Abiding in Exile - Differentiated 01/28/2021

Abiding in Exile - Differentiated 01/28/2021

January 28, 2021

By: Eric Rucker

“When the new Temple was laid… some wept with a loud voice… though many shouted for joy.” (Ezra 3:11)

I’ve spent the last two weeks creating a flow chart for my ministry for the spring and summer. It is comprised of three contingency plans (in-person, hybrid, and virtual ministry) that could be executed by my team, based on how the public health situation progresses in the next six months. Then, last week, I listened as a news report told of a new – more contagious – variant of the coronavirus. The report speculated that, if this variant spreads, traditional COVID precautions might not be sufficient to keep us safe. Of course my contingency plans for in-person ministry in 2021 were based on the COVID precautions from the original virus variant. Listening to the news story, I heaved a sigh. Back to the drawing board; there might be more contingency plans to create. 

Sometimes it feels like leadership in this era is the practice of making three plans, only to have the ground shift beneath your feet, rendering all those plans irrelevant. And then trying to keep going. 

It is easy to lose focus in this environment. I am tempted to surrender to circumstances by abdicating my leadership. I am tempted to revert to preserving programs, approaches, and processes that were effective in the past but will not be effective now. 

A group of Jewish exiles who returned to their homeland in the book of Ezra faced a similar challenge. In the Babylonian siege they had lost everything – their Temple, their worship practices, their community. Now, as they came home, they faced financial instability as well as external foes who threatened their ability to rebuild. Yet the people decided to move forward – to build a new Temple. It is essential to note the various reactions of the Jewish community members as these exiles rebuilt:

“All the people responded with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of (the new Temple) was laid. But many of the priests and heads of families, old people who had seen the first (Temple) on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw the new (Temple), though many shouted for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping.” (Ezra 3:11b-13a)

In his recent book “Tempered Resilience,” pastor Tod Bolsinger argues that resilience in leadership is “the capacity of a system, enterprise, or a person to maintain its core purpose and integrity in the face of dramatically changing circumstances.” He goes on to conclude that:

“Resilience is about the capacity to remain steadfastly committed to wisely discerned goals and values when forces around us would seek to compromise both – and we become stronger through the challenge.”

Not only were the leaders in Ezra’s community facing external threats – they also faced challenges from within their own community as they sought to create new forms of ministry. As the text notes so profoundly, the building of the new Temple elicited from the people both sadness and joy. 

This story reminds us that any time we seek to lead our people into the future, there will inevitably be resistance, anxiety, grief, and sabotage. The question is whether we, like the returned exiles, have the courage to hold our people’s grief and anxiety while still driving forward with new expressions of ministry. Using family-systems theory, we might say that we leaders must be differentiated:

  • We must stay connected to our people while not fusing to their agendas. 
  • We must stay in caring relationship with them while preserving our own sense of God’s vision and purpose for the community. 
  • We must stay in proximity to their anxiety while maintaining a non-anxious presence that is visionary. 

Our spiritual ancestors had to rebuild in the ashes of their old programs. In doing so, they learned how to lead – how to incorporate ancient traditions in news ways to be effective amidst change and resistance. And now we too face this challenge. I invite you to spend a moment with God reflecting on these questions: 

  • What is your core purpose? What is your ministry’s core purpose? 
  • What internal and external resistance and sabotage are occurring?
  • What needs to be grieved and let go of? How? 
  • What practice/self-care do you need in order to maintain non-anxious presence and vision to lead your people into a new future?