Age of Pandemics
Do you remember last year at this time? 2013 for many of us is a distant and ever-fading memory especially as the light of the events of today grows stronger. Even so, I think it is worthwhile to reflect upon where the world was last year at this time for in doing so it will help us better understand today. The fact that we need only go back one year and not ten is also worth noting for us to grasp the speed and magnitude of change we are living. Things have changed dramatically and continue to do so. In terms of last year, please allow me to refresh your memory with a couple of things. We as a country were on the edge of disaster or so we thought as we gazed over the "fiscal cliff." A guy known only to friends and family became a global hero or villain overnight. His name is Eric Snowden. A new pope came into office with a new style and philosophy complete with a twitter account. The age of privacy or at least the illusion of privacy quickly ended when the reach of NSA was exposed. Drones seemingly went from Sci-fi movies to eBay overnight. There was no active, large-scale conflict in Iraq and Israel although things were simmering. Even so, stability was declared and purported as an achievement.
Interesting, how things have changed since that point in time. The largest election in human history occurred placing a man who prior to this election was banned from entering the USA given his ties to radical Hinduism. He was recently in NYC and spoke to a large crowd at Madison Square Garden. It remains to be seen what his impact will be on the church and the gospel in that country but the early consensus is that it will not be positive. He will be good for business but not Christianity. Malaysian Airline #370 is still missing. Russia is still toying with and threatening the sovereignty of Ukraine. A town very few outside of America, let alone inside of America, knew about has become and still is a lightning rod for a variety of social issues—Ferguson, MO. ISIS or ISIL is now threatening the balance of power and footprint of the Middle East. Their brutality has and continues to flourish largely unabated as thousands of people have been and are continuing to be displaced, threatened, and killed. Lastly, is Ebola. Once a disease for the back jungles of Africa, it has emerged not only in West Africa but also is a direct threat on our own USA soil. A year ago it was believed this would be an impossibility—now a reality.
What does all of this mean? It means our world is changing at an accelerating pace. This we know and understand but what is different is that those changes are becoming more global in nature. Changes there directly affect us here and changes here directly impact those there. There have always been significant events happening in places around the world from hurricanes, to wars, to disasters of many kinds. This we heard about but rarely felt directly. We would want to help and in many cases did as we could, but for the most part we did not feel them. We are and have become better at responding to a crisis but always were, for the most part, able to come home to a warm house and have dinner. This is no longer true. What used to be on the other side of the planet as reported by the newspaper is now next door, and we get to see the video of it on YouTube later today. For those that study these types of things they affirm that humanity today is living in the most complex time in history. The number of independent influences on us as people, as nations and as the world has never been higher. ISIS (radical Islam) can and is touching each of us in some way. Ebola can and is touching each of us in some way. This never used to be the case, but it is today or at least the real potential for it to do so. What once touched a few in a particular place now can touch everyone in everyplace. Things have moved from impossibility to possibility. We have moved from a world with crisis here and there to a world full of pandemic potential.
So what are we to do as Christ-followers—as leaders—as ministries—as part of the Global Church? Can we say "this too shall pass"? If so, do we put our heads down, roll up our sleeves and work even harder? Do we continue to view our role in the world as basically to do what we can, to do what we are good at and help those experiencing a crisis? Or has the world in which we live fundamentally changed and, therefore, so must we?
I believe the latter to be case.
Even though we all recognize we are living in unique and amazingly complex times unlike any time before, the Bible still holds truth, meaning, hope, and wisdom as to how we should respond as Christ-followers. Let's look at a particular passage in God's Word where things had changed dramatically from what was, from what was expected, and from what was even hoped. A new reality landed for the early church. How did they respond when things dramatically changed?
Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly. (Philippians 1:12-14 NIV)
Paul's world had changed—dramatically. He was free but no longer. He was a prisoner facing an uncertain and dangerous future, and the church at Philippi was suddenly wrestling with the loss of their esteemed leader in a sense. The one who began it all and who had been there either in person or in spirit every step of the way for the better part of 10 plus years, was now gone and may be gone for good. As a result of his imprisonment, his relationship to not only the church at Philippi but everywhere and everyone else changed. Assuredly the church at Philippi asked some of the same questions we are asking today. Will this pass? Will this get more complicated? Will this directly impact us? Is this the new normal? How are we to face the future? What is going to happen? How are we to respond to this new normal?
Let's look at how Paul helps the church at Philippi answer their questions, their fears and their future.
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God's grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer; that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ - to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:3-11 NIV)
So, among the many things Paul said, he specifically encouraged the church at Philippi in spite of and in light of changing, uncertain, and difficult times:
- Partnerships are and will continue to be foundational to how God works in and through His people (vs. 5, 6).
- God's grace which connects His people will not and cannot be broken (vs. 7).
- Discerning what is best is a priority in representing God in the world (vs. 9, 10).
- God's redemptive mission does not nor will it change (vs. 12).
So, I think we can take a few things from this given where we find ourselves today as Christ-followers, as leaders, and as ministries and organizations.
We need to acknowledge that the world in which we live has changed and will continue to change. We are living in a vastly complex and intertwined global community. It is “pandemical,” if I could use that word. As such, our philosophy on who we are, what we do and how we lead needs to change . . .
We need to:
move from STABILITY to AGILITY
It is no longer enough to achieve stability with funding and with planning. We can't be flat-footed. We need to be on our toes because things are and will continue to change quickly.
move from ASSUMING to DISCERNING
Our ability to cast vision, communicate vision, and plan vision remains important, but we need to move beyond assuming it will happen like we envision it just because we have planned it to be so. We need to have a strategy within the strategy that discerns on a continual basis what is happening and what is best in light of what is happening. We can no longer think in terms of 12 months and set it in motion. Assuredly we need a plan, but we need to be fine tuning it all the time so that we are proactive.
move from REACTING to LEADING
We need to move from waiting for the next crisis and then responding to it. This is inefficient and will ultimately waste resources and time. We need to lead in terms of being decisive related to our common mission within our partnerships as we anticipate change. Things will be different next year at this time. Some of us are still trying to adapt to the changes from last year. We need to get in front of the curve. Leading with that in mind will be the difference in who is successful in future.
move from HOLDING to RELEASING
It is our tendency as humans and therefore as leaders to hold onto resources in times of change and uncertainty. In doing so, we can hold resources today for something tomorrow when it is needed today. We need to recognize that it is raining today. Furthermore, we need to become skilled at releasing our assets and resources to others for the sake of the mission and not to hoard for the sake of our own security and stability. Agility demands we can respond quickly, decisively and significantly.
move from ISOLATING to NETWORKING
It is also our tendency in times of change and when facing threats to become more isolated as we protect our own people, our things, our mission, our identity and our sense of place. This must change if we are to respond effectively to the rapid changes and complexities around us. We need to know our place for sure, our specialized role if you will, but we need to be intimately connected into something larger. Isolation for the sake of distinction and differentiation will not work in today's environment. We need others and they need us. We need to view partnerships and networks as a necessity not a nicety.
Let me close with this . . . here is how Paul summed it up for the church in difficult times as he was facing his own difficulties and uncertain future:
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. (Philippians 1:27-28)
So, despite the circumstances in which we find ourselves and may find ourselves, may we, regardless of our diversity, live in a manner worthy of the gospel as we courageously contend for the sake of the gospel that is God's mission as one—one mind, one heart, one spirit, one faith, and one mission.