This year of pandemic invites us into the power of surrender and outreach.
Danielle Strickland is an inspirational speaker and evangelist based in Toronto. A former officer in the Salvation Army, she is a longtime social-justice activist whose most recent book is Better Together: How Women and Men Can Heal the Divide and Work Together to Transform the Future (W Publishing Group).
In addition to launching such justice-based initiatives as AmplifyPeace.com (which promotes peacemaking) and BraveGlobal.org (which empowers vulnerable girls and fights human trafficking), she started WomenSpeakersCollective.com. Strickland also co-created InfinitumLife.Teachable.com, a spiritual practices program and community with courses, events and a free app. She hosts The Danielle Strickland Podcast. Learn more at DanielleStrickland.com.
In this article, and in this year of pandemic, she invites us back to the basics of life and leadership that is both deep and wide—and innovative.
There’s this idea that you’re either deep or wide—either a prayerful, contemplative sort or a strategic, visionary type. I used to think that those two things were separate. I used to go back and forth in my own internal dialogue. Was I about the deep life or was I about the wide life?
I now think that the life Jesus is inviting us to lead and to embody both—this boundless life is simultaneously deep and wide. Those things are concurrent. I have an image of a tree deeply rooted with the width and the length and the height of what it is that God wants to do through us. A living, beautiful thing.
But it’s true, you naturally lean one way, so that’s going to be your strength, and you’re going to have to constantly ask God to help you posture yourself to lean into the opposite characteristic. For instance, I’m a communicator. I talk all the time. I even talk to myself if no one’s around. One of the disciplines in my life is I take a whole day of silent prayer once a month. I stop talking, and it’s excruciating.
This COVID-19 season may be an invitation from Christ to be a deep and wide leader. I think this is a time to seize and cultivate deeper rhythms and healthier spiritual practices. We thought that we would be much more spiritual if our schedules were freer. It turns out that our schedules got a whole lot freer, but our spiritual lives didn’t get more robust or deeper. So, we’re back to this intentionality and prioritizing. It’s something we need to cultivate and practice in our lives.
In addition to the general shutdowns, during the first couple weeks of the pandemic, my whole household was sick. My husband, my three boys, me—we all had COVID-19. We also had a refugee couple and an intern living with us, so there were a lot of people stuck together. None of us were super sick, but it was the longest I’ve ever been ill.
In some ways, it was a gift because you’re not thinking that hard. Yes, there was a general sense of anxiety—of not knowing what was going to happen. But you’re just like, I’m going to go lie down. You don’t have the energy to worry.
Of course, like for everybody else, all things stopped. I’m an itinerant speaker, so my schedule cleared—for the whole year and into the next. My daily prayers—the postures of surrender, generosity and being others-focused—helped me to pivot from, What’s happening to me that I can’t control? to What’s happening that I can be in partnership with God to do something about? I can’t say that I was always good at it, but I was at least aware that something was going on in me. There was an invitation for me to practice this beautiful deep and wide life in the midst of these circumstances that I couldn’t control.
This idea of being others-focused, which is the missional posture, how would I keep my posture open to others and to serve others when I was stuck inside? I’m a doer, an in-the-community person. What would it look like to be postured toward others when you can’t actually be with them?
In the end, it becomes a mindset, doesn’t it? The question went from, How am I going to pay the bills when all of my speaking opportunities are gone? to How can I use my gifts to serve people who are suffering, who are in need, who need to make adjustments in their own lives?
This is the call of discipleship. This is what the church should always have been doing. But it’s so easy to revert to what we know, which is a spectator model of Christianity. It’s a model of Christianity that’s centered on gathering, not a discipleship-based system.
I have conversations with church leaders who are like, “We really don’t know how to do church online.” Or “I’m a church leader, but what if my church doesn’t make it?” Or just, “I’m a pastor, but I can’t really pastor anybody, at least not effectively. So who am I now?”
I think we’re asking the wrong questions. Broadcasting ourselves doing what we used to do is maybe not the invitation that God has for us right now. Definitely, let’s get involved technologically in this global way; that shift has happened. Think of the impact—that we can reach the entire world from our garages, from our living rooms. But spiritually, in terms of what God’s calling us to and what God’s calling us to lead people to, that whole thing needs to shift. This is a great opportunity to shift it—it’s just tricky.
Necessity is the mother of invention. When we’re restricted, that’s when our creativity flourishes and where the Holy Spirit helps us. God has done a great service to the church by preventing us from doing what we know how to do.
I’ve thought a lot about John Wesley these days. He wanted to just preach in Anglican churches. That’s what he was called to, and the Anglican church was in a controlling phase. “No, you can’t, you don’t have our permission.” So then he’s like, Okay, fine, I’ll just use a field. Thus began that whole season of open-air revivals—uncontrolled by the church. Wesley couldn’t do what he wanted to do, and as a result, this thing happened that God used outside of the structures of normal church to sweep across North America.
We’re in that kind of moment. It’s not even that someone’s against us. It’s not like we’re being persecuted—we’re being restricted. We cannot do what we naturally want to do, and so we have to do something else. As we figure out the something else, it will be that the gospel is still sweet good news for people. I think it will actually do more than we could ever ask or imagine.
So, again, we have this deep and wide thing going on. It’s a microchurch, home-based movement. That’s where we’re headed. It’s the first and earliest model of the church. I think it probably has the most power. The smallness of me praying for my neighbors, of me being the hands and feet of Jesus to serve people in need. Not to invite them to a church that will serve their needs, but to be the church that serves their needs. That’s a radical shift that can change the world.
Think about the capacity we have to revolutionize what we think of as Christianity and how it works in the world. Somehow, we have to model it ourselves, which is what makes this so difficult. Then we have to train people to be disciples in Christ in their own communities, and this will, I think, be the best thing that has ever happened to the Western church.
That’s where God’s inviting the church to camp out right now.
That’s that width and length and height of the gospel, the breadth of it. God wants to do this, but he’s going to do it with people of depth.