I am amazed and disturbed by how the news cycles dictate the issues we’re concerned about. In 2020, COVID-19 jockeyed for first place along with the economy, the issue of race in America and a polarizing election. The past year happened to us, and we all had to respond.
Now we sit, out of breath, on the other side. Everyone is calling for a fresh start, a cosmic mulligan, a simple do-over in a COVID-19 world. Pastors are unsure and anxious about how their congregations will regather, rise and reunify. After hundreds of conversations with ministry leaders, I’ve begun inviting leaders into a few fresh steps forward that can nourish our souls and reshape our leadership.
Name what you experienced last year. There is power in naming things. Adam’s first job was to name the animals, and Jesus gave Peter a new name that birthed a new identity. You’ve been through more than you realize. Taking time to name what you experienced last year is a worthy investment. We must make sense before we can make progress.
Engage in a listening posture. Regardless or your cultural views or your presidential vote, it’s clear these are divided times that call for attentiveness and questions. Half our country is disappointed and angry. Many minority leaders have told me, “I feel like I can breathe again” with a new leader in office. Young girls see a vice president who gives them a vision for their future. People are crying out for unity, but they don’t know how to find it. Remember, anger is a secondary emotion. Listen deeper for the fear, sadness, disappointment and hopelessness below it.
Seek discernment for life in the messy middle. In our polarized world, we feel pressure to jump to extremes on every issue. There are more faithful kingdom leaders living in the land between than you think. In his book The Sacred Overlap, my brother, J.R. Briggs, says, “The widening of extremes provides the church a fertile opportunity to live in the midst of the tension, to live in a radical love and faithfulness between the extremes.” This is not a place of indifference absent of convictions, but a place of love. We must learn to grieve with those who grieve and rejoice with those who rejoice. We need supernatural discernment to live and love well in the messy middle.
Focus on the important instead of the urgent. Many leaders, me included, lived long portions of last year distracted. We gave our precious attention to the urgent topics yelling in our ears while we neglected important topics whispering to our souls. Private distraction leads to public division. The battle toward public unity and peace starts with privately re-centering the affections of our heart back onto the work of Jesus in us. We must hear from the Father if we hope to lead others anywhere.
Jesus’ church has persisted patiently through pandemics, political partisanship and polarization. May this be true again in 2021.