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 The security of being fully booked over the next months has suddenly been replaced by great uncertainty about the future.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.
- 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?
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?
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?
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.
If you were given ten years to live, what would be on your bucket list?
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
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?
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?
By Rick James
In my 30 years of working in international development, church and community mobilisation is the closest I’ve seen to genuinely transformative, sustainable development. Watch this two minute video to find out a bit more.
Recent research in Malawi found that this church and community mobilisation approach was more than 25 times more cost effective and more than four times more likely to be sustained than even an excellent project-based approach (rated A+ by DFID). If you want the evidence, read this 2019 ‘Analysing Cost-Effectiveness report’.
What’s more, mobilising the local church to work together with its community to solve their current community challenges can breathe life (and numbers) back into the church. The local church is no longer seen as out of touch, but deeply relevant, caring and committed to the well-being of others. This is just as important for churches in Europe (if not more).
So I’ve been asking myself over the last few months, if this approach really is a pearl of great price, how should I focus more of my time (paid and unpaid) on this? What other good work do I need to say ‘no’ to in order to concentrate on what is most important?
This week think about:
How relevant is church and community mobilisation in your context?
What for you is your pearl of great price?
By Elaine Vitikainen
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)
Isaiah 43:18-19 is a very popular verse in the New Year. It’s in social media, as a part of church sermons, in devotions and even on greeting cards. Many people equate this verse with the beginning of the year where God brings in new things with great provision and prosperity.
But what does Isaiah 43:18-19 really means? Bible commentaries look back at Israel’s past. It talks about how Isaiah saw God’s new manifestation of redemption through the birth of Jesus Christ. This to me talks about the reaffirming of my faith in Christ and my relationship with God. It is an assurance of hope and peace in the amidst of the turbulent world that I live in. It does not promise of financial gains and prosperity. It speaks to me about spiritual gains where Christ is the centre.
As the New Year begins, let’s listen prayerfully about what 2020 means for our relationship with God. In what areas does our relationship need to deepen and change? Where do we need refreshment, strength and determination?
Have a blessed New Year.
By Elaine Vitikainen
A few years ago, I facilitated a reflection exercise with an organisation to look back
at its life over the last 15 years. We recalled the events and accomplishments in the organisation. We also looked at the high points and the low points on the journey and how people felt during those times. Participants shared their memories. At the end, I asked them to think about who they are and what has characterised how they have worked together over the years. It was a good session. The participants were encouraged and inspired. It reawakened people’s commitment to actively engage in the day-to- day work.
This exercise reminded me of Joshua’s final speech. During Joshua’s farewell, he looked back at all that God has done during his leadership. In Joshua 24: 31, it says “Israel served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua”. Joshua emphasised that God is the only source of their success.
It is immensely valuable every now and then to look back as an organisation, to contemplate the journey and recognise how God has been with you all the way.
Plan time with your team (however short) to stop and reflect. Look back and ask yourselves how things have gone, what you have learned, and where did you sense God’s presence this year. Create space to reconnect with why you do what you do.
If you haven’t emailed us yet on how Space for Grace will shape itself in 2020, please do so as we are looking forward to hear from you. If you have Weekly Thoughts to share to the Space for Grace network, please get in touch with us. Here, you can find some helpful tips in Writing Weekly Thoughts. You can also download the Weekly Thought booklets for the coming year.
Space for Grace wishes you a blessed Christmas. The next Weekly Thought will be published on Monday, the 13th of January 2020.