Weekly Thoughts

The heart of change

By Rick James

We know from our own personal lives that change is fundamentally an emotional process. Any change, even the most positive, has an element of loss and letting go as well as the excitement and hope for the future. Emotions are the vital fuel for change, when things get tough. I read somewhere that 80% of change is emotional, not rational.

Yet, so often we forget this when we walk through the office door. We foolish behave as if brute logic alone was enough. Bill’s story last week from the Mothers’ Union in South Africa illustrated beautifully and powerfully how it is emotion and spirit that bring personal and organisational transformation.

As we look to contribute to positive change at work this week, what could we do to better connect with the inherently emotional and spiritual elements of change?

Wounded healers

By Bill Crooks

We were working with 25 Mothers’ Union community development coordinators from across South Africa. As part of our training, my co-facilitator performed a monologue of how it must have felt to be the woman who encountered Jesus at the well (John 4). She was ostracised and rejected by her community. At the end of the drama, there was a long silence before one huge woman (called ‘Tiny’) started weeping for the abused women in her community. After a while, my colleague also told her own story of her poor choice of husband, which led to divorce. Her vulnerability unlocked something. Suddenly participants began to share their own experiences of pain, hurt and sense of rejection. Their own personal stories enabled them to empathise with the women in their communities in a new way. They realised their role as development coordinators was not about managing projects, but acting as ‘wounded healers’. I’ve never been in a workshop so profound.

This week, how might you be a wounded healer?

Love your client and colleagues 

By Richard Davis

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength . . . Love your neighbour as yourself (Mark 12 v 30-31)

The quality of the love we offer God, we should also show those around us. Love that is open, sensitive, empathetic, appreciative, intimate, honest, trusting and resilient.

Our clients and colleagues are our neighbours. To serve them as well as we can, means we have to love them. To want the very best for them. To feel a deep sense of responsibility towards them. It’s this sense of responsibility – our capability to respond – that’s the source of the energy we put into loving others.

And in return we also should allow ourselves be loved. After all, it takes two for a relationship to flourish.

This week, what can you do to demonstrate a genuine love and commitment to your colleagues and clients?

Facilitating with grace

By Elaine Vitikainen

A few weeks ago, I was observing a training of 30 church leaders in Cambodia. It was a very hot day as Cambodia was approaching the hottest season. During the lunch break, the participants laid on the tiled floor of the training room. It was a refreshing break, away from the sun, with the air-conditioning cooling the air. When the time came for the training to continue, the participants sat in a circle. In the middle of the circle, one child was still asleep covered in a red blanket. Nobody minded. We went on with the training.

When the facilitator started talking, the girl who was asleep on the floor in the middle of the room woke up and started crying. Then something happened that I did not expect at all. When the child started making noise, the facilitator did not tell the mother to go and take the child away. He did not say, the child was disturbing the training. But instead he said simply, “Oh, I think I was talking too loud.”

This reminded me of the verse on being patient with one another. Ephesians 4:2 says, Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Technically, I can see he was a good facilitator. But no, he was better. He was facilitating with grace.

Think about how you deal with unexpected disturbances in your work. This week, how can you relate to others with grace?

Character is the real safeguard

In the last month the UK media has focussed an obsessive and unrelenting spotlight on the mis-behaviour of leaders in two of the largest international NGOs, Oxfam and Save the Children. Ignoring the 99% of the good work these agencies do, people are outraged by individuals failing to live up to their organisation’s values.

We shouldn’t be surprised by such human failing. After all the church has more than its fair share of appalling examples of financial corruption, sexual abuse and the misuse of power. As Christians we are far from immune from such temptations.

What is the answer? There is certainly a role for the standard systems-based responses, such as implementing ‘safeguarding policies’. But we know people by-pass policies. To get to root causes we need to go deeper – to address the human condition. With God’s presence, we need to face the flaws in our own character, so that we can withstand temptation and live out our aspired values.

So as Christian organisations, instead of building bigger, we should be digging deeper. Instead of focusing on growth, we should cultivate the vital virtues of humility, generosity, forgiveness, courage and self-discipline.

  • What one thing could you do this week in your organisation to cultivate such holy virtues?


Remembering why we’re here

By Elaine Vitikainen

It’s amazing how easily we forget why we do what we do. I was really encouraged to read the personal introduction from a colleague appointed as Country Director in one organisation in Bangladesh. He took his inspiration for his new role from Paul’s instruction in Philippians 2:4, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others”.

This reminded me of my early days in the mountains in the Philippines working in health. I also reconnected with how I felt in 2001 when I joined an international development agency in Cambodia. I remembered my energy, my passions and my dreams. I saw God’s vision clearly. It was obvious why I was doing what I was doing – I was serving others.

However, there were times in my many years working in Asia that all too often I was simply too busy. The work travel demanded too much of me. I got discouraged when the visible impact is not immediately obvious. I was easily got caught up with my day-to-day role. It was a long way from my early days — my formative ‘Genesis’ experiences. It took recommitting myself to God to bring me back to that place where God first called me and to be renewed by God’s spirit. I found myself resting in God who gave me back the vision of why I am doing what I am doing.

This week:

  • When did you feel closest to your sense of calling?
  • What is it that really inspires you?

A weird wake-up call

A strange thing happened to me last week. I’d just finished talking to a student group in Oxford together with my wife, when my short-term memory suddenly disappeared, like a forgotten dream. I had no idea where I was or why or where we were going next. After an emergency brain scan in hospital, it turned out to be a harmless, one-off event called Transient Global Amnesia. After a few days rest and lots of sleep, I feel back to normal.

But I’ve realised how fragile we are, how much we take for granted. We are indeed ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’. I tend to live life assuming ‘it will never happen to me’, with almost an illusion of immortality. Hopefully I’ve learned this is not the case.

So this week I’m trying to treat life as a gift – new every day. Rather than simply concentrating on the endless to-do list, I’m trying (though still failing!) to focus more on what really matters, on what will have lasting significance. This is probably more about relationships, the lives I touch, than the relentless tasks.

Think for a moment:

  • Whose lives will you touch this week?
  • What will they be left with after spending time with you?

The Culture of Mistrust

By Elaine Vitikainen

A client opened up to me about the difficulties she was having at work. She described, “During the coffee breaks in our team meetings, my boss frequently takes one of my colleagues to the corner and talk together in a low whisper. I was paranoid they were talking about me”. She went on to explain that although she had later found out that they were not in fact talking about her, but just gossiping in general, the damage had already been done. She admitted, “The real impact this has had is on me. I learned not to trust my colleagues.”

Trust is such a fragile commodity. It can easily be broken even before it is built. Yet we know trust is the foundation for healthy organisational behaviour.

This got me thinking about my own behaviour. When I’m in a situation where there is not much trust, I don’t want to put myself on the line. I hold back. As a result, I don’t bring my best ideas to a situation. As I reflected further I began to ask myself – how have I unintentionally contributed to organisational mistrust? When I go to work do my actions actively encourage trust or do they sometimes breed mistrust?

1 John 3:18 calls us to love with actions and in truth, not just with our mouth. As leaders, staff members and facilitators, our actions will speak much much louder than any fine words.

This week: What might I do a little bit differently to help trust nourish in the groups and organisations that I’m involved with?

Identity in a fishbowl

By Lorentz Forsberg

I was in the middle of an organisational change process. It was a scary thing, yet both interesting and challenging. My organisation was small and as staff, we knew one another quite well. But with changes brought to us in the form of restructured departmental architecture, I found myself questioning what I really knew about my colleagues.

In my unit, we realised early that we needed external help to facilitate the merger of our two small teams. We were so different in our approach, culture and work methods. For ten years, we had grown our own ways, and somewhat resistant, we found ourselves in this new arrangement.

As we met the first time with the consultant and as a unit, we talked about many things we had never talked about before. I learned new things about each of my colleagues, including my old team partners. I even learned new things about myself, some of which I really liked.

One helpful exercise we used is called the fish bowl. Each of the former teams were seated in the middle and encouraged to talk about their culture and work methods, while the other team was listening in silence as they were seated around. Then the teams switched places, and the team in the middle talked about what they had heard while listening to the other team. Then the first team got back in the middle to reflect on what the other team had heard as they listened. This exercise and the dialogue that followed gave new insights and opened a new window of understanding to what we had been as teams and what we wanted to be as a unit.

On a personal level, all this brought me back to the words of Jesus in Matthew 16: “And you, who do you say I am?” As things around were getting more confused, and arguments heated up on who this Jesus was, he was able to invite his closest followers to reflect on what others said, and what they themselves believed. I imagine that the team of disciples became closer and grew individually from this. I know Peter did, and today we are many that echo his answer: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

This week, take the time to listen carefully to your colleagues and find out something new about them. Make sure you also share something new about yourself.

Greed in disguise

By Rick James

Greed is good at disguise. It can masquerade as success or even blessing…

People used to talk a lot about ‘small is beautiful’. But nowadays bigger always seems to be better. Some agencies (and even churches) may have become ‘fiscally mesmerised’ by ever increasing income targets. A desire for growth becomes the main driver for decision-making. We use size to define success. We are really proud of growth. We justify this fixation on the basis that growth means we can reach more people and change more lives. But there may be a shadow side to this growth objective. Our motives may not be wholly pure. Our desire for growth may be influenced by greed.

Greed is not just something out there in organisations, it affects us all as individuals. As an OD consultant, I am deeply uncomfortable when clients ask ‘What do you charge?’ I know I have to earn an income, but how much is enough? I may only charge ‘the market rate’, but my daily fee may be much more than a local salary for a month or even two… Am I really worth that amount of money? Or has greed altered my perspective?

Greed is all around us. It is not just in richer countries. We need to be on a constant look-out. We need to grapple with the uncomfortable questions. If we feel we have fully answered them, perhaps this just shows we have lost our way.

  • What disguises does greed wear in your life?
  • How can you fight against it this week?