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Leading through uncharted territory: can we be trusted to be safe?

There is no question that we have faced some remarkable challenges and changes in recent months as we have all been grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic. Our regular routines have been turned on their heads and it has been necessary to find a new pace as we explore new ways of getting the business done.

One thing that has been constantly in the forefront of my mind is how we find this new path, new pace and new pattern, whilst acknowledging that at the heart of all our efforts, people must remain at the centre of all we do. This requires considered navigation of what is essentially uncharted territory for us all.

Amidst this task that we all face in different ways, is the importance of establishing trust with those around us. Can the house-bound, shielding neighbour trust us to be safe when we make our pastoral visit bringing essential supplies to their home? Can our congregations trust that as leaders we will make safe and sensible decisions about a return to our church buildings for regular worship? Can the parents of our young people trust that in our work with them we are managing our online communications safely and responsibly? But, if we have never been here before, how do we demonstrate and establish that we are trustworthy?

In a recent study undertaken by the Evangelical Alliance, where nearly 900 church leaders were surveyed, 88% stated that they were active in supporting vulnerable groups in their communities.

The same study found that over 30% of the time spent by those leaders was focused on providing practical, emotional and pastoral care for congregations and vulnerable community members. This is testament to the incredible work that takes place through the effort of churches and Christian organisations across the land. But, without wanting to cast a shadow over this picture of amazing engagement and support, I have to wonder whether the Church always takes the necessary time to undertake these often new initiatives safely and with due consideration to the very real risks.

In numerous discussions I have had with those working in a variety of church-based settings lately, I have been reminded that in some places, the race to be first may be risking the creation of new vulnerabilities for many in our communities. What do I mean? Most of us are probably familiar with the potential knee-jerk reaction to the problems that we are presented with. COVID-19 is no exception. As Christians we are
motivated to assist others in distress and need. This is right and good. In fact, we are reminded to never grow weary of doing so (Galatians 6:9).

What we perhaps ought to remind ourselves of is that in doing these things, we should do them in a way that empowers people, encourages them in their difficulties and equips them to overcome the challenges they face. In safeguarding terms, this means that we may have to slow down, reconsider the risks and the benefits of our best ideas for help and launch a better and safer response as a result.

So, returning to the question of how we demonstrate trust when navigating through ‘unprecedented’ circumstances – the ways in which we have previously conducted ourselves as leaders within our different spheres of influence will be key. People might rightly ask themselves in times of struggle and change “what have I seen of this leader before”? Can this person be trusted to lead in a way that doesn’t compromise my safety, or worse, sacrifice my needs on the altar of progress. In other words, do we have form for our considered and safe actions or might there be questions about our motivations in ‘racing to be first’? The ability to establish and demonstrate trust is one of the most important aspects of leadership. When there are risks to the people we serve by virtue of our inexperience with the immediate challenges, it is incumbent upon us to ensure we have taken time to be confident we are headed in the right direction, at the right pace and for the right reasons. The Church (i.e. the wider Christian community) is blessed to have many skilled and passionate leaders, but these are not times for us to rely solely on what we think we know. Creating safer places in uncharted territory is no simple task.

As Tod Bolsinger reflects in his book ‘Canoeing the Mountains’

"the credibility of technical competence is not enough to lead change, there must also be present a deep and personal trust, which can only come through the relational congruence of a leader’.

Phrased differently, we must demonstrate an understanding of ourselves in relation to others to a depth that enables us to show we are worthy of trust – then we can begin to leverage our skills to navigate change.

Our mission as an organisation is to equip, empower and encourage you to create safer places for all, and particularly those who may be vulnerable. As you reach into new areas and begin to anticipate the ‘new normal’ we would be glad to assist you.

Whether you are developing initiatives to provide emergency food, debt counselling, care for the homeless, befriending the elderly and isolated, or pioneering new online youth events, we are here to help you – you are not alone. The benefit of our support to you is that our learning from over 40 years in existence and currently supporting over 10,000 organisations nationally is there for you to make use of.

I pray that you would be blessed in your good efforts and know the value of developing those crucial ingredients of trust and safety as you seek to be the hands and feet of our Saviour at this time; going where He would have gone and doing what He would have done.

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