Guidance for the New Normal

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Rick Kirchoff

At Clergy Coaching Network, we’ve been curating the best articles about the future of the church in light of the COVID-19 Pandemic. As we’ve done this work and as we’ve listened to the challenges and creativity of our coaching clients, we are drawing several conclusions.

What follows is a summary of the insights of the best ideas about the future of the church. (A complete list of our sources is at the end of this article.)

Tony Morgan writes:

“I’m noticing two types of church leaders right now. One type of church leader is just waiting for things to go back to normal so that we can get back to doing church the way we’ve always done church. The question they’re asking me is this: “When do you think we’ll be able to reopen our churches?”

Then he adds: “I’m hearing many pastors talking about everything returning to normal in May. That could happen in portions of our country, but most of us will not be returning to large social gatherings, including church services until widespread testing and vaccines are available. That’s going to be many months from now.

Between now and then, there may be some loosening of guidelines where large social gatherings are allowed. But as cases return and increase again (because widespread testing and vaccines are not available), the guidelines will tighten again.

I hope I’m wrong, but I think church leaders need to be planning for a full year before large social gatherings are happening throughout the entire country without restrictions. Are you prepared for that?”

(The best estimate of epidemiologists is that some social distancing may need to persist into 2022 in the USA to keep the surge of people severely sickened by COVID-19 from overwhelming the health care system. – Journal of Science, April 14, 2020)

Tony Morgan identifies the second type of church leader he’s starting to encounter.

“They aren’t so concerned about when we might return to normal, because they realize what we’ve experienced…and will continue to experience for many months…is going to force the church to change. Normal isn’t coming back. The question they’re instead asking is this: ‘How must the church change for a new normal?’ And they are ready to start making those changes now. They are not waiting for their church doors to reopen.   

Susan Beaumont concurs:

“Crisis moments call for strong, decisive action—people want to know that someone is in charge, and things are being managed. But once the initial crisis calms, a period of disorientation sets in as we find our way to a new normal. The resolute leadership style that worked well during the initial crisis won’t work well in this ongoing unsettled space.

We are in a liminal season, stuck between an ending and a new beginning. The pathway forward is not knowable. The way we “did church” even two months ago is done. We have literally been thrown out of our buildings by a pandemic. We can reassure people (and ourselves) by pretending the disruption is temporary. “We will resume all normal activity soon.” That reassurance is not helpful or truthful.”

And in another article, Ken Braddy adds,

“We will not go back to business as usual in our churches. If you think we’ll all rush back to church and pick up where we left off, don’t kid yourself – it’s not going to happen. Or at least it shouldn’t happen.”

If they (and their colleagues) are correct, and we believe they are, how will we begin to adapt to the is new normal? What innovations are needed now and in the future? What questions do we need to address now, before people return to our church facilities?

As I’ve listened to what others are writing and saying, here are some tentative thoughts. What follows is wide-ranging and is admittedly somewhat overwhelming. But I invite you to examine these ideas, glean what is useful, discard the rest, and build a plan that is right for you and your context.

And realize that no strategy, even the best one, survives intact after it encounters reality and human frailty. So, my best wisdom is to build a strong prayer team as you venture into this challenge.

In addition, seek to build your plan with a congregational team that includes wise influence leaders and those who will be able to interpret the program to those who are resistant or even obstructionist. This team will help you both gather accurate information and make informed decisions. For more about this team, check out the third point in this article: (https://outreachmagazine.com/features/leadership/53337-principles-for-leading-through-the-coronavirus-pandemic.html)

 

IN LIGHT OF THE CORONAVIRUS, SAFETY CONCERNS (INCLUDING SANITIZING, FACE MASKS, AND SOCIAL DISTANCING) WILL RESHAPE MANY OF OUR CONGREGATIONS.

Some elements of social distancing will become permanent for churches as churches become less “tactile.” Stand and Greet is Dead; church huggers will no longer be tolerated, and for a time, handshakes will be off-limits.

You’ll want to provide hand sanitizing stations and places where people can get a face mask.

Guests/Newcomers will be asking: Is it safe to attend? Hand sanitizing stations are only the beginning. Safety concerns will impact the size of worship attendance, sanitizing of the nursery, restrooms, door handles, stations for hand sanitizer, even the smell. Does it smell clean?

Many churches will need to decide whether to add and/or shorten worship services to accommodate people while allowing for social distancing.

If physical gatherings are limited in size to accommodate the need for social distancing, you have options:

(1) offer more services

(2) encourage people to continue worshiping online

(3) remove pews/chairs from your worship space to help people avoid close contact

(4) block off pews/chairs so that people no longer sit right behind someone, reducing the chances of them sneezing or coughing directly into the back of the person in front of them.

How will you sanitize and sterilize your entire church building? You’ll likely want to consult your local health department to learn about proper sanitizing measures and their recommendation for your congregation. With that information, you’ll plan to regularly sanitize your worship space and all classrooms (especially those where children meet because of the toys and other items they touch during the course of a Sunday or Wednesday class experience, as well as pre-school).

Have you sprayed or wiped pews and chairs with disinfectant? Who is wiping doorknobs and handles? Have you had carpet cleaned and disinfected? Now is the time for all this to take place, not the week of the “you can go back to church” announcement by government officials. Will implementation of this gives rise to a new team of people on campus whose ministry it is to walk around wiping doorknobs and other surfaces? Who is going to clean restrooms throughout the time that people are in the facility? Remember, you’ll have hundreds (some of your churches may have thousands) of people touching things while they are on campus.

The Nursery and other children’s spaces will be a top concern for parents. They may view kids’ area as a Petri dish into which they are throwing their children. If we don’t accommodate for sanitized nursery spaces and other children’s rooms, should parents take their kids to worship, practice physical distancing, and keep a close eye on their little ones?

How will safety concerns impact the Choir and other elements of your music ministry? How can social distancing guidelines be maintained when choirs practice and present in spaces that do not provide a 6-foot distance? Does singing help to spread the virus? And what about wearing face masks while trying to sing? What about handbells and keyboards?

Something to consider: In a recent article in Infection Control Today, Dr. Kevin Kavanagh, writes about choirs and singing: “Why am I calling out churches? The answer is asymptomatic spread and aerosolization of the virus from singing. It’s been determined that this virus is much more infectious than the flu. National leaders are now saying 3 times as infectious, giving the epidemic a R0 of approximately 4. This probably requires other methods of transmission than from sneezing and coughing. And if approximately 50% of individuals catch this virus from asymptomatic carriers, one must ask, how are these carriers spreading the virus? They are not coughing and sneezing. The answer is probably aerosolization, were the virus can float in the air and be picked up later by an unsuspecting passerby. The virus has been observed to survive in an aerosol form for up to 3 hours. Thus, singing and church choirs may be the worst practice one can participate in.”

How will you sanitize the multiple TouchPoints in your worship experience? These include door handles, pew or seat backs, hymnals, offering plates, communion practices, worship bulletins, shake hands with the pastor and others, church dinners, classroom gatherings, recreation & fitness facilities, elevator buttons.

How will you provide for Weddings, Baptisms, and Funerals and do it safely?

And what about coffee time?  Many churches have invested serious dollars in creating a coffee shop or self-serve coffee experience for groups and classes. Is that still a good idea? Gathering areas with tables and chairs may need to be placed in storage so that people don’t congregate within a couple of feet of one another.

What about your Greeters ministry? Do door greeters do their jobs differently, or at all? Will you have door greeters? Seriously?! But you’ve always had door greeters. But in a COVID-19 world, do you want a door greeter holding the door open while a parishioner walks by within a foot or two of them? The new normal may be to provide automatic door openers and ask greeters to stand back six feet, inside the church building, and welcome people verbally without opening the door for them.

Some clergy believe that the best way to approach all of this is by developing a “health team,” made up of wise leaders, who will review these recommendations, those of the CDC and local health leaders, and give guidance to the congregation.

Welcome to the new sanitizing world COVID-19 has created.

 

SMALLER & MULTIPLE WORSHIP SERVICES COULD BECOME NORMAL

What if epidemiologists recommend that social distancing protocols continue and your worship gathering is initially limited to no more than 50 or 100 people? If we are limited to a smaller number by healthcare leaders, what is your plan to provide a place and time for all attendees to worship?

One primary strategy is, of course, to continue to offer worship online.

Another strategy is to add worship services to accommodate attendees.

So, it is likely that smaller worship services will become normal. There is already a trend of churches moving to smaller worship gatherings, even if the church was growing. In a COVID-19 world, we may need to anticipate capping services attendance at a size that allows for proper social distancing. As a result, the 80% rule will become the 50-60% rule for worship gatherings. The 80% rule said that a worship center with a capacity of 200 feels full at 160 (80%). The 50-60% rule will say the congregation will want more social distancing, and thus the 200-capacity worship center will reach its social distancing capacity at 100-120. (T Rainer)

 

RATHER THAN THE COMMUNITY COMING TO CHURCH, THE CHURCH WILL GO TO THE COMMUNITY

For too long, some church leaders have devised strategies to get guests to “come to church.” The pandemic is forcing us to see that the church building is only a gathering point, not an ultimate destination. How can you lead the churches right now to find ways to be a real ministry and influence in the community? How will you enable the church to go to the community rather than pushing the community to go to church? (Thom Rainer)

James Emery White writes: “Churches have been forced to move from a weekend-centric, crowd approach to a seven-day-a-week, incarnational approach. While every church should embrace, celebrate, and promote corporate worship, too many churches made that celebration the end-all for the life of the church. We say that the church isn’t bricks and mortar, but a community of faith that can be strategically served by bricks and mortar. Yet too many churches were never leaving the building. The goal of the church is to be the church in the community where it resides, attempting to reach and serve in the name of Jesus. The pandemic has broken us out of our gospel ghettos and holy huddles and into the neighborhoods and streets where we live.”

Churches are being brought back to their missionWhen all of your methods and practices have been stripped away, you are left with something raw and unfiltered. It’s called your mission. Churches around the world are finding that much of what they had been doing to fulfill the mission had become the mission. Now, they are beginning to see the actual mission in a new and liberating light.

This includes doing the work of Making Disciples for the Transformation of the World.

And it includes feeding people who are adversely impacted by the Coronavirus Shutdown. So many are out of work, and the need is great! Support your local Food Bank. Our metro area food bank can feed 300 for $100. If your community has no Food Bank, look at starting your own or doing food distribution cooperatively with other churches and/or service groups.

 

THE DIGITAL CHURCH IS HERE TO STAY & INTERNET WILL BE A BIG FRONT DOOR

Many churches have resisted the migration into the virtual world, but the coronavirus has taken many congregations into a quick immersion into the digital age. The initial forays have been to introduce digital giving and to Livestream some form of worship services. But coronavirus is the tipping point of much more to come in the digital world.

It seems that Digital is here to stay. And, churches will be shifting to making this a primary platform for everything they do rather than just a stream of their Sunday services.

Carey Nieuwhof writes:

“Some churches may think of their recent foray into Facebook Live as a means to provide a worship experience for their people is a temporary thing – a stop-gap measure during some extraordinary days. They look forward to the day that online services give way to worship experiences on campus. But is that the right strategy? Church leaders say their worship attendance and group attendance are up – significantly – because people are finding them online.

What’s kept a lot of church leaders from truly embracing online services or an expanded online ministry?

One main thing: worry about a drop in physical attendance. Until now, too many pastors have concerned about the internet as a back door.

That’s because until now, most church leaders have kept score by how many people physically attend their church.

I realize numbers matter because people matter, but it’s strange that we value the people we can see physically more than we value the people we can see digitally. That’s doubly strange if people actually matter to God.

Pastors have resisted online ministry, argued video teaching doesn’t work and fails to invest seriously in anything digital because they’ve been worried it will become a back door through which people walk away.

Church online will continue to grow as a front door for the curious, the skeptic, and the interested. It will be the first stop for almost everyone, and a temporary resting place for people who are a little too afraid to jump in until they muster the courage to jump in through physical attendance.

Your online ministry is also a side door to Christians who, when travel resumes, won’t be there on a given Sunday. Ironically, it will help them stay engaged because you’re equipping them every day, not just on Sundays.

If you continue to behave like the world doesn’t live online, you’ll miss the very people you’re trying to reach.

The future church (at least future churches that reach unchurched people) will no longer be in-person gathering with a smidge of online thrown in.

If people live every day in need of hope and resources to live out their faith (or to find faith) every day, church leaders have to start coming alongside people every day. Like many are doing right now.

That won’t go away when things go back to ‘normal.’ There will be a new normal, and it will be a seamless interweaving of the digital and analog, just like life is these days.

Starting now, Sunday-focused churches will become every day-focused churches because people need to live out their faith every day.”

So, should you be investing in new digital equipment right now? Yes, we’ve all hopped online and used Facebook Live to broadcast our worship services. Some of us are doing that with iPads and other devices, but is this the time to admit that online worship is probably here to stay? If yes, then it makes sense to invest dollars now so that quality cameras, microphones, and other equipment that will help the church be more engaging in the new online world of worship.

 

STAFFING FOR ONLINE WILL BE A PRIORITY 

For years Carey Nieuwhof has suggested that church leaders asking if online counts is like Sears asking if Amazon counts. Suddenly that conversation seems more real than ever. Of course, online counts. Just because real-life counts doesn’t mean that online doesn’t, and just because online counts doesn’t mean real-life doesn’t. They BOTH matter!

Here’s the problem: most churches spend somewhere between 90-100% of their staff dollars on in-person experiences: Sunday gatherings, groups, events, community service.

With only a few exceptions, even in large churches, the paucity of resources given to online resources is staggering.

What usually happens is the senior leader gives the website, streaming, and social media to a teenage volunteer or to some 20-something staffer who ‘understands that stuff,’ tacking it on to his or her already full-time job description. Alternatively, the senior pastor outsources it as a line item in the budget to some third-party service he doesn’t even know the name

Now is the time to rethink how to redistribute staffing for when things go back to ‘normal’ because normal won’t be the way it was. It will be a new normal. Churches that reach people in the future will staff online as though it’s real because it is.

 

OUR ONLINE SERMONS WILL IMPROVE AND TAKE ON A NEW LIFE

A crisis is a cradle for innovation. So, when it comes to the sermon, it is a great time to innovate.

Many pastors are discovering what it’s like to see and listen to themselves preach. And for some of us, it is a rude awakening. Speaking into a camera takes a unique skill set, and most leaders are choosing to go shorter rather than longer. But brevity alone is not the answer. The issues are too numerous and lengthy to address here, so here is a link from Carey Nieuwhof that may help us all to be better online communicators. (Here are some pro-tips on that).

You can easily make messages interactive. Having live-chat during sermons can allow your hosts to engage with people, and at the very end of the service on Sunday, take live questions from people about the message.

You can start to film in advance and make the messages more creative, almost taking a cinematic approach to it.

To help in speaking directly to the camera, some preachers are investing in readily available, low-cost teleprompters that can be used with smartphones and pads.

 

SOCIAL DISTANCING WILL CHANGE SOME WORSHIP TRADITIONS IN MANY CHURCHES. 

As mentioned above, the “stand and greet” time is dead, at least in the way many have done it. This practice has been on the decline in recent days. Many churches have already abandoned it because of its ineffectiveness with guests, not because of COVID-19 concerns.

Is a physical “pass the plate” offering a thing of the past? How would you feel if you were the 100th person in a worship service to touch the offering plate that 99 other people just touched?

What adjustments will you need to make to Communion, baptisms, and your choir ministry? Do you believe you can conduct communion as you have in the past? Your church’s tradition may involve passing a plate of elements, or it may include drinking from a common cup in some denominations. Will you use the self-contained juice and cracker cups? What about baptism – it’s going to be impossible to practice physical distancing in a baptism pool. And as one reader said, “What do I do about my church’s choir program?” He realizes that people standing side-by-side won’t be practical.

 

DIGITAL GIVING WILL BE THE NORM

Non-digital giving will become an outlierFewer people will want to handle the offering plates or buckets or touch cash. Watch for a dramatic decrease in non-digital giving. Make sure you are moving your church to digital giving.

Have someone in your church who can help the digitally challenged to set up online giving for them.

You and your leadership can explore how to help people understand how to do an automatic bank draft, set up online giving, and even provide a non-pass-the-plate option for those who wish to give their gift when they come to worship.

For a deeper dive into online giving, check out this webinar and summary:  https://www.vanderbloemen.com/blog/online-giving-through-covid19

 

SENIOR ADULT MINISTRY WILL UNDERGO DRAMATIC CHANGE

Because older adults are at higher risk from COVID-19, they may be the last to return to in-person worship and other congregational activities. This is not to say that they don’t want to return, but they do not want to take the risk. In a recent post, Carey Nieuwhof asked this poignant question: “For those who lead multi-generational or older congregations, what if a good chunk of your church shouldn’t gather for a year or two?” 

One older adult friend has remarked that he and his wife do not plan to return to church until there is a proven vaccination. They continue to worship online, connect with church friends, and give, but they will not attend until it is proven safe. They are missing the church, their friends, their volunteer activities in the church. They want to return, but for them, church gatherings can be dangerous. They are hopeful that their congregation will offer online options, in addition to worship, so that they can fully participate in the community in this strange season.

In many congregations, they have organized service teams to reach out to their senior members to help them with errands, shop for groceries, and pick up medications.

One pastor just told me that in the three weeks, he had made more than 300 phone calls, making it a priority to “reach out and touch” the older members of his congregation.

Clergy can make phone calls and write letters. Phone calls and hand-written letters are low tech and no tech. But there is high value in the personal connection they bring.

Help Seniors access and learn a New technology: This might be FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and more. All sorts of online options exist to talk with family and friends. And you for many of these you don’t have to be tech-savvy. Doing the basics is easy, and for most people, fun. If setting up an account is daunting, put together a steam that can help, be on call, and give ready tutorials.

In some congregations, where older people do not have the technology, they are buying Chromebooks (costing less than $300) and purchasing WIFI for those who are not connected. They’ve solicited donations to do this for unconnected seniors, and then have a servant team that helps older folks get set up and are available by phone to help when the new technology seems overwhelming.

Help older members find a ministry by reaching out to others from their homes. It may sound counterintuitive. How can you remain a part of the community and serve even if you are sheltering at home? Seniors can make phone calls to check in on others. They can write letters of encouragement.

Reaching out to residents of Nursing Homes:

Pick a person and a day and shower that person with greeting cards.

Reach out the nursing home social worker and explore having a 10-15-minute FaceTime meeting with the nursing home resident once a month. In that facetime visit, include a familiar hymn, a scripture, a personal check-in, a devotional thought, and prayer.

 

WE WILL BECOME CREATIVE & PERSONAL IN OUR DISCIPLESHIP PLANS

Two options: Online Groups & One-on-One Coaching

Online groups: You can begin by taking your current face-to-face classes and groups online.

Many have already done this.

Take your membership class online.

Here’s some guidance from someone who’s been leading online groups for over a decade: https://catalystchurchcreative.com/coronavirus-online-groups/

One-on-One Discipleship Coaching:

One of the most creative approaches to discipleship that we’ve seen in this time comes from Ken Willard, Director of Discipleship, Leadership, and Congregational Vitality for the West Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church.

It is called Digital Discipleship Coaching. Discipleship Coaching builds on three foundations:

  1. As followers of Jesus Christ, people want and need to grow as disciples. None of us are finished growing into the image of Christ. This is a lifelong process sometimes known as sanctification, or as John Wesley called it, “becoming perfected in love.”
  2. Spiritual disciplines are the building blocks of discipleship. These behaviors and actions are the means by which we best grow as disciples of Jesus. By taking intentional steps in the spiritual disciplines, over time, we become more fully devoted followers of Christ.
  3. Coaching is a partnership process designed to help a disciple best discern their next steps. By asking powerful questions and then actively listening, the coach acts as a spiritual guide.

Discipleship Coaching happens best in one-on-one situations. Most people, no matter how long they have been in church, have never had a one-on-one conversation with anyone about their spiritual growth. With everything suddenly being forced online, now is a perfect time to schedule a conversation. People in our congregations need the connection and the encouragement to continue their discipleship journey. To learn more about this one-on-one discipleship plan, go to https://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/10205/digital-discipleship-coaching

If Ken’s plan doesn’t seem right for you and our context, how could to adapt the program to reflect more of your gift, temperament, and the needs of those in your congregation?

 

BUDGETS AND STAFFING WILL HAVE TO REFLECT THESE NEW REALITIES 

The issues regarding church finances and staffing are too complex and contextual to address here.

So, we will point you to several web resources that offer ideas, models, and plans. What follows is not an exhaustive listing, but it will help you and your leadership to begin a conversation about these critical issues. We encourage you to take a deep dive into these sites and discern what approaches are most helpful for your context.

Finances:

https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/articles/10-ideas-for-church-financial-leaders-amid-the-covid-19-crisis

https://samrainer.com/2020/03/creating-a-financial-plan-for-your-church-during-the-outbreak/

https://www.vanderbloemen.com/blog/leading-staff-reorganizations

https://www.vanderbloemen.com/blog/stewardship-giving-though-crisis

Staffing:

https://www.vanderbloemen.com/blog/critical-components-of-restructuring-staff

https://www.vanderbloemen.com/blog/leading-staff-reorganizations

The coaches at Clergy Coaching Network are available to assist you and your congregation as you navigate these challenging times.  You can learn more about us and our work at www.clergycoachingnetwork.com or you can email me at rickccnet@gmail.com

 

Sources:

What will The Post Coronavirus Church Look Like? https://tinyurl.com/u27wp6o

The Current Crisis is Accelerating the Future Church: https://tinyurl.com/u9xmrpd

The Church is now a Blank Slate: https://tinyurl.com/rg5shmb

5 Predictions About the Future Church: https://tinyurl.com/rowp53a

Five Ways You Will be a Different Pastor: https://tinyurl.com/w8z3qjk

Seven Shifts the Church Needs to Make: https://tinyurl.com/y7ku4ov9

24 Questions Your Church Should Answer:  https://kenbraddy.com/2020/04/18/20-questions-your-church-should-answer-before-people-return/

5 Ways the Pandemic is Saving the Church: https://www.churchandculture.org/blog/2020/4/20/5-ways-the-pandemic-is-saving-the-church

Finding Our New Normal: https://www.congregationalconsulting.org/finding-our-new-normal/

A Financial Plan During the Outbreak: https://samrainer.com/2020/03/creating-a-financial-plan-for-your-church-during-the-outbreak/

For a variety of articles and curated webinars about leadership and finances during this crisis: www.vanderbloemen.com/blog

 

Resources for a Changing Ministry

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What follows is a listing of the most popular resource links from the Clergy Coaching Network Facebook page. We trust that you will find many of these links lead to learning and ministry innovation in these challenging times.  (This list will be regularly updated, so please check back.)

LEADING “VIRTUAL” WORSHIP

A Quick Guide to Live Streaming: https://tinyurl.com/qpbb9qz

Using Free Conference Call (finding a way to worship with people who don’t have digital media): https://www.freeconferencecalling.com/?

Digital Audio Tips: https://tinyurl.com/vsg5zp3

What happens when Faith Communities are Forced to go Virtual? https://tinyurl.com/vho5hze

How to Facebook Live (for small churches): https://tinyurl.com/r2ndjtd

Resources for Worship at Home: https://tinyurl.com/qlrrtl7

Don’t Let the Virus Stop Sunday Worship: https://tinyurl.com/wycs7rj

Preaching & Covid-19: https://tinyurl.com/tyjdnub

5 Tips for Preaching Remotely: https://tinyurl.com/tfr8942

A Beginners Guide to Online Worship: https://tinyurl.com/r3mh4f6

Live Streaming while Sheltering in Place: https://tinyurl.com/uv2tf6d

Encouragement for Live Streaming in the Small Church: https://tinyurl.com/t3awvf6

How Clergy are Handling Un-gathered Worship: https://tinyurl.com/t6lnpqs

Virtual Communion in a Time of Pandemic: https://tinyurl.com/w4swpra

          Half of All Churches are Instantly Growing:        https://tinyurl.com/wayu498

 

CONGREGATIONAL CARE

10 Guidelines for Pastoral Care:  https://tinyurl.com/r2y7dko

 Staying Connected: https://tinyurl.com/rwsfto3

Connecting in a Time of Social Distancing: https://tinyurl.com/vuptsey

 

DISCIPLESHIP

A Model for Discipleship Coaching: https://tinyurl.com/vcdmjxt

 

CHURCH FINANCE

The Paycheck Protection Program. What you need to Know: https://tinyurl.com/tuvqy27

Ten Ideas for Leaders: https://tinyurl.com/w33hcde

Churches fear for their future: https://tinyurl.com/qluvuqq

Three Sites to help you Understand the Stimulus, The CARES Act and the impact on Churches and Salaries:

From ECFA: https://tinyurl.com/yx6urpzj

From Christianity Today: https://tinyurl.com/qr53zfx

From United Methodist News Service: https://tinyurl.com/v2yx6vn

 

SERVICE

Putting the Mission in missional: https://tinyurl.com/w9bnbua

Contagious Kindness: https://tinyurl.com/to68eyc

 

SELF-CARE

Words of Encouragement for Clergy: https://tinyurl.com/srwuqjs

Protecting Your Mental Health while Social Distancing: https://tinyurl.com/qmjtu8o

Taking Care of Your Mental Health in a Time of Uncertainty: https://tinyurl.com/ukrge2h

3 Ways to Make Sure You Don’t Break in a Crisis: https://tinyurl.com/vftxmdg

17 Ideas to Keep Your Body, Mind and Spirit Strong: https://tinyurl.com/toog7ec

Building Resilience: https://tinyurl.com/yxyq4crn

The Benefit of Shedding Tears: https://tinyurl.com/soef382

Preventing Loneliness: https://tinyurl.com/s5r5zzp

It’s OK to Grieve our Losses: https://tinyurl.com/v4to8o6

Grieving our Losses: https://tinyurl.com/w4olytf

Managing Worry: https://tinyurl.com/txpgyf8

 

UNDERSTANDING THE FUTURE CHURCH

What will The Post Coronavirus Church Look Like? https://tinyurl.com/u27wp6o

The Current Crisis is Accelerating the Future Church: https://tinyurl.com/u9xmrpd

The Church is now a Blank Slate: https://tinyurl.com/rg5shmb

5 Predictions About the Future Church: https://tinyurl.com/rowp53a

          Five Ways You Will be a Different Pastor: https://tinyurl.com/w8z3qjk

Seven Shifts the Church Needs to Make: https://tinyurl.com/y7ku4ov9

 

BETTER VIRTUAL MEETINGS

8 Rules for Running Virtual Meetings: https://tinyurl.com/skcb4e5

 

DEALING WITH FEAR

We’ve got plenty to be afraid of these days. So why does the Bible tell us not to fear? https://tinyurl.com/qqus32b

Helping Children Deal with Fear: https://tinyurl.com/sbgfpkb

How to Stop Awfulizing: https://tinyurl.com/wlpvf9p

What Our Fears Reveal About Us: https://tinyurl.com/thqqesz

Ways to Activate Faith Over Fear: https://tinyurl.com/vvyba55

Taking Our Thoughts Captive: https://tinyurl.com/ufj9j6s

 

GENERAL LEADERSHIP

5 Good Things that Can Come from a Bad Virus: https://tinyurl.com/u5fs5pz

8 Ways to Lead in a Digital Default World: https://tinyurl.com/srsgbd3

Finding Clarity About Mission in the Midst of Crisis: https://tinyurl.com/snrskez

Church Canceled? 6 Ways to Respond – And 5 Ways Not To: https://tinyurl.com/venp5yr

Crisis Leadership & Christian Leadership: https://tinyurl.com/vsu59j4

Philip Yancey on LIVING IN TIME OF PLAGUE: https://tinyurl.com/s8yq3bh

Ways Other Churches are Stepping Up: https://tinyurl.com/r5km8ln

Preparing for the Crisis to Come: https://tinyurl.com/trfftpz

What the Crisis is Revealing about Christians: https://tinyurl.com/tcdxhj4

7 Strategies of Leadership When you Can’t Gather (Podcast and summary): https://tinyurl.com/twpehjm

The Need for Relationship: https://tinyurl.com/uzh4vm4

Why do I Miss Church so Much? https://tinyurl.com/tz28xbq

 

 

10 Rules for Addressing Panhandlers

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By Dr. Pete Gathje, Memphis Theological Seminary  

“If a panhandler asks me for money, what should I do?”

This question is asked almost every time I give a talk about homelessness, or when people find out I help run Manna House, a place of hospitality for people on the streets. Here is my advice based upon my knowledge of homelessness, and talking with panhandlers.

1. Give or don’t give. It is really your choice. But always look the person in the eye who is asking, and say “Hi.” If you are not going to give then add, “Sorry I can’t help today.” If you are going to give add, “Hope this helps.” Either way, always treat the person with respect. They are human beings, made in the image of God.

2. If you do give to a panhandler, remember it is a gift, and the person is free to do with it whatever he or she wants to do. The person is not homeless because of some personal moral failure, so do not get into making moral evaluations and judgments. 

3. If you do not give that is OK. Panhandlers know most people will not give. One said to me, “It is like cold calling in sales. I expect to get turned down most of the time, and it doesn’t bother me. Just treat me with respect.” (See Rule #1 above). 

4. If you feel unsafe or the person panhandling is being aggressive or threatening, leave the area and don’t give. As one panhandler said to me, “There are jerks in every line of life. Don’t reward them.” 

5. Sometimes give more than you are being asked for. So, if someone asks for a dollar, give them five! Both you and the panhandler can share in the joy of that unexpected gift. 

6. Set a limit or a boundary to your giving. Mine is $5 per day. Once I have given out my $5 then I respond to anyone who asks, “I’ve given out already what I give each day.” I consider this my “street tax.” 

7. There are people who panhandler who are not homeless. They are simply poor. It is near impossible to tell the difference between a homeless panhandler and one who is not. So, again, give if you want, or do not give if you do not want to, but treat everyone with respect. (See Rule #1 above). 

8. Feeling awkward or uncomfortable when you see a panhandler or are asked for money is OK. It means you have a conscience and some compassion. 

9. If you have time, and are so inclined, volunteer with an organization that works with people on the streets offering food, or shelter, or medical care etc. You will get to know some really interesting people, and they will get to know you. And you might see them on the streets from time to time, and you can wave and yell “Hi!”

10. If you really want to help people who are homeless, then advocate for housing for all homeless people and free shelters. Support organizations in your area that practice a “housing first” approach to homelessness. Also resist all efforts to dehumanize, disrespect, and criminalize people who are on the streets with laws like “No panhandling” or myths like “Panhandlers make a lot of money panhandling.” (See Rule #1 above). 

 

(This post originally appeared in the Memphis Commercial Appeal as an oped on 9/7/18)

Didn’t Your Mama Teach You That?

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By Rev. Dr. David Galloway, Galloway Consulting, Atlanta, Georgia

Emotional Intelligence is a shorthand way of talking about how you get along with others. There’s lot more to it, but bottom line, it’s about how you bring the person you are into interaction with the people you deal with in business, your work environment, your social community, and even your family.

I use Emotional Intelligence in my consulting work with leaders. I have talked about it in lectures and teachings. The coaching I provide and the training I do begin and end with an appreciation for the role of Emotional Intelligence. It is the “grease” that makes thing work well and move smoothly at work and home. Finally, I use a heaping, helping load of Emotional Intelligence in my life, just getting through the work of the day and the tender of the night.

Thankful to my Mama and my grandmother for teaching me the basics of Emotional Intelligence, they trained me in how you treat other people with respect, as fellow human beings that have inherent worth. That notion of dignity and worth is forged into the Baptismal Covenant I signed onto when I aligned myself as a follower of Christ. And even the country I call “home” asserts from its very beginnings that all people are created equal, endowed with rights, even though we are struggling still to make that real in our common life. So Emotional Intelligence is sewn into the fabric of our life, in the principles we say we honor and the values that inform us.  I have been able to refine that attitude and those skills in the years beyond the training my family, tribe and country gave me, but it really comes down to how you regard and treat others, just like my Mama told me in the beginning.

Didn’t your Mama teach you that? Or somebody else with some common sense? The answer I get from many people I work with is “No”, either formally or by the testimony of their actions as they struggle to get along. They seem baffled by the most simple interactions that some people do simply, natively.

Let me give you a flesh and blood example.

I was doing a consulting gig at a healthcare system in a large Northern city. This system was bleeding financially to the point that their viability for the future was in question. The leadership team had a Chief Operating Officer (COO) that was famous for his financial shrewdness but was infamous for treating his staff badly. This reputation had gotten legs, making its way to the group of Catholic nuns who ran the board of this hospital. The Sisters felt that this man did not understand nor represent the mission of the hospitals in his demeanor. When I arrived, the board of nuns was contemplating his future and was discussing the need to “redirect his career”, or in common speak, fire him. As  he was providing a much needed eye to the bottom line, I offered to coach him, hoping to offer him a choice of treating his people with more regard.

And so with the Sisters sponsorship and his agreement, I entered the scene as his coach. While the work was framed in terms of leadership coaching, I was basically working with him in the area of EQ, that is, Emotional Intelligence, which focused on how he interacts with his co-workers.

Basically, my work with him was about a mindset shift, plus some immediate feedback around the way he led meetings and interacted with peers and direct reports. He actually was a great guy underneath his professional, brusk persona, learned in business school and groomed in executive training. I was hoping to transform his way of seeing the people in his field of being and alter his mindset from a typical business-utilitarian view of people into a more empathetic perspective, with the valuing of his co-workers as people, not mere cogs in his machine.

My intervention and input provided new options for how he might do his job, widening his repertoire of skills in terms of leadership. The feedback I was able to give to him as I shadowed him in meetings held up a “mirror” so he could catch himself and “see” how he was interacting in the moment. This magical combination woke him up to a new way of being a leader in the organization, of treating people as real peopole. The proof of his personal transformation was in the results as he turned around his 360 evaluations, with his coworkers experiencing him as a new person who treated them differently.

A magician never reveals the “trick” of his magic, but here it is. Truthfully, he had been suffering from a limiting belief system, given to him at business school. There, he had been given an image of a COO as being a person without a heart. He was natively a good man, so all he had to do was to realize he could treat people with respect and still drive for metrics and accountability. This was such a relief for him to discover that he could be himself and still make his productivity goals. The result was that of a much happier work place for him and his colleagues. His coworkers were pleased, the Nuns were thrilled, and he was more satisfied with his role in the organization.

Truth is, Emotional Intelligence, or EQ, is at least as important as cognitive ability, usually measured as IQ. The good news is that EQ, unlike IQ, can be trained and increased with attention to that dimension of a person. I use an amazing assessment tool to give a baseline of what is the current capacity a person is bringing to the dance. From that starting point, we begin a process of training in which the person attends to his interactions with other persons at work or in relationships. An added 360 component, which adds an assessment by one’s peers, can add a powerful reality check and a measure of progress in one’s EQ development.

Emotional Intelligence has been on the business scene since 1995 when psychologist, Daniel Goleman, wrote a book on how our emotions show up in our business and work. Now an accepted concept in business schools, EQ has been studied and received attention by academics and practitioners who are interested in how this dimension of human capacity can increase effectiveness, and therefore productivity, resulting in a very real impact on the proverbial bottom line. At the Clergy Coaching Network, we are exploring ways in which Emotional Intelligence can enhance the effectiveness in the leadership of clergy.

Emotional intelligence looks specifically at the self perception of the person. It concerns how the person regards oneself, including an awareness of both strengths and weaknesses. EQ refers to how aware one is of one’s emotions, what’s going on internally as one enters the scene of planning and interaction. And , EQ is interested in the orientation one has as to one’s continuing development and improvement.

This sense of self is expressed to the outside world in the form of observable emotions within the context of relationships, both at work and in personal relationships. One’s assertiveness and independence is noted as well as how one shows empathy for the perspective of others, and to groups one is in, such as a team.

Further, emotional intelligence looks at the way in which one make decisions in terms of problem solving and reality testing. Notably, one’s impulse control is in play as decisions are made and actions are executed. How do you do what you do?

Again, the encouraging news is that one’s EQ can be increased with attention to certain dimensions of your self and ways of relating with others. If you are interested in Emotional Intelligence and how it plays into your work or in your relationships, I recommend an accessible text, The EQ Edge, by Steven Stein and Howard Book. If you are wanting to work with someone in the context of coaching, contact me and I be happy to help you increase your awareness of EQ and assist you in your development. It can make a world of difference.

If your Mama didn’t teach you, the good news is that Emotional Intelligence can!

Our Mission and Comment Guidance

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The 3-part mission of the Clergy Coaching Network Facebook page:

To ARTICULATE A VISION FOR CONGREGATIONS that are faithful in Hospitality, Discipleship, Inclusiveness, Evangelism, Social Justice, Worship, Community, Congregational Care, Service, and Leadership Development.

To CHALLENGE, EQUIP AND INSPIRE clergy and congregational leaders for transformational leadership in an ever-changing world.  We will do this by sharing relevant articles, research, quotes, memes, and occasionally a bit of humor about human nature, theology, and congregational life.

To INVITE CLERGY AND CONGREGATIONAL LEADERS TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF OUR COACHING SERVICES. We hope that many of those who discover our page will seek to employ one of our well-trained clergy coaches to assist them in their leadership and ministry.  Our coaching services are available to leaders of all religious traditions. You can learn more about us at http://www.clergycoachingnetwork.com

Posts on this page come from a variety of perspectives and seek to address the issues, challenges, and opportunities facing clergy, faith leaders, congregations, and the communities in which they minister.  In most cases, our posts seek to address the concerns expressed by our clients and the congregations that they serve. Because our coaching clients are diverse, some of our posts will confirm what you already think. At other times we hope they will challenge assumptions and invite the exploration of new possibilities.  If you are uncomfortable with posts coming from a variety of points of view or religious perspectives (conservative, moderate, and progressive, sacred, and secular), this may not be the page for you.

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As people of faith, we are called to a higher standard than the vitriol that often shows up in some Facebook comments.

On this site, we know there may be passionate engagement about some of our posts, and with and among those who have differing views.

Please, no personal attacks. Comment on ideas, not people. Comments that we deem to be trolling, abusive, false or inaccurate, pejorative, demeaning, off-topic, racist, sexist, hate-speech, labeling, “denomination bashing,” or harassing will be hidden or removed and the person commenting may be banned.

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Remember, civil discussion encourages multiple perspectives and occurs in a positive commenting environment.

Where Are The Miracles?

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Rick Kirchoff

(Few of us are in ministry for long until we are forced to deal with someone’s disappointment that their prayer for healing has not been answered. Usually, we are able to do that at arm’s length, but that has not been the case for me.  This struggle was made very real because of an accident that left our son, Chris, severely brain-injured and permanently and totally disabled. There has been no dramatic healing for Chris. Neither has there been a medical miracle! For the past 45 years, Chris has required almost constant care, even for his most basic needs. What follows are some thoughts that helped me when my prayers for healing seemed to go unanswered. Obviously, this is only a partial answer.  But, if you find this helpful, feel free to use or adapt it to your needs.)

In Prince Caspian, the second volume of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, there is a reunion between Aslan, a great lion who represents Christ, and a young girl named Lucy.  Lucy runs to greet Aslan.  She kisses him and puts her arms around him as far as she can.  Then she pulls back from Aslan and says, “Aslan, you’re bigger!” 

Aslan replies, “That is because you are older, little one.” 

“Not because you are?” asks Lucy.

“I am not (bigger),” says Aslan, “But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.” 

It’s true!  The more we grow, the bigger God becomes!  I know that as I’ve grown, I’ve found that God is bigger than I’d ever imagined.  And the more I’ve learned of God, the more I’ve discovered how much more there is to know. 

One of the many areas where I’ve had a lot to learn has been in the area of miracles.  In particular, the miracles of healing!  

This is made very personal because of an accident that left our son severely brain-injured, permanently and totally disabled.  There has been no dramatic miracle of healing for Chris.   

We all know that scripture is filled with stories of God’s wonderful deeds, amazing miracles of healing, and bold promises.  And we pray for healing for ourselves or someone we love.  But when the healing doesn’t come or doesn’t come in the way we wished, we wonder! How do we reconcile the promises of miracles with the reality of illness, disability, suffering, and death?  How does it all fit?  

I have to begin by acknowledging that there is so much mystery with God.  This side of heaven there are things I won’t know or understand.  

The writings of Danny Morris and Ron Davis (cited in my endnotes) have been helpful as I have wrestled with this, helping me get in touch with several very different and equally powerful miracles of healing — different ways God lovingly touches us with healing and hope.  

The first miracle of healing that I have to acknowledge may be the most used and the least celebrated of all God’s miracles.  It is simply this: God has marvelously crafted the human body so that most often it protects and repairs itself.  God has designed our bodies with elaborate and intricate systems for fighting off infection, repairing lacerated tissue, mending broken bones, and healing diseased organs. 

In a TV episode of M*A*S*H, Army surgeon Hawkeye Pierce expressed his amazement.  He said, “How does it all work?  I’ve held a beating heart in my hand.  I’ve poked into kidneys and crocheted it all together again.  I’ve pushed air into collapsed lungs.  I’ve squeezed, probed and prodded my way through miles of gut and goo and I don’t know what makes us live!  I mean, what keeps us in motion?  What keeps the heart beating without anybody rewinding it?  Why do cells reproduce with such abandon?  What force brought us together in such fantastic complexity?  It never ceases to amaze me!”

And then Scott Peck in The Road Less Traveled expresses this same amazement.  “In the ordinary course of things we should be eaten alive by bacteria, consumed by cancer, clogged by fats and clots, and eroded by acids.  It’s hardly remarkable that we get sick.  What is truly remarkable is that we don’t usually get sick more often!  There is a force that we don’t fully understand that seems to operate routinely to protect and encourage physical health.”

We are wonderfully made!  It’s nothing short of miraculous that our bodies usually heal themselves.  If we ever forget what a miracle that is, just ask a hemophiliac whose cut will not heal.  Ask the AIDS patient whose immune system has turned against him.  Ask the woman on dialysis.  Each of them would encourage us to celebrate the miracle of how wondrously God created our bodies so that most often they heal themselves. 

Then there’s a second miracle.  It is the miracle of the partnership of God and medicine.  

Like the first miracle, we often take this one for granted.  This is the miracle of how God works in partnership with science and medicine — guiding us to a remedy, to a doctor, or to some new treatment.  We’ve become so accustomed to this that we only recognize the wonder of this miracle in its absence. 

How many of you have had surgery?  Or how many have given birth? Or have had a broken bone?  Or suffered some serious infection? Or how many take medication for your heart or high blood pressure or diabetes?  We would very quickly see that many of us might not even be alive today were it not for this wonderful miracle. 

There is a third miracle.  It is the miracle of dramatic, instantaneous, divine intervention.  

I’ll never forget the morning that I went to the hospital to pray with Mike.  He was in for surgery.  When I went into the hospital room, his family was there and all their faces had the look of worry and fear.  The doctors said he had a malignant tumor and it would have to come out immediately.  You could even see the bulge of the tumor in his neck.  His prognosis was very poor.  The tumor was growing rapidly.  Just before Mike left the room, we prayed together and they wheeled Mike out to surgery.  In less than an hour, he was back in the room.  Sometime between leaving that hospital room and getting to the operating room, the tumor had disappeared!  It had just disappeared!  The doctors were amazed!  There was no medical explanation.  

Dramatic miracles of healing do occur.  They seem to be the exception rather than the rule; but when they do occur, we are awed that God has moved in such a dramatic way.

And there is the fourth miracle.  There are those times when disease and difficulty come and they don’t go away.  Our bodies don’t repair themselves.  There is no medical solution.  There is no instantaneous miracle; and illness, suffering, and disability have to be endured.  So, there is the miracle of the “Sufficiency of God’s Grace.” 

The Apostle Paul underwent a period of suffering he called “a thorn in the flesh.”  We don’t know exactly what it was, but we’re told that it was terribly painful and it interfered with his ministry.  So he went to God three times in prayer asking, “Please help me. Please remove this thorn from my flesh.”  But each time, God answered, “Paul, I will give you my grace.  And that will be sufficient.”  And it was!  So much so that he would later say, “When I am weak, I am strong.  For the power of Christ dwells in me.”

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned our son, Chris. Chris was severely brain-injured in an automobile accident at the age of six.  He is now 50.  Though he has a wonderful spirit, Chris is diagnosed as permanently and totally disabled.  After Chris was hurt, we began to pray for his healing.  I wanted him back to normal, and I wanted our life back to normal.  At first, my prayers were calm and confident, but it wasn’t long before I was pounding on Heaven’s gate till my knuckles were bloody.  

I began a desperate search for miraculous healing.  I got in touch with some of the foremost Christians in healing ministry across the country.  I read about them and I sought their counsel.  I avoided the TV healers but instead chose those who I knew to have integrity and depth. 

One person whose writing especially spoke to me was Dr. Francis MacNutt.  When I finished his book on healing, I immediately called information to get his phone number. When we spoke, we arranged to meet in Nashville where he had a speaking engagement.  Finally, the day came, and I drove to the appointed place, only to discover that his plans had changed. He would not be attending the conference.  He’d forgotten to notify me. 

Well, I was angry!  All of the tension and hurt I had experienced since the accident turned into rage, and the rage into angry prayer.  I told God in some very colorful language how I felt and how angry I was.  

God is not offended by such carrying on, and I’m glad about that!  Because I DID carry on!  After I had raged on and finally exhausted myself. I said, “God, I’m through! I want Chris to be well, but even if not, I want YOU.  I just want you to love me through this.  Help me, God, because I don’t know where else to turn.”

Rather than zapping me for my anger, something else happened.  The most wonderful peace descend upon me.  And with it came the deep knowledge that no matter what happened, God was with us and we could face Chris’ disability with courage and grace.  

For the most part, I think we have.  And if we have at all, it has been because of the miracle of the sufficiency of God’s grace.  We’ve been sustained, held up, loved, forgiven, and supported. 

There is a fifth miracle.  No matter how many times we’ve been physically healed, finally we die.  The ultimate form of healing every believer is given is the healing that comes through death and resurrection.  Though we may suffer for a time, Christ’s promise is an eternity where every tear will be wiped away and all our suffering will cease. 

Eternity is a big word!  It’s hard for us to imagine eternity.  It’s so much larger than our short life, that it’s difficult even to visualize it.  But if you drew a line all around the room where you are reading this, and then made a pinpoint dot along that line, that dot would represent our lifetime, in relationship to eternity.  If you stepped back and looked at that dot in relation to the line, you would be struck by how tiny and how brief it is when compared to the line of eternity.  

In the Christian scheme of things, a lifetime is but one-millionth, perhaps one-billionth, of what is yet to be.  “What is” cannot be compared to “what is to come.”  In Christ, we awaken to an eternity where our tears and fears, and our hurts and humiliations will be no more. That’s the miracle of death and resurrection for a Christian.

So on this journey so far, I’ve seen that there are at least five healing miracles! I cannot say that there are only five, but these five suggest the range of possibilities.  And because of them, I know that God cares about our health. 

But as much as I value and cherish health, I cannot fall for the lie that was in the old commercial:  “If you have health, you have everything.”  It’s just not true!  We can be healthy and not be whole.  We can have great strength, yet be weak.  We can be physically fit, yet spiritually anemic.  We can have been healed hundreds of times, yet still not know the Great Physician. 

Tommy discovered that!  Tommy was a college student.  One of his teachers, John Powell, was a Christian.  John had taken many opportunities to talk to Tommy, but Tommy seemed to be a hardened atheist — an angry young man who had rejected God, his parents, and society.  John had repeatedly tried to reach Tommy, to witness to him, and to love him, but it seemed to make little difference.  Eventually, Tommy graduated. He walked out of the classroom and out of reach forever, or so John thought.

One day, some years later, John was working at his desk.  The office door opened and Tommy was standing in the doorway.  At first, John didn’t recognize Tommy.  He had changed so.  He looked frail and wasted.  The long hair he’d worn as a symbol of rebellion was gone.  Though his eyes were bright and his voice firm, it was clear that cancer and chemotherapy had ravished him.  Tommy sat down and began to talk to his former teacher.  The anger and arrogance of his days at school were gone and were replaced with a calm, self-assurance that John had never before seen in Tommy.  

Tommy told his story:  “When the doctors found a malignant tumor, I began to get serious about trying to find God.  And when they told me that my cancer had spread to my vital organs, I began to beat my fists against the doors of Heaven.  I couldn’t understand why God was silent.  I was alone and I knew I was going to die.  So I decided to spend the time I had left doing something profitable.”

“I thought about the talks we had.  I’d remembered something you said: ‘One of the saddest things in the world is to go through life without ever knowing how to love.  But it may be even worse to go through life and leave this world without ever telling the people you care about that you love them.’  Mr. Powell, I finally saw what you meant. So, I decided to begin to love as you said, and to tell people that I loved them.”

“I decided to begin with the hardest case, my Dad.  I went to my dad’s house.  He was reading the paper.  I said, ‘Dad?’  He said, ‘What?’  The newspaper didn’t even rustle.  I said, ‘Dad, I really want to talk to you.’  He said, ‘Well, talk.’  I said, ‘Dad, it’s really important.’  He lowered the newspaper a bit and glanced across at me.  It was obvious that he didn’t want to be bothered.  But I looked him in the eyes and I said, ‘Dad, I love you.  I just wanted you to know that.  I really do love you.'”

“My dad dropped that newspaper like he’d been hit in the chest.  Then he did two things I can never remember him doing before — he cried and he hugged me.  We talked all night, even though he had to go to work the next morning.  It was easier with my mother and my little brother.  They cried with me too, and we hugged each other and shared things that we had kept secret for years.  I only regretted one thing: that I had waited so long.  I waited until almost the very end of my life to open up to the people I love.”

“Not long after this, I turned around and suddenly realized God was there.  He’d been there all the time.  He didn’t come when I had pleaded.  I guess I was like an animal trainer holding up a hoop for God to jump through.  But God does things in His own time and in His own way.  While I was learning to love, God’s love was penetrating into my heart and opening up my heart.  God was there, and I talked to God and felt God’s love and acceptance and forgiveness, and received Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.” 

John asked Tommy if he’d be willing to share his story in his class.  Tommy said he would.  They scheduled a time for him to come, but Tommy never made it.  He had another appointment to keep.  Shortly before he died, Tommy called John one last time and said, “I’m not going to make it to your class.  Will you tell them for me, Mr. Powell?”  “I will, Tommy.  I’ll tell them.”

Tommy wanted them to know that the greatest miracle is to know Christ and his love. This miracle heals broken relationships and brings hope to people troubled in body, mind, and spirit.  It helps us endure what might otherwise seem unbearable, and brings wholeness in the midst of incomprehensible tragedy and even in the shadow of death. 

“Where are all the miracles?”  They’re all around us!  They happen in so many ways!  But the greatest miracle is to know Christ and his love.  This is the one miracle that is given to everyone who asks.  This is the one miracle that lasts an eternity!

————————–

Endnotes: This article is based, in part, upon material from the following sources:

C. S. Lewis, Prince Caspian

John Powell, Why Am I Afraid To Tell You Who I Am?

Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

Danny Morris, Any Miracle God wants to Give

Ron Davis, Gold In The Making

A Christian Dealing With Mental Illness

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Guest Post by Randy Riverstone Graves

Randy is a former United Methodist minister who stepped down from pastoral ministry when his mental illness became too much of an impairment. After several years of deepening depression, made worse by self-medicating with alcohol, his life spiraled out of control. He says, “I was in a spiral to the grave. Although I still struggle with mental illness, I thank God that Jesus has delivered me from the death grip of addiction and given me a new life in the Spirit. I have been restored through Celebrate Recovery, and I’m 17 months sober.” Randy now serves as a Worship Leader and Training Coach at a Celebrate Recovery ministry. What follows is his witness and wisdom. 

I’ve been actively resisting a depressive episode that I feel coming on. It’s not full-blown, but I know the early warning signs. I have bipolar disorder, and in the past, feeling like this caused me to just surrender, and give in to the inevitable days or weeks of unrelenting gloom.  I would begin drinking hard liquor. Alcohol only made it worse, but in the grips of addiction and a crisis of mental health, I sought relief where I could find it. Alcohol would a least numb me for an hour or two before I had to tilt the bottle again to make the world go dark.

Thank God, I’ve found a way out of that darkness. I have a new life in the Spirit that has equipped me to face this with a different perspective. Through Celebrate Recovery, a comprehensive Christ-based 12-step program, I’ve learned better ways to cope, and not just to cope, but to overcome. For others who may be dealing with mental illness or addiction, I want to share a few things I’ve learned to help resist walking over the edge of the cliff.

I Reach Out

One of the worst things about mental illness and addiction is how isolated one can become. The worse things get, the more I tended to retreat into the dank corner of my cave. When I am struggling like that, it is important to reach out. I let my friends and family know what I am going through.

In Celebrate Recovery, we are deliberate about forming “accountability partners” or sponsors — people who agree to provide mutual support for each other during difficult times.

While I do not feel even the slightest desire to drink alcohol right now, I have been around the block enough times to know that it is times like this I need to be on hyper-alert against the possibility of relapse. I have to be proactive and reach out to my support team. I send a text or a Facebook message to people I trust. These are people who have my back, people who will pray for and with me.

It is so helpful just to be able to say to someone, “Hey, I’m going through a rough time,” and to know that they understand and truly care. I could call them if I needed to, and I know without a doubt that they’d meet with me. But for the most part, it is enough for me to simply reach out and touch base with people who understand what I’m going through.

I Seek Professional Help

Mental illness is a medical condition that usually requires medication to treat effectively. There still remains a stigma for people seeing a psychiatrist and taking medications for depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other mental illnesses. It’s time to put an end to that stigma. There is no shame at all in seeing a psychiatrist or other healthcare professional to treat mental illnesses. People with Type 1 diabetes have to be under the care of a physician to take insulin. People with heart conditions see a cardiologist. And people with mental illness see a psychiatrist.

I regularly see both a psychiatrist and a therapist for help in dealing with my condition. This allows me to function as a husband and father, and to serve the Lord in various ministries. Without my medications, I would not have a very high quality of life. I’d be trapped in constant mood swings and delusions. My medications bring me stability and allow me to have a sense of purpose.  My therapist is also very helpful in dealing with problems related to mental illness and alcoholism. Seeking professional help is a sign of strength, not weakness. It means that I care enough about my life and my family to do whatever it takes to be healthy.

I Lean In

I’m learning to lean into the Holy Spirit. For me, this is a major difference in my life now. A year ago, I experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit in a way I’d never experienced before. In my tradition, we call it being “baptized in the Holy Spirit,” but the terminology itself isn’t important. In a desperate time, I leaned into Jesus, and suddenly the Holy Spirit was flowing through my own spirit in an ineffable experience of the immediate presence of God both inside me and all around me. Soon after, God began to produce good things in my life through the Spirit: things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and so forth. The Bible calls these things the “fruits of the Spirit.”

However, the Spiritual life contains some hard truths. There are still some really hard times. People will leave us. Loved ones are going to die. Hurtful things are going to happen. At times, depression can pile on like heavy snow.

My experience is that the Holy Spirit isn’t there with us just during happy times. Whether our hands are raised in praise or pulling our hair in weeping, the Spirit is there. One word the Bible uses for the Holy Spirit is “Paraclete” — a Greek word that emphasizes that God comes along right beside us as a friend, a comforter, and an advocate to speak on our behalf.

When the challenges come, I find it essential that I lean into the presence of God. I pray. I read a few verses from the Psalms. And even if I don’t feel joyful, I still offer words of praise and gratitude. Even if all I can do is mutter, I mutter a prayer.

I Keep Moving

No matter what, I keep moving. I get out of bed; I take a shower, and I get dressed. There are days that that becomes the most courageous thing I do. In the past, there were days I didn’t get out of bed. But that just made things worse.

Yesterday, was one of those dark days.  So, I got up, got ready and joined some friends on a beautiful hike. They probably couldn’t even tell that inside I was struggling with deep sadness, because I did my best to keep moving and experience the glory that was all around in nature. Even though I felt terribly sad, for one clear moment I had an experience of God while sitting near a waterfall that brought the whole universe into clear focus. I felt my spirit expand in interconnection with all the droplets of water in the air, every grain of sand, and every particle or wave of light flitting through the green and yellow leaves.

If I had stayed home, I would have missed the glory being poured out on the world around me. I suppose the real trick is to learn how to notice that glory in my own home, too. But to experience it at all, I know that I have to keep moving.

I Share the Good News Of Celebrate Recovery

Celebrate Recovery is a Christ-centered, 12 step recovery program for anyone struggling with hurt, pain or addiction of any kind. It provides a safe place to find community and freedom from the issues that are controlling our life. If you’re interested in learning more about this ministry or would like to launch Celebrate Recovery in your area, here’s the link to their web site: https://www.celebraterecovery.com