“Out of sight = out of mind” is a terrible reality and leaders must adapt to the intentional nature of leading at a distance. For some in the corporate world, this has been a practice for some time but this season of “social distancing” has introduced many in the church to it for the first time. We are accustomed to the proximity and time that is required to truly care for others and allow them to follow us as we follow Christ. The Apostle Paul pastored from a house arrest that was far more constrained than the shelter in place that many of us are under today. Let’s take a moment to look at how Paul communicated with his remote flock and apply these learnings to today:
- Connection – Paul addressed his many letters to churches and made sure that he let them know what was going on as he built a sense of family across distance. His letters crossed geographic boundaries connecting the churches in his care to one another as he made them personalized with names and lengthy introductions. He would ensure that everyone knew what was happening and would often send teams with his letters to help foster family connections.
- Coordination – When there was a desperate need in Jerusalem due to a famine, Paul made the rest of the family aware as he coordinated relief efforts. In 2 Corinthians 8:1-9:15 the Apostle encourages the church’s generosity that is a mark of kingdom life and stewardship be directed to the Jerusalem Churches’ needs. Without his coordination, no one in Corinth would have been able to respond out of their abundance to meet the desperate need.
- Commendation – Paul understood that what the church needed was encouragement and comfort. Though distant, he would commend people for their faith and encourage churches to receive people on his behalf. He was not sparing in his praise for people and the work Jesus had done in their lives. The Apostle was marked by his gratitude for Jesus and His people!
- Compassion – The depth of Paul’s love for the people of God was evident in the richness of his writings. He made sure to describe his affection for people and would go so far as to say “See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!” in Galatians 6:11 to ensure his point was made. His letters were full of truth and, at times, challenging but there was never a doubt that he loved the people of God!
In our day, as pastors, leaders or fellow citizens of heaven, we have many opportunities to follow in Paul’s footsteps. Here are some practical ways you can ensure this is a season of growth for your church:
If you think of someone, make a connection. A text, phone call or video chat is incredibly helpful to ensure that you remain connected. Consider bringing in people from out of town into the conversation and help your local friends connect to friends from afar. In times of crisis, there is no such thing as “over-communication”.
As you connect, you will see needs that require coordination. Take the initiative to meet the need that someone else has and be the person that extends the opportunity to give to others that have an abundance.
As you are connecting and coordinating you will see the miraculous heart of the people of God, so a commendation is in order. Let your genuine admiration for others be made known! In times of isolation, criticism and selfishness can creep in but the fruit of the Spirit is the opposite of this so recognize the perseverance of the Family of God.
Finally, use compassion in your communication. Since most communication is non-verbal, consider a video call or sending a message to your friends. Text and phone calls are wonderful, but nothing replaces seeing the face of a person that cares for you so turn on that camera and have a conversation that is rich in love.
Whether you lead a family, a small group or a large church, we can look at the scripture for encouragement about how we can serve God’s people well even while under ‘house arrest”.
Additional Note: Going Beyond Online Engagement
In the current disruption, people are more isolated, bored, frightened, and lonely. You may have noticed an increased online engagement as more people are homebound and looking at their screens. If we are going to help people, we must realize that increased online engagement with “likes” and “comments” may not be enough. Continuing studies and research reveal that large amounts of social media usage without personal connectivity actually increases a sense of social isolation and depression (Google “Facebook Depression” 401 million hits, “Social Media Isolation” 371 million hits). People need presence and interaction. While there is tremendous value in digital engagement it is no substitute for genuine connection.
Here are three phrases to help us foster increased connectivity to go along with our digital engagement.
- Try to Move from Clicks to Conversation.
When people scroll through Facebook or Instagram it is becoming more common (especially with the current increased social media usage) for people to hit like, scroll, hit like, and scroll without even reading the whole post. This will not help the process of connectivity. How about trying to initiate an actual conversation. Use FaceTime, Zoom, or even the phone to connect with people.
- Don’t Simply Create Content but Strive to Cultivate Community.
God has put His image in people which causes a desire to know and be known. Putting out catchy memes or the perfect content may be facilitating more isolation than connectivity. Look for creative ways to foster healthy environments to connect.
- Don’t See Yourself as a Provider of Information, but a Pursuer of Relationships.
Biblical leadership is often seen in the context of shepherds and sheep. Good shepherds are among the sheep. The sheep hear their voice as they walk with them (John 10:1-14, 1 Thessalonians 5:12). Leaders need to teach and provide information but also foster personal connectivity.
Let us try not to leave people in isolation or an online bubble. Love God, love people, and pursue them with real connectivity and encourage others to do the same.