Courage of conviction, courage flowing from passion, courage protected by mercy and forgiveness…this is what last week’s blog talked about, with specific reference to the kind of courage it takes to face racism in ourselves and in our Church. This week, I’d like to take a look at what builds or strengthens courage once the gift of the Spirit is present in one or more of the forms just listed. So keep in mind, these skills strengthen courage that already exists. They do not create courage, for that is a gift of God’s grace.
So you’re convinced, passionate and trusting in mercy; where do you as an ecclesial leader, go now with the courage needed to face a difficult situation? The next stop is to determine the kind of courage you are trying to strengthen. When that’s complete, acquire some skills to build that type of courage. I’d like to suggest that church leaders already use three different kinds of courage: try courage, trust courage and truth courage. You try new things, you trust those around you with significant responsibilities and you speak Jesus’ truth in sometimes uncomfortable situations. Try, trust and truth…three kinds of courage. So which are you trying to strengthen?
Now consider these skills that can strengthen one or more of the kinds of courage. By strengthen I mean to give structure, language, and methods to you. Here are three skills that do just that:
- Vision-casting. Ecclesial leaders don’t need a vision. Jesus gave us that: the coming of God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. But leaders have to be able to share or cast that vision for the people entrusted to them. As you begin to do that, step by step by 1) knowing who you are and, 2) what God has entrusted to you, 3) to knowing where the vision is asking you to lead your people next, 4) to identifying why this is the next destination, 5) to painting a picture of what it will feel like as you journey together to this destination along the way, 6) to specifying what you want others to do, 7) sharing the overall plan, and 8) specifying outcomes and rewards, courage is strengthened because there’s more than a vision, more than burning hearts…there’s a way and a leader. Now you can try something new.
- It’s easy to get caught up in a vision and a plan, to get moving and be swept along in the enthusiasm of carrying out an effective plan or project. And it’s also easy to be overcome by the stress of leading into this vision, meeting resistance, overcoming setbacks, looking fear in the face and moving on. Mindfulness helps reduce stress and that strengthens courage. Courage comes through mindfulness as you learn know how to manage yourself in stressful situations, as you become more self-aware and discover both personal triggers and the means to control them. Scientists tell us this literally rebuilds the grey matter in the brain, creating a strong mind free of stress, and that supports courageous actions. Now you can trust yourself and others.
- This one is perhaps the simplest in some ways and yet can be the most difficult when fear and related stressors erupt. The skill of remembering when you’ve successfully moved through fear and continued to act, when you looked fear in the face and then took the next step builds courage. When you remember how Jesus, the apostles, the martyrs and the saints stood firm builds courage. When you are able to retrieve knowledge, apply your theological understandings, tell the story of God’s action in the midst of your current situation, draw from other knowledge streams and remain curious you are using the skill of memory to strengthen courage. This skill set builds the kind of courage required to speak Jesus’ truth in often hostile situations.
So there you have it…three skill sets that strengthen the gift of courage. So courage is a gift of the Holy Spirit. But it also takes our cooperation to develop and strengthen it so that we might lead others closer to Jesus in a world that wants anything but that.
Next week, we’ll take a little deeper look at try, trust and truth courage as they apply to ecclesial leaders and begin to imagine together in which situations each might be needed in these turbulent times. Until then, let us pray together for the gift of courage and prepare ourselves to celebrate Pentecost, when the Spirit descends with tongues of fire…and gives us courage.