Healthy Responses for Church Leaders: Being Well vs. Not Being Sick
This is part 2 of an ongoing series. Find the rest of the series here.
Healthy Response #2: Focus on STRENGTH not weakness
My grandmother, who is right-handed, recently broke her right shoulder. She took a pretty hard fall in her kitchen, which resulted in a partial shoulder replacement. I spoke with her by phone about a week after the surgery. Already she was trying to learn how to do some new things with her left hand.
This is one of my favorite recent stories about the principle: focus on STRENGTH not weakness. Grandma’s response comes from a lifetime of taking responsibility for her physical health. (I could also say a lot about the ways Grandma has taken care of her emotional and spiritual health, but a blog post can only be so long.) She and Grandpa have long been an inspiration to me and many others as a model of aging gracefully and taking care of themselves and each other.
Childhood visits to my grandparents’ home in northern Colorado are punctuated with memories of the morning multi-vitamin regimen and getting up early to go mall-walking with Grandpa, Grandma, and other health-conscious seniors. One memory in particular stands out. A little over 10 years ago, when I was in college, I took a cross-country trip with Grandma and Grandpa, then in their 70s. Every two hours, almost right on the nose, we would pull over at a rest stop by the side of the highway to stretch our legs. That was the moment it really sunk in for me: taking responsibility for one’s physical health was a lifestyle choice that required sacrifice and discipline.
"Focus on STRENGTH not weakness” is a response not only for the physical systems of the human body, but also complex emotional systems—like churches and families. Healthy churches recognize their strengths, and know that these strengths provide the best resources for navigating challenges and changes in the life of a congregation.
My next statement is based more on intuition than statistical research, but here it goes anyway: a lot of churches are really bad at this! I believe some of this stems from a mistaken notion about the nature of Christian humility. Humility is a virtue that develops when someone comes to an understanding of their own identity in light of God’s identity. Humility is the recognition that you are a human being created in the image of God and nothing more and nothing less than that. Since most of us walk around with either an over-inflated sense of our own importance or an under-inflated sense of our own importance, genuine humility can be striking when you actually see it. It looks like someone who knows who they are.
Just as self-promoting behavior shows a lack of humility, so does self-immolating behavior. God is never honored when we play too small. My sense is that—in churches especially—often we deemphasize our strengths because we think that’s bragging and bragging is bad. But being aware of your strengths is not bragging. Bragging is bragging. Being aware of our strengths can just as often be an expression of gratitude to the God who gives us good gifts. Focusing on STRENGTH and not weakness means choosing to pay attention to and building on what makes you healthy, and not just knowing and avoiding what makes you sick.
Here’s my theory: Many churches and many church leaders don’t know what’s working for them. Sometimes we get so fixated on solving problems, nursing our wounds, and maintaining the status quo without regular review, that we don’t always do a great job of recognizing and playing to our strengths.
Even when we’re really, really sick—most of our body is still working to keep us alive. We’re breathing, the blood is flowing in our veins, our heart is pumping. When my grandmother broke her right shoulder, she knew—almost intuitively, it seems—that her left shoulder was still working. And she knew she could draw upon it as a source of strength.
It’s pretty easy to spot weaknesses. Especially when it hurts! But where is your ministry strong? Where is your church family strong? Start looking for it, and it may surprise you just how strong and resilient the Body of Christ can be.