Weekly Thoughts

Suffocating bureaucracy

By Claes Johan Alexandersson

From: International Assessment Committee
To: Matthew, disciple of Jesus
Subject: Missing information

Thank you for your latest report. We were pleased to read that Jesus has continued to build awareness among the target group. It sounds like you had a good number at the latest meeting – five thousand men, besides women and children. You state in the report that all were fed and afterwards twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over were taken up.

But we are concerned that you are not following our procurement and gender policy. We ask you to send the following documents / information:

  • Your procurement policy
  • How well you followed this procurement policy for this specific event. For example, please include:
    • A copy of each of each tender bid.
    • An explanation, why you miscalculated the amount of food needed.
    • Please send us the exact number of women and girls as this is not stated in the report.

In the name of your Lord,
The assessment committee

PS. Don’t forget to relate the activities to the UN Sustainable Development Goals in the future.

This week:
What can you do differently to let people’s ideas flourish and not suffocate them in bureaucracy?

Leading Change

Leading change is probably the main task of leaders today. The environment in which we operate is disrupted, turbulent and ever-accelerating. To survive and remain relevant NGOs have to change at a faster pace than ever before. Change really is the only constant for NGO leaders today.

You as a leader may be a bit like a guide helping your own organisation up and down this mountain of change. How effective you are as a guide, once again comes down to how much people trust you. Are they prepared to follow you – even when it is difficult to see the way ahead? When they are tired and frustrated and longing for an easier life? Do you have the competence and the humility and courage, to be an effective mountain guide?

Here you can find the Mountain Model of Change by Rick James and the sketchnote by Elaine Vitikainen.

 

 

Struggling and losing the plot

By Dorothy Grace Stewart

I was working with some leaders who are persevering through perennial and seemingly unrelenting loss. Their hearts are asking, “Is the struggle God’s calling for my life? Is my job just to persevere?” It’s so tough.

Yet I don’t think that the struggle is the sum total of God’s calling for any life. Yes, God
does call His people into incredible places of suffering but I also expect God to be good in truth and love. There is a point to ministry whether marked by success or disappointment.

John the Baptist’s life illustrates this for me. The ministry of being ‘the voice crying in the wilderness,’ was not without the struggles of isolation, hostility and even profound disappointment bordering on disbelief. In Matthew 11 John the Baptist is imprisoned and questioning the whole point of his life’s ministry. He asks: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” A bold and heartbreaking question from John. Can you imagine what pain and doubt he must have been experiencing? But the beautiful thing is he literally took this doubt and disappointment to Jesus.

Jesus did not respond by telling John to “just hang on”. He didn’t diminish John’s suffering and doubt. Instead he pointed to His goodness in the ministry of truth and love. ‘And Jesus answered them, “Go tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have the good news preached to them.”’ (Matthew 11:4-5)

When the point of ministry seems to be endless struggle we are in danger of losing God’s plot. Like John, we may need to take it to Jesus and get a glimpse of the bigger picture.

This week:
• How are you disappointed with God?
• Are you willing to let God show you places where ministry is flourishing, even if it’s not yours personally?

What about prestige?

By Elaine Vitikainen

A secular client I was working for recently kept mentioning the word ‘prestige’. She said that there is no pressure and no prestige involved. I found prestige a strange word. I’d never really thought about prestige in relation to my work. I had never seen myself aiming for prestige.

I like to think that prestige is not really an issue for me. I know I can only do what I do because God has enabled me to do it. Everything is only made possible with God. Am I too naïve? It made me ponder the verse: “But let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 9:24)

As I reflected on this verse, I realised that I was not immune from the trap of prestige. After all, do I not really look for prestige when I show people my graphic art work? Do I not aim for prestige when I talk about my work to others?

This week:                                                                                                                                                         Think about the work that we do. How much of our identity, our sense of self, is tied up in what we do? At what points does a desire for prestige quietly creep in?

 

Listening to God at work

By Rick James

I was talking with the international director
 of a large faith-based organisation about discernment (recognising and responding
 to the presence and activity of God in a situation). She caught me off-guard when she said, ‘Well I trust we would never do anything like that in our organisation’.

A lot of people are very fearful of trying 
to bring discernment into management decisions. It feels like we are not valuing the human wisdom and common sense that God has already given us. For many they have been emotionally and spiritually damaged by people in power inflicting their interpretation of God’s will onto a situation in a manipulative and controlling way.

But our own intellect may not be enough in making decisions. We do not know everything about our own organisation. None of us knows the future. Our own rational thoughts may well be clouded by our own interests and agendas, whether we are aware of this or not. As Ruth Haley Barton warns ‘When we set out to do good, but carry out our attempts without the discipline of attending to our own stuff which lies beneath and opening ourselves up to God’s presence, evil is always close at hand’.

I get worried when I read in Isaiah 55:8 that God declares “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” We may need to make more opportunities 
to listen to God about organisational issues at work, like one CEO of a large Christian NGO in UK who takes two hours every Friday lunchtime just listening and praying.

This week:
What decisions are coming up for you at work over the next month where you need God’s direction and leading?
What will you do to try and create the space to hear from God?

Simply standing

By Rick James

The last couple of months have been some of the most difficult of my life with a really severe family illness. At my best moments I’ve been wondering what I should be learning from this crisis. The Armour of God passage in Ephesians 6 has come all too alive for me. On the morning the crisis broke, I had read from the Message version that “This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.” (v12)

And since then, it’s mostly been about simply trying to stand. As it says in the next verse in the NIV “Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then…”

Sometimes we can feel like we are soaring like eagles, other times running and not fainting, but at other times it may be about simply standing and taking what life throws at you. It obviously makes a big difference, what we choose to stand on. We very quickly realised we had no human resources left and found huge support in God’s promises in Psalm 91.

As you think about this week:
At the moment, in what areas of your life is it about simply standing?
What are you choosing to stand on?

God in the chaos

By Sven-Erik Fjellström

MotherMary@Nazareth.then

Dear Mary,

I often wonder how it was for you to be a parent, especially in those early years that we do not know so much about. I ask myself how you managed in two crisis times of your life – when you were away from your home in Nazareth. I am thinking of Bethlehem and Jerusalem…

Clearly Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem must have been the most extraordinary moment of your life. Nowadays we focus on the moving story of a child, a Saviour, being born. But does this miss the chaos of it all? Not finding a place to stay, giving birth in a stable, a lot of unexpected visitors, some knocking at the door, others perhaps singing from heaven? No wonder the Bible says that “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart”.

We find it hard to find that tranquility in the midst of everything. We think of reflection in a quiet, even silent, space for retreat. But you seemed to manage in the midst of complete chaos.

And then again you must have been so frightened in Jerusalem 12 years later when Jesus disappeared and you thought you had lost your son. Any parent who has gone through this fear fully understands (I’d have been so frustrated with him too!). But his calm answer to you about being in his Father’s house must have given you new insight into who he was.

Your experience speaks to me about leadership today. Perhaps great insights do not come to us when we finally get some time off with space to reflect. More often they knock on or even knock down our doors in the midst of chaotic, confused, challenging times – when we are stretched beyond what we can cope with on our own…

Perhaps as a leader I should expect to learn from God more in the storms of life rather than in the peaceful, quiet times. What would you say?

Kind regards,                                                                                                                                                   Sven-Erik

Acting with kindness

By Elaine Vitikainen

Small acts of kindness meant a lot to me last year. As I navigated through changes in my life, many people supported me.

What surprised me was that the people who helped me most were in some sense my competitors in the field. Instead of criticising or keeping to themselves their knowledge to get ahead of the game, they willingly shared what they have. They were quick to give advice when asked and generously provided me with any resources they thought I was lacking. They gave me encouragement, appreciation and love. Interestingly, these are not people who say they love the Lord or that they will pray for me. They were initially more like distant acquaintances than friends. But they still acted out of kindness.

It made me think, how easy is it to say “I’ll pray for you” without really thinking or bothering to grasp how the other person feels or needs. Many times I respond too superficially without showing real love and compassion. I think that I care, but without really showing care.

This week, how can we act in kindness towards those we work with?
How can we make kindness an act instead of just a concept?

To win by losing  

By Karl-Erik Lundgren

Deep in every human being there is a desire to succeed. We want to achieve and be the best at whatever we do. Is there anything wrong with this? Perhaps not in itself, but maybe in the way we go about it. In the heat of the contest we may be selfish and merciless.

Some years back I heard a story about a Paralympic athlete. I don’t remember his real name, so I’ll call him John. He had a childhood dream to win a gold medal. He trained hard for many years and amazingly reached the Paralympics final. When the gun went off, John ran as fast as he could. All was going well, until out of the corner of his eye, John saw his fellow competitor stumble and fall. Without really thinking, John stopped to help the other athlete get back to his feet. The two runners ended last in the race. John did not win the gold medal, but he won gratitude, love and a new close friend. He showed the world a different way to handle this desire to be the best at any cost.

Jesus said that unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies it will remain alone but if it dies it will give much fruit. As long as we are too focused on ourselves and do not see or bother about other people’s situations, we will remain alone, fruitless. But if we accept this ‘death’ or loss, we release the hidden power in the small grain when it germinates. A new life starts to grow which will be a powerful source of blessing for others.

What personal ambitions, even ministry-related ones, may you need to let go of?
Who around you may be stumbling and needs your help?

The source of our resources

By Beena George

After so many years I was passing along that highway again – a road I used to travel so often during my college days. I used to wait for a spectacular sight: parallel to the road, there was a huge river that flowed gently and majestically. On the other side there was a canal, carrying water to the distant rural land. Unlike other canals, this one was almost always flowing. I felt so happy for the canal. It was the sole instrument of making an otherwise drought-prone land so fertile. I imagined how proud this canal must be, a reaching hundreds of villages and creating lives so green and lush.

As the road turned towards the river, I was so excited. But to my dismay, the canal had dried up! It had become a dumping ground for the villagers. All the flora and fauna that used to garland the canal had vanished. I imagined how sad the canal would be to see me, her long lost friend, in such a miserable state. All became a story of bygone days – an instrument that gave life to so many was now forgotten.

In her days of glory and abundance, I wonder whether the canal realised the she was only a channel; and the life giving resources she carried to the rural lands were never her own. It made me think about myself.

Do I realise I am only a channel? Do I appreciate the ideas and the resources that I bring to others are not my own. Do I acknowledge the source of resources? Do I realise they can be withdrawn in a matter of seconds?

This week, let’s live each moment acknowledging God as the sole source of all our resources. Let’s be grateful to be a channel of his grace. Let this year be a year of thankfulness.