And just like that – everyone is talking about how to lead from a distance.
Which when we think about it – is odd. People have always led from a distance. From the very earliest of human records all the way up to now. My guess is that if we were able to sit in a room together and talk about the ways we were already leading from a distance, we would be amazed at the group wisdom and mastery we already have.
Not a conversation about today’s incredible technological offerings. A conversation about the wisdom and best practices of leading people to Christ and into deeper discipleship – from a distance. You all have so much wisdom. You have such depth of experience in demonstrating the power and presence of Christ from wherever you are – to all who will listen.
If we could be together, we would recall fundamental scriptural teachings which give us insight into best practices for long-distance leadership. Ancient practices, like:
- Intentionally setting time apart to connect to God
- Remembering to focus less on ourselves and more on Christ
- Using the truth of our connection to the body of Christ to deepen our prayer
- Leaning into the truth that our expression of trust in God can draw people closer to Christ
- Building relationships through who we are and what we believe
- Speaking into anxiety with truth and peace
- Focusing on God’s mercy
This list comes from Philippians 2. Much of the New Testament is an object lesson in leading when we cannot physically be together. That brings me comfort. And courage. And offers a challenge. What does the New Testament have to offer us about how to lead in times like this?
Take another look at the leadership practices from Philippians 2 – or even better read Philippians 2 and see which of these instructions speaks to you. Paul reaches out to the Philippians at a time when Paul could not be with the faithful in Philippi because Paul was in prison, fully unable to get out at all and—according to his own description—often in chains. This encouragement for followers of Jesus to be faithful was communicated across a great distance.
Even without the speed and instant access of modern technology, the truth of Paul’s communication about life with Christ changed lives. It continues to change lives. What can we learn from that today?
Philippians 2 offers a picture of servant leadership which transcends physical presence. The tenets of Christian leadership have not changed, no matter how different our current circumstances. People still need to be encouraged. People still need to experience community. People still need to be invited to draw close to Christ and welcome the truth of their own redemption.
Regardless of what separates us, Christ connects us.
Of course, there are new realities for us to deal with. Holy Week is coming. We are trying to figure out new-to-us technology and best practices for communicating with our congregations and communities. There are many things to consider and many decisions to be made.
To the outside world, it may look like with the doors to our church building closed we have lots of time on our hands. We know this is not true. There is much to do and just like everyone else, we have our own worries, our own anxiety and fear.
What can we learn from Paul and the ancient practices of leadership from a distance that will help us in this time?
God is with us. God is with you. If God is on our side, what can stand against us?
The ancient practice of prayer has not left us. The gift of prayer has not left you. God is with us and hears our prayers.
Focusing on the Philippians 2 model of servant leadership provides a strong foundation. It calls us to remember the very fundamentals of discipleship. It calls us to lean on the truth of God with us and to trust. God is with you. You’ve got this. Who you are in Christ is enough.
As we prepare for a completely different type of Holy Week than any of us can remember, may we lean into the ancient practices of Christian leadership. May we find time to center ourselves on Christ through the gift of prayer. With our attention turned to how do we best glorify God and make Holy Week less about us and more about Christ, we have an opportunity to speak into anxiety and fear with the truth and wonder of God with us.
I see in you so much wisdom. You have such a great heart for God. I believe through the power of Christ, you are more than enough for this season.
If it would be helpful for you to talk with someone about leading from a distance, your Conference Team is here. Call, text, e-mail, Zoom… we have all the technology you need to be in conversation together. If you don’t know where to start in developing your abilities to lead from a distance, let us help.
There are church leadership resource recommendations available at INUMC.org. There are also people available to talk with you, pray with you, plan with you and assist you in many different ways.
If you have not already connected with your district’s zoom meetings, this is a great time to hop onto one of those conversations. Your Conference Assistance can send you information and help you manage the technology. Your Conference Superintendent is working to resource and inform you. They are listening to your questions, concerns and plans.
Your creativity and wisdom in leadership over the past two weeks has been an incredible blessing to your communities.
May you continue to find time for the ancient practice of prayer and know God is with you, God’s abundant mercy, and remember who you are called to be in Christ.
INUMC Director of Leadership Development