Weekly Thoughts

Shaped in the crisis

By Rick James

All our certainties and even assumptions about the world are in the air. Everything is unsettled and in a state of flux. It’s deeply uncomfortable, distressing and threatening in so many ways.

Yet these are also opportunities in this crisis. Usually, our organisations are highly resistant to change. They change as little as they have to. But now, everything is more fluid and flexible. It may be possible to shape our organisations in directions we have only aspired to before. In the wilderness, we need to head in the direction of the Promised Land.

I work part-time at a University and finally we are taking the leap towards online learning, having spoken about it for years. I am also apart of a consultancy charity in the UK. We are now putting into practice our previous intentions to work through local consultants in Asia and Africa. My local church has said for years “Church is not a building – it is about who we are and what we do in community” – but now we are making that a reality.

This week, think about the organisations you are a part of:
Where is their ‘promised land’?
How can this crisis help them move in that direction?

What makes people trust me?

By Rick James

People follow leaders they trust. I believe that trust is the most valuable, but fragile, asset of any leader. But what does it actually mean and how do we build trust? Most researchers on trust emphasise that we trust people who we think are:

  • Competent – they are good at what they do
  • On our side – they support us and want the best for us. They are not ego-driven. It is not all about them.
  • Full of integrity – their actions match their words. They are honest and admit when things go wrong.

It is fairly simple to know what makes people trust us. It is fairly difficult to put into practice!

This week with the teams I work in, what can I do to:

  • Improve my competence, knowledge and skills?
  • Show people that I am on their side?
  • Demonstrate my integrity and honesty?

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?