Leading With A Rainstorm Over Your Head
You've probably seen a cartoon or a picture of a single rain cloud hovering over just one person, following them around. That cloud is raining on them and them alone. It's almost comical unless, of course, you're that umbrella-less soul caught in that storm.
We've all at one time or another felt that way. When you're in the midst of the rain it very much feels like it's just raining on you. It's hard to accomplish simple things sometimes. It's really difficult to continue to lead a team through it. Recently, my family found ourselves in such a storm. There were many tough days and long nights but the thing is, I still have a team, a ministry, to lead. Here's a few thoughts I'm learning towards leading through these situations:
Lean In/Lean On
I'm not sure what type of team you lead or who you have around you. Me, I have an amazing team that allows me to do this. First, lean in. Too many times as people, but especially as leaders, we want to distance ourselves from others when things aren't going as well as we'd like. We feel the need to carry that burden alone. Lean into your team. Trust them. That type of trust and vulnerability scares some people but in a team setting, it's one of the best things you can do. It allows them to care for you, lift you up, and help carry that burden. That's where the 'Lean On' comes in. Give yourself permission to be vulnerable and give your team permission to support you when you are. I know this sounds simple in black and white but it really works. This is not a "scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" situation although there is an element of that. This is trust your team with your heart and they'll be more willing to trust you with theirs. Having people around you helps make the load lighter but more than that, when you feel like you're alone in the storm you just need look left and right. Whatever the purpose of your team the mission must be people.
When to compartmentalize and when to not
Some people are really great at compartmentalizing. They can take an issue or something they're dealing with and place it in a mental box on a shelf in their brain and go about whatever it is they need to accomplish and then take that box down and open it later. Some are not... For me, I'm probably a little better at it than I think I am but I'm still learning to juggle this one. Wednesday nights are our big nights for our student ministry. What I mean is, that's when we put most of our focus for teaching, relationships, worship, etc. Every Wednesday night I meet with my team at 6:00 pm to go through service orders, make sure there's a good flow, pass out discussion group sheets, check on everyone, and then pray. We are usually there fifteen to twenty minutes. Now during that time is when I get to let my guard down. Share my frustrations, my concerns, and my prayer requests. Not just me, but that's the norm for our team. We pray over people. Lay hands on them when we need to. Occasionally crying occurs. Then we remind each other that's why we suit up each day, get our "game faces" on, and get in with our students. That's where we know we need to do our best to compartmentalize things. There are times when it's harder than others and again, some people are better at it than others. For me though, I need to do everything in my power to do so.
Let me pause for a minute and explain something else on how we do ministry and life. I know it sounds like we press on no matter what's going on in people's lives. That we just compartmentalize and move forward. That's not the case. When we have people that are hurting or carrying deep wounds, we do everything we can to allow them to pull back and just receive ministry rather than try and give it. That's where the rubber meets the road for this one, knowing when to compartmentalize and when not to. This is also where I connect this back to my first point. When you've developed a level of trust and intimacy within your team, you don't have to compartmentalize with those you do more life with. For us, we know that if we went into worship, teaching time, or discussion group just miserable, we wouldn't be leading well.
Praise In The Storm
This is one of the most difficult things I'm having to learn. I've sung songs like "Blessed Be Your Name" by Matt Redman with lines like,
Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there's pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name.
I've read passaged like Acts 5:41 which says, "The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name." Those things sound good until you're the one suffering. How do you praise God when it feels like so much around you is falling to pieces? Here's the one word I keep being reminded of, perspective. When we stop and think about it, the question, as Mark Batterson asks, "how big is your God?" If God is as big as we claim him to be, this hurricane is but a gentle breeze in the palm of his hand. For me, and probably others as well, the paradox is the understanding usually comes after declaration. I remember it very vividly. My wife and I were praying together one evening before bed and as I prayed, the words were not my own but the Holy Spirit speaking through me. I prayed for victory over this situation but what I said next surprised me, "but until that victory comes we will praise you in the midst of this storm." That was my paradigm shift. Not because I did anything different but I made the declaration that God was bigger than this and still worthy to be praised. I'm not saying it's easy but as you walk through trials, of any kind, make a point to stop and declare "I will praise you in the storm." You'll see what I saw, God doesn't change, you will. And so will your perspective of him.
Remind Your Team, and Yourself, of Victory
When victory is at hand, hope always flourishes. Teams need to be reminded of victories and victory. Yes, I said both past and future victories! Past victories is what David stood on before facing a giant that had an entire nation hiding out. I love it in 1 Samuel 17 when everyone is telling David to stand down, his response was the bear didn't beat me and neither did the lion. This giant won't beat me either. (paraphrased) He stood on victories God had already given him knowing that the same God was about to give him another one. When we get into hard times, past victories can be great reminders of what you've already been through and what God has already done. Future victories is what Joshua stood on as he looked over the massive city of Jericho before his week of prayer walking.
"Now the gates of Jericho were securely barred because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in. Then the Lord said to Joshua, 'See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men.'" Joshua 6:1-2
The Israelites haven't even taken their first step towards Jericho at this point. Look at the words used though. God said to Joshua I HAVE DELIVERED. Present tense! The victory was theirs to walk in. We must declare the victory, not only as something we will have but as something we currently have. The victory is God's, not will be. That's walking in faith! We need the constant reminder, for ourselves and our teams, that we posses victory and we need to walk in it.
Storms will come in life, it's never a matter of if but when. Jesus said,
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble.But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
That's about the best news we could ask for!