It is ok to pause before you plan. Really.

Holy One, we are in an unfamiliar and anxious place. There are no maps. There are no easy answers. Make a way through this time. Let love, patience, kindness, and faith be our guides. As the spring sun warms the earth, and the birdsong and frogsong of new life reaches our ears,  renew our hope and our imagination for what is yet to come.

I’m going to suggest something radical: pause your reopening planning, just for a day or two and do a self check-in. Late last week I was in  a frenzy of gathering information about reopening, when my body and mind told me it was time to take a breath, to center myself in peace and calm in the midst of the storm. So, I went on a walk. I unplugged from technology. I talked with trusted friends. I needed the time to clear my head, reorient myself, and pray about what is next.

On Monday my team did some preliminary planning about the future of family ministry. We didn’t look at the phased reopening plans. We didn’t  talk about sanitation procedures or ways of socially distancing children. Instead, we did two very important things: We named the losses we are feeling and grounded ourselves in our why and our how.

Don’t try to outrun feelings of loss and grief:

Faith leaders are feeling deeply the loss of in person community. This is not what we signed up for. Yes, we will dust ourselves off and, guided by the Holy Spirit, make a way forward in this unfamiliar and unwelcome place. But if we push aside the loss and grief the feelings won’t go away. They will eventually catch up with us. 

Research now shows that the radical acceptance of all of our emotions — even the messy, difficult ones — is the cornerstone to resilience, thriving, and true, authentic happiness. – Susan David

Psychologist Susan David, through her new podcast, “Checking In”“Checking In” has become my walking partner. She talks about the process of making sense of loss in order to accept our new circumstances and move forward. Everyone moves through this process at their own pace. Before you begin planning, ask yourself, “Have I named what am feeling? Am I ready to move forward or do I need to process a bit more?” I urge you not to skip this step. For your own health and the health of your congregation, make sure your team is ready to move forward.  

It is ok to be excited about new ministry possibilities while grieving what has been lost during COVID-19. We worship a God of paradox known in a 2 sided cross. Death and resurrection cannot be separated. I offer this practical tip: make a list of what you are noticing. Don’t judge it. Just list it. What do you see? What do you feel? What do you hear? What is lost? What unexpected gifts have appeared?

Ground yourself in your mission and values

Hopefully you have a ministry plan that clearly states your “why.” Take out your plan. Read your statements of mission and purpose.  Faith formation is a ministry of discipleship. This has not changed, though the method and format likely has. The good news of Jesus Christ has been shared for 2000 years, reaching every corner of the globe showing that the Holy Spirit is not confined to a pew or a Sunday school classroom. 

Since March we have been operating in crisis mode, with no time to plan or prepare for a jarring switch to online ministry.  As the program year winds down, we have an opportunity to take a pause and shift into a thoughtful, planning mode. This is a good time to review your goals. In our review, we found that our goals didn’t change, but the priority level did. The five year goal of developing online ministry shoved its way to the front of the line.  Before you begin reopening planning, I suggest a review of your mission and goals. These will point the way forward.

A final thought: Your decisions will make someone unhappy

None of us wants to admit this, but it is true. As I look at the disagreements about different states’ reopening plans I see one certainty: some people will be upset. Whatever plans we come up with, no matter how many are invited to be on the response team, no matter how transparent and frequent your communication  is, someone will be unhappy. Possibly angry.

So, forget trying to make everyone happy. Instead, focus on faithful, servant leadership. God has called you to ministry. You have gifts of administration, faith, and compassion for your neighbors. Take a moment right now to name your leadership priorities. Lead from a place of calm, rooted in faith that God is with us. Lead from a place of gratitude for God is generous. Lead from a place of truth and hope. Lead with genuine collaboration with your ministry leaders and curiosity about what new thing God is doing. 

If and when your decisions are called into question, exercise humility while remaining grounded in your values. Grounding yourself in your purpose and values now will help if you receive criticism.  In times when I have struggled unwelcome and unjustified feedback these verses from Romans 5 has given me strength:

But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

May God sustain us in this liminal time, and renew our imagination for what lies ahead.

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