Take me to my leader! Johannine anxiety on shifting sand

May 5th, 2020
This article is featured in the Growing Spiritually issue of Ministry During The Pandemic

Editor's note: This article is part of a series of articles from the author related to the release of Gospel Discipleship: Participant Guide and Gospel Discipleship: Congregation Guide (Abingdon Press, 2020). Read previous posts here and follow the six-week Wednesday night webinars beginning May 6.

“I have given you an example: Just as I have done, you also must do.” (John 13:15, CEB translation)

I have seriously curtailed watching the news and engaging on social media. An ironic thing to say right as I recently committed to blog daily for two weeks, am leading Facebook live teaching sessions for an indefinite period of time, and digitally launched a book. But all the voices. All the authoritative announcements that come through, and then are followed with corrections… All the misinformation. All the rumor. I can’t take it. I can’t sort through the truth and the lies fast enough. Did I mention I am secondarily Johannine?

Johannines look to authorities. We expect our authorities to know how to offer us careful and reasoned guidance. We expect our authorities to always have the best intentions for the most people. And then the headlines talk about senators who sold stock in January because they knew this pandemic was coming and they could profit off it in advance. That makes us furious. They are elected to protect the people, and yet here we are, feeling very unprotected.

Johannine anxiety in this moment is twofold. This first anxiety revolves around our own expectations of leadership. Look, things seem to be getting into stride with each day to some extent, but to a large extent it feels still like leaders are too jumpy. They are making unilateral announcements, and when those are communicated well we can get behind it, but when it comes across as an expedient decision, or if there is no decision being made at all, Johannines will rebel. We have to trust our leadership, and that kind of leadership feels like it is in short supply right now. It leaves Johannines feeling like they are adrift in the ocean on a rudderless ship.

"Gospel Discipleship" by Michelle J. Morris. Order here: https://bit.ly/GospelDiscipleshipParticipant

The other piece of anxiety comes from the demands of expertise on us, demands that have either suddenly appeared or disappeared. Maybe you are a parent who is all of a sudden expected to be a teacher as well. Or maybe you are a teacher who has no students and can’t share the expertise you do have. Maybe you are a physician and everyone is hitting you with questions about how to manage this pandemic reality, and some of the questions they are asking are way out of your field of expertise, or you see people making grave mistakes that could have life ending consequences and you can’t get them to listen. Or maybe you are a pastor who suddenly has all these expectations on you — to know how to navigate changing hospital visitation and funeral and communion policies, to provide pastoral care to high school seniors totally broken up by the fact that they won’t get to graduate, to pivot on worship planning and arrangement to accommodate online streaming, or to navigate video editing and uploading when you just joined Facebook two years ago and don’t even know how to load a picture to it! All these expectations, these sudden skills required to do a job you were confident in knowing how to do two weeks ago and now it feels like you are trying to teach college with a kindergarten education. Johannines, you are in panic. You are in full retreat mode.

Stop. Re-center. You know who the authorities are. The authorities are not the latest “news” article on Facebook. The authorities are the CDC. And the authorities are our national, state and local officials. And those authorities are not perfect. But then, I think I illustrated this point when I discussed all the expectations we suddenly find on our shoulders. None of us know how to navigate this. We are all going to make mistakes. Yes, Johannines, even us. Now more than ever we need grace. We need grace extended one to another. And we need the grace of God to release our expectations. We are going to have to live with patience for one another and ourselves as we navigate these waters.

Let’s remember, though, we navigate these waters with the one who knows how to calm the storm, the one who provides abundantly when we need provision. So Johannines, you also need to center yourselves in our great teacher, Jesus, and to do that means spending some time with Scripture. But recognize that we sometimes too easily follow those who speak in Jesus’ name. Stay with your trusted sources in this time. Do not grab onto one who speaks with too much confidence, especially in their own ability to lead through this. No one really knows how to lead here. So follow the leaders who lead in humility; the ones who are willing to serve; the ones who are willing to wash the feet of others (though not literally right now!) and sit at their feet and learn; the ones who model the kind of leadership Jesus models, which is to reach out in love. And for those of us who are called to lead in Jesus’ name, let this humility shape our approach as well. Jesus has given us an example: love, and serve.

Johannines, you do have expertise to share, and you do have means to share it. So be creative in connecting to others, through technology or means that help maintain social distance, and offer your expertise. Write a blog. Post a video. Maybe work on a book if you suddenly have time on your hands. Offer what skills you have in whatever ways you have available. Or take this time to pick up new skills in preparation for the days ahead. Serving in this way will heal some of your heart’s anxiety. Finally, there is much to learn in this moment we are in. You are the great students of life. Pay attention. Watch where love breaks out. And watch where it falls apart. And learn from this time. There is great purpose in learning from what we are going through right now.

And above all else, cut yourself and others some slack. We are in this together! You are not alone! Thanks be to God!

If you have followed these articles, you now have a sense of the anxieties of Johannines, Markans, Lukans, and Mattheans. If you haven’t figured out who you might be yet, take the assessment at www.ministrymatters.com/gospeldiscipleship. Hopefully, this will help all of us understand how our discipleship can help us manage these strange and trying times we find ourselves in right now. You are all in my prayers!

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