealing to me how much of what I do, how much of what I desire, where I put my hope is like smoke (closer to the Hebrew word ‘hevel’ from Ecclesiastes rather than ‘vanity’ or ‘meaningless’ as some older translations put it).

Like smoke, our work and our leadership are transitory and temporary. They will not last for ever. And like smoke, they are impossible to grasp and control. The more we try, the more elusive they seem to be.

Perhaps one of my big lessons of 2020 is that we are NOT in control. That our ‘effectiveness’ is not actually in our power to manage. Despite our black and white job descriptions, our sense of responsibility, we are not masters of our own destiny, let alone the destiny of the initiatives we lead. This is quite humbling. And also quite liberating. It is not all about us. Ultimately it is God’s work and responsibility. I’m reminded of the quote from poet TS Eliot “Ours is only the trying, the rest is not our business”.

Looking ahead to this week, what big tasks await us? Since we are not in control of the outcomes, how do we invite God’s transformative presence into these situations?

Strategy and Prayer

By Matt Parker

I love strategic planning. Writing mission statements, doing SWOT analyses, and setting goals excite me. I get a buzz out of envisioning the future and putting the plans in place that will help accomplish this.

I just started talking with my organization’s board about implementing a strategic review. They were enthusiastic as I laid out a six-month process to them.

But there was something that made me pause and reflect.

I was reading through the book of Acts at the time. And, in the second chapter, soon after Jesus ascended to heaven, we see the disciples gathered together in the upper room. They had been given a huge task: to continue the work that Jesus had started by taking the amazing hope of the Gospel message to the nations and baptizing and making disciples.

They were not (as I might have been tempted to do) writing a strategic plan, with vision statements, goals, objectives, and performance indicators (all in a nicely bound document with different colours and a beautiful cover photograph, of course!)

Instead, they were praying and fasting. And as they did so, the Holy Spirit came down upon them in power, strengthening them and guiding the way forward.

Think about that. We can compile the most detailed, ambitious, and compelling of plans, but these mean nothing unless God is at the centre. “Apart from me you can do nothing”, Jesus tells his disciples in John 15.

As we think about the future of our organizations, we must commit to prayer. We must seek God’s will, taking time to listen for his voice. And we must keep praying, pursuing him, listening carefully, and responding to his guiding throughout the entire process.

How can your organization better keep Christ at the heart of your planning processes?

Reminding ourselves of God’s presence

By Elaine Vitikainen

Monday is often a time for the office staff of Christian organisations to come together to sing, pray and to reflect on God’s word. It is a good way to start the working week by acknowledging that God is present with them and that God will help them as they work through the week. But what if you work from home? What if you work in a place where there are no regular office devotions? What if you don’t feel that God is by your desk on Monday morning? We all heard how people dislike Mondays. A friend once shared that it is even harder when she spends the whole Sunday at the church and returns to work on Monday in a secular environment. How can we experience the presence of God on a daily basis?

James 4:8 encourages us to come near to God. And as we come near to God, God will come near to us. But how do we do this in practice? How do we practice the presence of God at work; or as we sit in front of a computer?

Why not find something that reminds you that God is present with you every day. We may not have the benefit of a cloud above the tabernacle, but we each have our own experiences of God’s presence with us. What would symbolise to you God’s presence in your work place?

This week, reflect on Psalm 139:7-10

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.

Coffee and Your Organization’s Growth

By Matt Parker

For me, each morning begins with a strong cup of coffee.

Making the ideal cup of coffee takes some time. After measuring out the granules, adding water to the coffeemaker, and pressing the “start” button, I sit back and watch as the newly percolated coffee slowly drips and trickles into the cup below.

It creates the perfect result and is always worth the wait.

This morning, as I sat, bleary-eyed, watching the coffee drip into the cup, I reflected on the similarities of the drip-by-drip approach for making coffee, and for building our organizations.

We may have a clear vision for what we want to accomplish, the goals we need to meet, programmes we must create. But achieving this takes time – and often more time than we would like to take.

Rather than rushing to find a quick fix, growing a healthy organization can be more of a drip-by-drip process. Sometimes we can get frustrated at how long it takes. But the results of this approach are often so much better than if we rush too quickly to make the changes that are needed.

As you look at your organization, what is the next “drip” or two that must be added in the next week?

Is it a training program for your team? Must you send a special communication to your supporters? Is a tweak needing be made to one of your processes?

Start by praying. Decide what God is saying. Move forward with accomplishing this. Make it happen.

And, as you pour yourself another cup of coffee, commit the entire process, your vision, and your people, to God.

Identifying blind spots and hot spots

By Rick James

My colleague, Nick Wright, developed a really interesting exercise to use with top teams when developing a strategy. When we look at ideas for future direction, who we are in relation to what we are looking into will influence what we see – and what we don’t see – how we do it and what conclusions we draw from it. This is because our subconscious assumptions, biases, filters and defence mechanisms create blind spots and hot spots.

Blind spots are what we are not thinking about. They touch on what is invisible to us. They are concerned with (un)awareness. They are created by our beliefs. They reflect the paradigms we hold. If we challenge them, it can feel mind-bending. Hot spots are what we are not talking about. They touch on what is sacred to us. They are concerned with relationships. They are created by our values. They reflect the passions we hold. If we challenge them, it can feel heart-wrenching.

This week in looking at a current issue, think about:
Blind spots: What are we assuming? What appears self-evident to us and why? How can we draw in contrasting perspectives and ideas?
Hot spots: What are we avoiding? How will we handle power dynamics and vested interests? What will we do if we feel threatened or defensive? How can we hold robust conversations that feel safe?

Good questions to explore trust in teams. Here is a good way to start sensitive, but critical, discussions within a team. First get individuals to finish the sentence:
– What I most value about this team is….
– What I would like most from this team is….
– My work would be much more productive if….
– I would have more fun at work if….
– I feel frustrated when….
– I feel really motivated when….
Then facilitate a discussion drawing on people’s different responses.

Sideways Time

by Richard Lister, Coach and Mentor
Coaching to Thrive

Logic drives me like a wasp.  A wasp can’t bend the window glass and I can’t shift this charity.  Time to slip sideways. 

I head out and ease into the rhythm of walking.  At the top of the hill I catch sight of a kestrel, our smallest bird of prey.  It’s hanging in the air, hardly moving, held up by the breeze.

As I ponder the kestrel I am reminded of the verse: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD Almighty’ Zechariah 4v6.  I rethink my approach: less slog, more nudging allies and being nudged.  When did this sideways thought come?

When I’d moved.  Alain de Botton says:

‘Journeys are the midwives of thought .. . There is an almost quaint correlation between what is in front of our eyes and the thoughts we are able to have in our heads: large thoughts at times requiring large views, new thoughts new places. 

Introspective reflections which are liable to stall are helped along by the flow of the landscape.

The mind may be reluctant to think properly when thinking is all it is supposed to do.  The task can be as paralyzing as having to tell a joke or mimic an accent on demand.  Thinking improves when parts of the mind are given other tasks, are charged with listening to music or following a line of trees.’  (The Art of Travel).

Where might you need to go to get a larger, smaller or unusual perspective?  Or what other activity may prompt a sideways thought?

Resting in God

By Elaine Vitikainen

On the midnight of the 15th of June, the Government of Finland lifted the state of emergency in Finland and further eased the coronavirus restrictions. It made me reflect, ‘What did I learn during the last few months of isolation?´ Here are some of the things that I wrote down for myself:

  • Make the most of every opportunity – there may be no next time. The training we decided to postpone until after the crisis, now may never happen. We can’t retrieve time.
  • There is an opportunity to start again. During the lockdown, many of my colleagues felt that we were all at the same stage. We were all starting from scratch, navigating the new ways of working. This led to abundant sharing of knowledge and resources to help one another out.
  • The future is indeed unpredictable. We have to plan, but hold our plans very lightly. We cannot be sure that things will happen as we imagine.
  • God’s thoughts are not mine. God’s ways are not my ways. (Isaiah 55: 8-9). I do not know God’s plan for my life. But as I choose to trust God to do what is best for me, my soul rests in God.

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 crisis? How did the crisis affected your relationship with God? How can you rest more fully in God?

Pressing Return

By Nick Wright

As we wait for life to return to normal or even a ‘new normal’, I’ve been wondering what ‘return’ really means. This word keeps coming back to me: Return. Last week I was struck by the concept of ‘return on humanity’, in stark contrast to ‘return on investment’ (Clare Norman, 2020). 

In deep thought, I half-glance down at my keyboard and tap the ‘return’ key. The cursor leaps back to where it started in the left-hand margin (or the right-hand margin if you use a different script) – except that it doesn’t. It’s actually one line, one step, further ahead on the page than it was before. Now I’m thinking – a return that means a revisiting, yet also a step forward. Where do we need to go back to in order to advance forward? What will best yield a ‘return on humanity?’ 

And this came to mind. In 18th century Europe, the Enlightenment must have felt like a bright liberation from the feudal dark ages. Yet, ‘the (apparent) death of God didn’t strike (even) Nietzsche as an entirely good thing’ (Scotty Hendricks, 2016). In losing sight of God, we somehow lost sight of each other too. 

I’m convinced it’s time for a new Enlightenment: a radical return, not to religion but to the Spirit of Jesus and to step forward with renewed humanity – together. 

  • What might this look like in your work and leadership?

“We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring. Will be to arrive where we started. And know the place for the first time.”  TS Eliot from the Four Quartets

Nick Wright is a psychological coach and organisation development (OD) consultant who is based in the UK and works internationally (www.nick-wright.com). 

Get to the heart of the matter

By Rick James

Last year I reviewed a five year change process with a large Kenyan church. They made massive shifts in the nuts and bolts of their organisation reviewing their patriarchal constitution, developing much needed policies. The process of addressing them, however, brought to the surface more fundamental issues of relationships, culture and trust. To bring significant change needed attitude and behaviour change. 

For me the most powerful moment was mid-way through. The constitutional review had ground to a halt due to the lack of trust amongst the board members and leadership. It was only when the board themselves acknowledged that they were the source of the problem; spoke openly to each other; forgave and prayed for each other that they were able to develop the reservoirs of trust needed to deal with such a sensitive topic. 

Any organisational change process needs to get to the heart of the matter. This case study reaffirms that for any organisation to change, individuals must change too. Major OD often requires deep, personal transformation of leaders, far beyond rational logic or knowing the theology of servant leadership. This goes deeper than brute logic. It is a work of the Holy Spirit.

This week:

  • How might we adjust our current change initiatives to focus more on personal change and building trust? 
  • How might we create more space for the Holy Spirit to transform underlying attitudes (which drive behaviours)?

Well-fed deciding for the starving

By Steven Wetton

I was in a recent meeting about food provision when somebody said: “The well fed should never be deciding for the starving.” It made me stop. I asked myself: “Do we the ‘well fed’ decide for the ‘starving’? Do we even have the right to make decisions for programme beneficiaries?” I felt really uncomfortable. For I am one of the well-fed. I realised taking such decisions pre-supposes huge arrogance on my part.

Whenever I feel uneasy, I turn to scripture. Proverbs 15 vs 22 says ” Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed”. And James 3 vs 17 says” But the wisdom from above is pure first of all; it is also peaceful, gentle, and friendly; it is full of compassion and produces a harvest of good deeds; it is free from prejudice and hypocrisy.”

I realised if we take the guidelines in James 3 seriously, then we will not be arrogantly deciding for the ‘starving’ but rather that we are engaging them as advisers to help us shape our interventions so that we produce a harvest of good deeds that are free from prejudice and hypocrisy. And going even further, perhaps they should be the ones deciding and we become just the advisers.

In such turbulent times, I am reminded the value of keeping God’s word as a lamp to guide us and be a light for our paths (Psalm 119:105).

This week consider:
What issues are you facing, what is making you uneasy?
Where in the Bible could you turn for guidance?