Thoughts During the Pandemic – a brief essay from LFM’s Jim Osterhaus
Dr. Jim Osterhaus is Senior Executive Coach for Leighton Ford Ministries and has authored or co-authored 10 books on leadership
Like most of you, I’m basically sheltered in place with my wife at home, catching up on a good deal of reading, and trying to stay in contact with family and friends.
I just got off the phone with Wendy Der, who along with her husband Ivan, lead a ministry of evangelism in Mexico that extends around the world. As we free associated on what is happening, it occurred to me to put down some thoughts that might prove helpful to the mentoring community.
I have done some reading on the Black Death plague in the 14th Century that basically killed a third of Europe, and on the Swine Flu epidemic that swept the world during and shortly after World War I killing between 50 and 100 million people worldwide (more exact estimates are impossible because of faulty data from the developing world). I am struck by the fact that these pandemics triggered a paradigm shift throughout the world. This shift saw the fundamental altering of theories and methodologies by which society saw itself, ran its core institutions, conducted its business, and basically went about its daily living patterns.
Depending on the length and severity of Covid-19, the world may experience the same phenomenon within the next year or two.
David Brooks (columnist for The New York Times) has noted that differing from war crises that tend to drive people together to address a common threat, pandemics tend to drive people apart as they worry about contagion and compete for dwindling resources (e.g. The run on toilet paper).
It seems to me that this new crisis presents us with two interrelated challenges. On the one hand, we must look inward to see how each of us individually is being affected. On the other hand, we must look to our communities, and in particular our kingdom communities, to see how this crisis is affecting them.
As Thomas Boswell, columnist for The Washington Post, said: “Perhaps what is most endangered now is neither our lives nor our jobs nor our savings – though all are in peril – but our internal lives.” He goes on to ask whether, after this pandemic has run its course and the isolation has ceased, will we keep intact all of our best qualities?
When so much of the external world shuts down, we find ourselves left with only ourselves. And for many of us, we have not taken much time to cultivate a rich inner life as a viable default position. That being the case, we find ourselves going ‘stir crazy’ unable to decide how to proceed.
It seems to me that this present situation presents to our kingdom communities a unique opportunity. Called to be salt and light, it now behooves us to begin strategizing how we can move into this very anxious externally focused world in authentic kingdom ways. And as Boswell so aptly states, it is our internal lives that now need to be the target of our strategies.
For the past year, I have been partially retired, retired enough if you will to understand what it’s like to have many of the normal distractions of an active employed life peeled away. And now all of us are finding ourselves in a very similar place, even if we’re 25 years old.
Within our mentoring community, it behooves each of us to begin, or to ramp up, or to continue our diligence in inner life development. A good place to start might be to turn to the experts. Richard Foster and James B. Smith have edited Devotional Classics, a compilation down through the centuries of some of the best in devotional literature. Leighton Ford (A Life of Listening and The Attentive Life) and Ken Shigematsu (Survival Guide for the Soul) have written very useful books along these lines. Added to these are the countless tomes that have been penned through the ages by St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, etc. etc. This will help us get our own houses in order.
As we continue to focus on our inner lives, we need to focus on our kingdom communities. It is these communities that will sustain us going forward in our journeys of faith.
It is obvious there are old ways of gathering together in worship, fellowship, teaching and prayer that are no longer possible, at least in short run. Churches like my own have shifted to online services. Small groups are zooming to maintain continuity.
But as I think about it, there are a myriad of stylized ways of doing community that are currently being altered or discarded, and arguably should be altered or discarded as we confront the fearful post-Christian world.
Crisis presents opportunity, and this pandemic is no exception. And as a kingdom community, I think it is important that we now bring our collective heads together to begin to explore what opportunities God is currently placing before us during this crisis.
I would like this to be the beginning of a conversation for all of us to reflect on the following two questions, and to share with one another what God is and has been telling us as the pandemic unfolds.
First, what are ways that we have existed in the past with ourselves and in our mentoring groups that are simply not possible currently? This question can also apply to all faith communities in which we are currently resident. I think it is critical to first begin to identify all of those behaviors that we have possibly held dear that no longer can be relied upon.
- Intentional face-to-face connections with people important to us.
- Partnered kingdom projects within the community.
Second, what adaptions have we made or could make to maintain our continuity within our mentoring community?
- Zoom calls.
- Internet community reach outs.
Let’s get our collective heads together, and take this opportunity to possibly explode our old paradigms and expand our thinking. Remember, necessity is the mother of invention. And quite possibly God has given us this opportunity to create new ways of furthering His kingdom.