The Flourishing Culture Podcast Series
“Two Keys for Leading Through Uncertainty“
May 11, 2020
Intro: If the current COVID-19 crisis has challenged you as a leader, then the next few minutes are for you. In the midst of a crisis, there’s a way you can lead through uncertainty. Today’s podcast will equip and inspire you to rise up, not shrink back. Learn how, next.
Al Lopus: Welcome to another episode of the Flourishing Culture Podcast, where our goal is to equip and inspire you to build a flourishing workplace. As we all face today’s leadership challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we believe having a healthy culture is more important now than ever before. We are here to help you eliminate toxicity, improve your employees’ engagement, speed up new innovation, and grow your organization’s impact.
And before we meet our guest today, I urge you to subscribe to this podcast. As a result, you’ll receive our action guide. It’s our gift to help you lead your organization’s culture to the next level. To subscribe, simply go to bcwinstitute.org/podcast. Hit the Subscribe button, and receive our free action guide.
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And now, let’s meet today’s special guest.
Al Lopus: It’s my pleasure to welcome back one of our most popular guests on the Flourishing Culture Podcast, Jeff Lockyer, the lead pastor of Southridge Community Church in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada. Welcome back, Jeff.
Jeff Lockyer: Oh, Al, thanks so much for having me. It’s always a lot of fun to be able to chat in this way. And I guess I just want to start by affirming again what you guys do. You know that my conviction is that paying attention to culture is probably the single most important thing a Christian leader can do. So I love your ministry, and it’s certainly affected my life and our church immensely. So it’s a real treat to be able to talk about this kind of stuff again.
Al: Thanks, Jeff. I’m looking forward to catching up. And, you know, we’re about two months into COVID-19. We’re recording this in late April. How are you and your family doing? How is all that working for you so far?
Jeff: Yeah, that’s quite a question, isn’t it? I heard someone the other day say that yesterday felt like a year. And in our context, it was interesting because the day that everything really started to blow up was on Wednesday, March the 11th. And that day, Wednesday, March the 11th, my family was actually flying to Guatemala. We were going on a Compassion sponsor visit to host the quinceañera, the fifteen-year-birthday party, kind of a coming-of-age party for our Compassion-sponsored daughter. We sponsor a brother and sister. And we got off the airplane, and immediately people in the airport were taking our temperature and wanted us to write down our whereabouts in Guatemala. And we thought, whoa, this is pretty serious. And then we found out that El Salvador had already closed its borders both ways, so that became a bit freaky. And by dinnertime, we were sitting in this restaurant in Guatemala City. We heard that the NBA had postponed its season indefinitely and that Tom Hanks and his wife had tested positive. And it was like those are kind of the defining moments for everything blowing up. And I remember starting to text with our lead team and think, okay, we’re going to need to buckle up.
And so the first few days, I was actually navigating this from another country that I wasn’t even sure we were going to get out of, because it was about four hours after on the Friday after the quinceañera when our family left to return home. We thought that Guatemala had closed its borders, and anyone who was still in the country, who wasn’t Guatemalan, was going to have to spend a 14-day quarantine. So we were, like, four hours away from escaping that country. It started off pretty stressful for us.
Other than that, I would say, at a personal level, it’s been remarkably restful. My kids are basically all at a high-school age, and so I’m a part-time pastor, full-time taxi driver, and my after-work life and the pace of it is quite insane. And when all of that shut down, we were home, after a trip, we were home for about 48 hours. I said to my wife, I can’t believe how palpably I can actually feel the peace in my soul because of the impact of just the forced simplicity. It’s definitely not a spiritual discipline that I had or something that I chose. But it’s been really amazing from that perspective at a personal level. Obviously, with my kids being a bit older, they’re all plugging away independently on their school and things like that, so it’s not that difficult to work from home. I know that others who have younger children, that’s a much greater challenge, so I don’t want to discredit that.
And then as a church, I feel like we’re doing really good. I know we’re going to talk about that in detail. But we framed, in the very first days, we kind of framed our church’s approach in terms of three phases. Phase one was the pivot of transitioning everything that we do into a modified kind of a COVID-19 format. You know, the physical distancing and the isolation and from the home and things like that. Phase two is figuring out how to make that pivot sustainable because so many of our ministry leaders were up all hours of the night and not taking weekends, and for the first couple of weeks, just trying to be able to make these shifts. And then phase three, once we’ve made the shift and made it sustainably, phase three is really all of the longer-term implications. Like, if we’re into this for three to six months, what are some of, then, the bigger-picture, longer-term things that we need to address. And certainly we can talk about some of those as well.
Al: Yeah. March 11th was a time it really made a difference for me, too. That’s when it really seemed to hit. And here we are, you know, about six weeks later, so it’s still in the early days.
As many of our podcast listeners know, from our previous conversation, Southridge Community Church has three distinct anchor causes in the Niger region. I just love that about your church and kind of how you structured your strategy in that way. So now that our world has kind of turned upside down, give us a few real-life snapshots of how Southridge is ministering to those communities. What are some of the challenges and opportunities that you’re looking at?
Jeff: Yeah, that’s definitely been priority number one for us as a, what you would refer to, as a missional church, meaning over 50 percent of our operationalized ministry and resources are devoted into these initiatives of compassion and justice that define each of our Southridge locations that, as you said, we referred to as anchor causes. And so we have three sites, but they’re each organized around a distinct anchor cause. And each of those anchor causes in this COVID-19 era are still deemed as essential services.
So in one of our locations, we have a 55-bed, 365-days-a-year homeless shelter that runs out of our building, where we’re still serving the homeless these days. Even though our “church building” doesn’t accommodate programs or gatherings, it’s still open to serve the homeless. We’ve had to make the shift there, though, because we can’t really accommodate volunteers. So out of protection for the vulnerability of the health of the homeless, we’ve had to have, really, a staff-only configuration. And in some cases, I’ve had to hire some temp, kind of extra staff, in order to make that work. But we’ve expanded our common-room area so that they can physically distance a little bit better. And we’ve redistributed how the beds work so that they can be apart a little bit more. But certainly, that one’s been a challenge.
In Welland, we’ve got some food-provision programs that kind of define our anchor cause to low-income families. And we’ve gone back and forth on those food-provision programs, where at first we were offering them in kind of a take-out format. But then the lines that people were creating to line up to receive the take out, they weren’t honoring the social distancing. And so now we’ve transitioned to, like, a delivery, where we prepare the meals. And we’ve actually got a program called Collective Kitchen, where we’ll prepare multiple meals, 10 to 25 meals at a time for people. And so we’ll prepare these meals one at a time and then package them in a way that then they can get delivered to individual clients’ doors in a way that’s a little more sanitary and safe.
And then in Vineland, this was probably the most peculiar, precarious anchor cause because we serve migrant farm workers that, for a time, when the U.S. and Canada closed their borders, we weren’t sure whether they would even be allowed in the country this year. And so at first, we were actually advocating politically through some back doors to try to encourage the necessity of migrant farm workers for not just our economy but for our whole food system. And so eventually those provisions got made. They’ve been able to come into the country. They’ve been in quarantine for the first few weeks. And so it’s been, again, a unique challenge, trying to really reconnect to these guys and get them the supplies they need. I mean, a lot of these guys have come into the country, and right away they’ll need a new SIM card for their cell phone. Well, they can’t go out and shop, and we can’t go and connect with them, and so how do we coordinate getting them all SIM cards for their cell phones? I mean, it’s that granular.
But in every one of those cases, I would say that the cool opportunity and the cool challenge has been, normally we rely on programs to foster these relationships of transformation. Now we don’t have the programs to drive those relationships, so we’ve got to be more creative in how we go directly to funneling and fostering the relationships themselves so that that friendship can make a difference. And so it’s actually been very inspiring, watching the different locations and watching our congregation rise to that challenge to say, how can we maintain contact, how can we stay in connection with the individual populations of people that we serve, without relying on the facilitating of the program to do so.
Al: Boy, you’re right, Jeff. Relationships is really what people seem to have come back to is realizing what’s important.
And also, you’re dealing with the poor in each of these three situations, and there, were realizing are even more vulnerable than the rest of us.
Jeff: Everybody is affected by this pandemic, but not everybody is affected equally.
Al: Yeah. That’s fantastic work.
So, for our listeners, we’re all leaders. What’s one thing that you’re learning about yourself during this time, Jeff? Can I ask you a personal question in that regard?
Jeff: I’m losing an interest in Zoom. I’ve figured that out already. I mean, I’d be a little more introverted, but I’ve been surprised, both in our mission and at a personal level, just how strongly I believe and feel that ministry is fundamentally relational and incarnational. I read it and see a lot of pastors in social media or a lot of church-growth experts talking about how this is forcing us all to go digital and how we’re never going to go back, that this is the age of digital, and everyone’s making that transition, and we’re going to realize how much better it is.
I mean, first of all, our weekend gatherings are not our primary focus as a church. We’re primarily organized around these missions of compassion, justice. And so that’s our primary focus to begin with. But even when it comes to our weekend services, which we have shifted to an online format, we’re predominantly, if not exclusively, viewing them as an option B because we can’t wait to be together again, to be incarnational, to be relational. Even in that largest group-gathering sense, never mind in our small groups or in our different programs at discipleship, never mind our anchor causes, it’s just so relational because of the incarnational nature of the person and work of Jesus that this whole cyber, digital, online format, it’s definitely a technological perk that we have in this day and age to be able to maintain what we’re able to maintain in this crisis, that I’m sure a hundred years ago you wouldn’t be able to do. So there’s an advantage to that. But I definitely do not see it as the future.
Al: So, relational, and it’s based on relationships that we really see, incarnation. That’s a great learning.
You know, in all of this, Jeff, where have you noticed God actively present and moving in you and in the Southridge Community, the staff? How are you seeing a way to serve and move and navigate forward?
Jeff: I’ve probably seen two things emerge. One is just the obvious—people talk about this all the time—how much crisis clarifies things. Crisis doesn’t change much, but it clarifies or exacerbates what’s already there. And for us, it’s been super illuminating how clear we are that our ministry is missional more than it is attractional, how it’s lifestyle based and relational more than it is programmatic, and helped us make sense of all of these technological assets as means to the end, not an end to themselves.
And I mean, to be fair, our ministry leaders have done some really cool, creative things with technology. We created, after our online service, a virtual lobby through Zoom, where after the service, you can kind of click in, and you can be part of a lobby experience like you would on a Sunday morning. That’s been pretty cool.
The increased benevolence need. Normally our church, we’re quite outwardly focused, and so as a church, we care for those on the margins. But now there’s a whole bunch of people finding financial pressures and mental-health challenges and things within our church family, and so that increased benevolence challenge internally, that’s a whole new thing that we’re trying to pay more attention to. And our pastoral staff in that department created a system online where you can click the Need Help or Give Help button, and they now internally broker how to meet those needs, whether it’s financial or practical or some kind of psychological support or whatever. And so we’ve certainly been able to leverage technology, but it’s been super cool to watch how crisis has clarified what we’re ultimately about.
The other thing that’s been interesting is the way that it’s illuminated our strength of conviction. When I see pastors and churches right now, there seems to be either a scale back or a lean in and rise up. And when we talked about that as a leadership, like, to a person, the default was that this is a “lean in and rise up” time, not a “scale back” time, and that the desperation, in so many ways, for a community, for meaning, for comfort, for practical support, whatever, this is arguably the time in our generation for the church to rise up and show that the life and love of Jesus is real, like never before. And to watch our collective leadership and our congregation respond in that way has been quite inspiring. But I would say what God has done is just really illuminated, in a blindingly clear kind of way, what our church is actually about, and that’s been cool.
Al: Wow, yeah. I love that. So really helping to clarify what’s real and illuminating, the strength and conviction. Wow, that’s encouraging.
If our listeners could peek inside your workplace culture for a moment, Jeff, they would begin to appreciate the compelling before-and-after transformation of your culture. And we’ve talked about this, but just to help us set up even the next couple of questions, let’s take a couple of minutes and just reflect on the difference you feel today leading a flourishing staff culture versus when you first started, where you were barely healthy, and that’s a good place to start, but you were barely healthy several years ago. Just reflect on that for a minute, even in context of the current situation.
Jeff: Sure. When you describe us as barely healthy, that’s even probably complimentary. The word I would use is just apathetic. I didn’t value the importance of culture. In fact, I probably even theologically pushed back on it, that paying attention to culture was something that mattered or maybe more specifically that a church had to have a specific culture. I viewed the people of God as this all-inclusive, it belongs to everyone, it’s for everyone, everyone should fit, so there shouldn’t be one defined kind of specific culture. And so I kind of bucked it, even paying attention to it.
But over the years, God’s moved us through a number of different eras and developed a number of different convictions based on our experiences, appreciating, I would say, number one, how much culture helps you get work done. Patrick Lencioni once said that culture eats strategy for breakfast, and so much of our focus was on what we were doing and not the underlying culture that was helping us do what we were doing. And so that was a huge era of growth and improvement.
Then, there was facing the reality of just the uniqueness of kingdom work, that in the kingdom you live according to this grace-based culture, but in employment, you fundamentally live out the parameters of a workspace culture. And so in church work, you’ve got to figure out how to incorporate the best of both of those cultures simultaneously. And so helping not just work get done, but helping kingdom work get done was an era of paying attention to culture that we had to go through.
Then, we had to pay attention to what it looked like for people to fit or why it was that people didn’t necessarily fit. And so that drove us to discern some of our cultural distinctives and really define who it was that we were, what it would take for a person to really thrive in particularly our workplace environment. So it’s about getting this kingdom work done now together in unity.
And then, finally, we stumbled on this engagement survey called BCWI and started to assess our workplace culture. And so that was at the point where we were barely healthy, and we’d already made all these cultural gains to get there, and realized the advantage to getting kingdom work done together in unity through the engagement of people and discovering what it would take to correct and improve your culture in order to more effectively engage people. And from that point, year after year after year, we became more flourishing, to the point where, then, not just our whole organization but all of our departments scored above that flourishing threshold. And we could honestly provide anyone who came to work at Southridge with an experience of a flourishing workplace culture, regardless of what department they served in.
And so it’s been remarkable just to see God not only grow and mature our culture, but to strengthen our conviction on how much it matters. And this is why I made the comment at the beginning of the podcast to say I’m now at the place where I feel like it arguably is the single most important thing a senior leader can pay attention to because of how transformative it actually can be.
Al: You know, the current crisis that brought to the surface the need to innovate and pivot, and you’ve already talked about a number of things that you’ve done, and we’re seeing it in churches everywhere. How have your people been inspired and led to pivot to meet the new emerging needs in your communities? How do we lead through uncertainty? That seems to be the topic or the question of the day for me is things are uncertain; we don’t really know where they’re going, unlike other situations and other times. So how about leading through uncertainty? Tell us about that.
Jeff: Yeah, that’s a great question. And you’re right. It’s kind of the question for our era right now. I would say in our context that two ideas emerged very quickly. The first was actually in a season of uncertainty, start with what you’re absolutely certain of. Start with what you know for sure, for sure. And in our context, we knew for sure, for sure that we exist as a church to foster a lifestyle of full devotion to Jesus in three dimensions. That’s what we know for sure. Whether we can gather on Sundays or whether we can offer certain programs, we don’t know, we don’t know how long that’ll be in place, but we know for sure, for sure that this is why we exist. And that helped guide us.
Related to that, I would say, number two my encouragement to our leaders from the very beginning was to keep it simple, don’t overcomplicate things, because what people need at some level is just very basic and could be delivered simply. So in our online experience, for example, of transitioning our weekend services, I know a lot of churches try to film what they do on the stage and keep the light show going and whatever. We had people basically just in an acoustic way kind of record some worship in their living room and things like that. And I’ll tell you the emotional intelligence of connecting with people who were all a sudden going to be watching and experiencing this service in their pajamas of other people in their living room was way more—that was actually way more effective than trying to have people sitting there in their pajamas watching a rock concert go on that they were supposed to feel like they were entering into. The simplicity was actually a value.
Similarly, when it comes to our group life, obviously our small-group ministry is trying to leverage Zoom and technology as much as possible, especially to live out that mutual member ministry system of community support. But I said to our location pastors, hey, this is the season where you want a pastor like we’re in the 1950s, and you want to go through the Rolodex and pick up the phone, and you want to phone call every person in our congregation and spend some time asking them how they’re doing. You’ve got some extra time, they’ve got some extra time, so take advantage of just the simple dynamic of relationally hearing each other’s voice. Again, with the anchor causes, right? All our programs have been shut down, so we can’t have all these playgrounds that spark relationship with the marginalized people. So it’s just got to be about constancy of connection with the people in our lives that are marginalized and need our attention the most. That’s it.
So make those pivots, but make them as simply as possible, knowing that there are very few things that we exist to do. I think about even the way that we foster this three-dimensional lifestyle in age-appropriate ways in our children and youth ministries, where the whole goal of our family ministry is to partner with parents in raising the next generation. Well, when you’ve got parents who now have this chaos of working from home and then the double chaos of having their kids at home, climbing all over them while they’re trying to work from home, their need for support has gone through the roof. So figure out how to pick up the phone or send them an email or text or whatever to connect directly with parents and find out what would be helpful to support them in this time. And keep it simple, because the needs are becoming a lot more immediate, a lot more obvious.
Al: Yeah, Jeff, wow. I love that. So start with what you’re really certain of, and then keep it simple. Two really great things for us to think about in terms of leading through uncertainty.
I trust you’re enjoying our podcast today. We’ll be right back after an important word for leaders.
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Al: And now, back to today’s special guest.
As we all know, it takes more than just good ideas or good intention, certainly time and effort, to bring about effective ministry, especially in the midst of uncertainty. What’s been essential for you and your team as you’ve sought to innovate and innovate with creativity and purpose as servants of Christ?
Jeff: I would say, when you’re talking about innovation—obviously, this season is for all of us flexing our creative muscles—probably the combination of things that have been helpful for us are—I’ve alluded to one already—just the blinding clarity on your why. So why it is that we’re doing what we’re trying to do, what meaning, what are our missional outcomes? So we’re trying to foster a lifestyle of full devotion to Jesus. We’re trying to foster it in these three dimensions. Therefore, we’ve got certain outcomes that our ministries are ultimately aspiring to. So we need blinding clarity on that so that, number two, we can flexibly fail and rejig the sales as we learn what’s effective and what isn’t.
So I alluded, as an example, to our Welland location and our food programs that we offer to serve low-income families in our Welland community. And originally, these kitchen ministries, their first pivot was to create a drive-thru format. And so for a couple of weeks, we delivered these food provisions in drive-thru format. But then we realized that the drive-thru format was not only inconvenient for certain clients, but it was also complicating the physical distancing, and so then we had to pivot again. And okay, well, can we deliver these meals? Well, then it became an issue of how do we prepare the meals? because we can prepare, and we can deliver these meals, but now there’s new safety parameters of how we prepare the meals. And so you find yourself, in a very short period of time, pivoting, but it’s never one pivot, or it’s almost always not one pivot. You pivot and then you re-pivot, and then you shift and shift and shift. And the question is, what’s driving those shifts? Well, what’s driving those shifts, I guess, in reverse engineering order is, first of all, the flexibility to be able to shift again and again. If you’re inflexible, you’ll shift once and think, hey, this is the only change I’m going to make, and I’ll refuse to make more changes, where you’ve got to actually be open to a constancy of change right now. And then kind of the rudder while you’re rejigging your sales, to use a sailing analogy, the rudder is ultimately the fixed outcome that you’re trying to deliver for which each of these changes hopefully provides either an incremental improvement or at least an illumination into why it was that that try failed. So the flexibility to try and the clarity of what will actually make this a success, what you’re actually trying to do, I think helps guide you in a period of forced innovation.
Al: This is a difficult time for leaders, especially as we have all this uncertainty. And as you’ve looked in the mirror, as I’ve looked at the mirror, I’ve asked even this question, what am I going to do? How are we going to get through this? I’ve asked myself. What have you come to on this? I’m sure you’ve asked the same question.
Jeff: Yeah. It’s interesting, again, in the way that crisis illuminates things, and you can kind of learn from some of your default reactions, where you’re at as a person, where you’re at with God. I would say that I’ve never—at least yet—in this pandemic, I’ve never wondered whether the church would get through this. And that’s just been interesting. I’ve been convinced that the Matthew 16:18—the Jesus promise that on this rock I’ll build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it—I’ve always believed that the church of anything on Earth is the one invincible, indestructible, forward-moving entity on planet Earth. So I’ve had, I would say, unwavering confidence in that.
The real question for me has been whether our church—because that’s what I’m responsible for—whether our church will default in this era to a shrink-back mentality or a rise-up mentality. You know, it was amazing early on how quickly, talking with some pastor buddies of mine, how quickly they were doing the math on layoffs. And I don’t want to pretend that there isn’t a fiscal implication to this, and we ought not to be responsible stewards of the resources that God’s entrusted to us. We could talk about that if you want in more detail. But it was interesting that for many people, their default wasn’t lean in and rise up, where in our context to a person our default was, hey, are we going to shrink back now or are we going to rise up? And we were just overwhelmed with the sense that, again, the emotional, the mental health, the anxiety, the loneliness, even the women who are trapped in homes now in isolation with abusive spouses, just so many just very practical challenges with the situation that we’re in, this is an era where people need the incarnational and practical life and love of Jesus like never before. And if we’re not going to rise up in a crisis, well, what’s the purpose of the church, then? I guess is the way that we’ve viewed it. And so it’s been very interesting, I guess, but also very cool to watch those default questions get asked and answered in our context. It’s been kind of encouraging.
Al: That’s really interesting. Shrink back or rise up. That’s inspirational in itself. Let’s rise up.
But to rise up, we need to have healthy leaders in these times of stress and challenge. So what are some of the regular habits, practices, how do you stay spiritually centered and physically healthy? What are some practices that you’d encourage other leaders to maintain during these difficult times?
Jeff: I mean, for me, the morning quiet time, people call it the couch time, that has always been the kind of bread-and-butter bedrock out of which everything else in my day flows, and the quality and condition of that morning quiet time, in many ways, defines the quality of my day. But one interesting twist in our church right now is knowing that we can’t gather, but knowing that our gatherings, we refer to them not as concerts or classrooms, we actually refer to them as spiritual gymnasiums, where we can get together to kind of flex our spiritual muscles as well as learn exercises and practices that we can then do at home to generate a greater degree of spiritual fitness. We actually started this last weekend, a nine-week series on spiritual practices and on the kinds of disciplines that can help access the presence and activity of God to a greater degree, because we feel like this season, I’ve heard it said, that people are either going to come out of this season in the best shape of their lives or the worst shape of their lives. And spiritually, I think the same thing is true.
And so as a faith community, never mind personally, we’re going to really get experimental with some of those core spiritual practices to a far greater degree than we had before. And like I said earlier in my own life with simplicity of my schedule, I’m hoping that I can come out of this with a whole new appreciation of the way that I can access God through a number of those things that I might not give as much attention to.
Another thing that’s definitely indicative for me of a healthy zone versus a less-healthy zone is the degree of exercise that I can get. I come from a competitive long-distance-running background, and so I think since that March 11th, or since that trip that we went on, I’ve actually missed, I think, one day of running since then. And that’s been just super life-giving and mentally refreshing, and even just the constancy of that routine, I think, has been anchoring, never mind the physical benefits. It’s been, I think, really important. And I wouldn’t want to under-spiritualize the value of taking care of our physical and emotional health in a time like this. I mean, it’s not all just Bible reading and prayer, but certainly, at the same time for me, that couch time is, that’s the first things first part of it.
Al: Yeah. Boy, I can say, even personally, same routine, and I’ve really focused on keeping the same routine even though I’m at home, quiet time to start with. Kathy and I generally, then, have some tea together. Then, I’m out for a walk, and I walk about four miles every day. I tore my lateral meniscus last year, so I’m not doing any running, Jeff. But there’s part of the walk that I’m actually going through woods, and I’ve really come to appreciate just the presence of God in nature, especially in springtime. Things are just bursting out of the ground in the Pacific Northwest here, and it’s just a beautiful time. But yeah, staying healthy spiritually, physically, it is all together.
You know, we’ve just come through a holy week and Easter. And for me, it’s even been a real study and an experience around Christ’s suffering. And I think a lot of us have felt this issue of suffering like we’ve never felt it before. And it has to do with the challenge of leading through uncertainty, and where there’s uncertainty, many times there is suffering. And I’m wondering if there’s a real-time situation that’s caused you to ask, where are you, God? Help me. What am I not seeing? Any reflection on that, Jeff?
Jeff: I think every human has to confess that they ask “why, God?” questions at some point in their lives, and this, I think for many of us, would be one of those times. You know, I mentioned earlier that everyone’s affected by this, but not everybody’s affected equally. And it’s really tough watching the most underprivileged and the most marginalized only be beaten down worse by a pandemic like this in so many different ways, whether it’s economic or just relational supports and things like that. So when you think that people in poverty and people on the margins are hard done by enough, it definitely makes you ask God, like, why do they need to get beat on more? That’s certainly tough.
Related to that, I don’t know if you’ve noticed this yet, but in our context, I found this now—now that we’re kind of settled in, like you said, for about six weeks or so—I’m finding the impact of this to be very polarizing, not polarizing in the relationally divided sense, but polarizing in the extremes.
I have a good friend and colleague whose wife is a respiratory therapist. So by profession, she literally is the person who intubates people. And so in this pandemic, she’s the person who installs ventilators on people. So she’s at the front of the front of the line in the COVID pandemic. And, you know, when this first started, she came home from work with briefings about how all of the estimates and projections said that this was going to get to a Category 6 crisis. That would mean that they were going to be intubating people in the hallways in the hospitals, and 50 percent of their staff would get infected, and some of them would have to intubate some of their friends and work colleagues, and they’d need to emotionally prepare for this. And so this spouse of a good friend of mine is coming home, and they’re having, like, end-of-life preparatory conversations with their children.
And in my context, embarrassingly, we’re wondering how warm it needs to get before we can open our backyard pool. For real. I say it because so many of us are so minimally affected compared to the few, whether it’s the marginalized or the frontlines, who are, like, they’re at war. And for me, just a bridging of those gaps and the entering in, especially when you need to honor all the physical distancing and everything, the entering in to the true heartache and the true brokenness and anxiety of those places in our world, for me, that’s the challenge. And you know, the “why, God?” question then becomes, why are so few being affected so extremely by this when the majority of us are, to a large degree, relatively fine.
Al: Every day at 12:12 p.m., the BCWI team hits the Pause button and stops and pray, and we reflect on Paul’s words in Romans 12:12, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” That’s our scripture for the day. We don’t ask people to get up at 12:12 a.m. to do that, but 12:12 p.m., right after noontime. So how about you, Jeff? Is there a passage of scripture that’s been especially meaningful to you lately?
Jeff: I don’t know if there’s been a single passage of scripture that’s been disproportionately anchoring for me personally. I would say, while not my life verse, one of the kind of creeds in our church’s leadership culture is a very kind of awkward, if not humorous, proverb in Proverbs 14:4. In the New Living translation, it says, “An empty stable stays clean, but no income comes from an empty stable.” And it kind of sets up this juxtaposition where you have a choice in life: you can value cleanliness and orderliness, but you can make that choice and lose out on income; or you can choose an income kind of life, but you have to tolerate corresponding messiness. And that’s always been kind of an underlying value for us that we’re going to be okay with the mess of generating kingdom income. I mean, you can see it in the way that we’ve gone so missional where we’ve actually embraced the complexity and the messiness of so much direct interpersonal relationship with the most marginalized in our society.
Anyways, in this season, I would say that that’s taken on a new form, where everything that you try is an experiment, and everything is changing twice a day, and nothing is really fixed and orderly and neatly structured, and your systems are all kind of in chaos. And we’ve probably had to lean into the embracing of the mess for the higher value of income, or more importantly, kingdom impact, like never before. And so for me, I’m an administrative, kind of structured, orderly, organized kind of person by default, and I think that the spirit of that proverb, especially in a season like this, has been a real encouragement, as humorous and as ironic as it may be.
Al: Proverbs 14:4, there we are. Great, Jeff. I love that, and I love the analogy. And I think it really is a great summary for our entire conversation.
I’ve really enjoyed all we’ve learned today, and we’re all experiencing this leading through uncertainty differently. There’s no question about that. So, gosh, we certainly do appreciate all that you’ve shared with us today, lots of positive nuggets, as I even think about the purpose of our podcast is to equip and inspire Christian leaders to create a flourishing culture. And, you know, you’ve done just that with our discussion, so thanks.
As we reflect on leading through uncertainty, what would you like to leave with our listeners?
Jeff: I guess one thing we haven’t talked about that maybe I should have said before is as much as all of this is uncertain to all of us, I’ve had to realize that none of this is uncertain to God. There’s nothing new under the sun. And while pandemic might be new for us and while a wartime-style lockdown way of life might be new to our generation, none of this is new to God. And God’s been there. God’s been faithful. His church has risen. You know, it’s true. You think about even globally, the way that His church prevails in places in spite of technology or in spite of legalization and underground ways, and there are so many ways that God gets creative in advancing His indestructible purposes in the world, that for me, it gives me, as a Christ follower and as a kingdom leader, immense confidence. So I’m not feeling the pressure of needing to figure this out. I’m actually approaching this with a curiosity to wonder how God’s figuring this out. And the more I can be curious as to what God’s up to and be quick and, hopefully, sensitive to align with what He’s doing, I think the more effective that I’m going to be. The more I’m taking this pressures of the world upon myself, thinking it all depends on me, I think the less dependent I’m going to be. And I’m sure that there’s other Christian leaders who are listening who could benefit from that.
Al: God is faithful, and His church will prevail. I love that.
Jeff Lockyer, lead pastor of Southridge Community Church in St. Catharines, Ontario, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom, insights, and stories. And we do really appreciate and thank you for investing yourself in everyone who’s been listening and benefiting from all you’ve shared with us today. Thanks, Jeff.
Jeff: Oh, thanks again for having me, Al, and again, for a really timely conversation in what is, for all of us, even Canadians, very, very unprecedented times. And let me just kind of close my end by affirming, again, our appreciation for all the support that you guys at BCWI have provided us and so many other Christian ministries all across North America and around the world for years. It’s times like this where strong and healthy, thriving and flourishing cultures really come to life. And so I’d encourage all of us, and certainly encourage you and your team, to lean in and rise up like never before.
Al: Thanks, Jeff. Lean in and rise up, and that’s what we are doing. God bless you.
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This program is copyrighted by the Best Christian Workplaces Institute. All rights reserved. Our writer is Mark Cutshall. Our social-media and marketing manager is Solape Osoba. Remember, a healthy workplace culture drives greater impact and growth for your organization. We’ll see you again soon on the Flourishing Culture Podcast.