‘I don’t want to live the same as before’ are words I’ve heard a lot over the last year or so, as people seek to live better in a world beyond the Covid-19 pandemic.
Some are wanting to stop things. Others are looking for new starts. Some have enjoyed aspects of lockdown and are now hoping there are many Covid Keeps that are not quickly lost.
How do we decide? And how, as leaders reading this Leadership Blog, can we helpfully lead and guide others?
There are many stories in the Bible that can direct us: eg. the Israelites being led out of Egypt into the promised land; exiles returning under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, and the rebuilding urged by Haggai; Jesus coming out of the wilderness; the first disciples waiting indoors until they’re filled with the Spirit and sent out onto the streets; the early church emerging stronger after being scattered when Stephen was martyred, and so on.
We also find examples from ecclesial history that inspire us – of people, churches and wider communities who emerged well out of adversity: eg. of Celtic saints who created new models of community and mission through war, disease and uncertainty; of travelling medieval monks who in uncertain days faithfully prayed and shared good news in word and practical action; of a church that emerged through the intensities and complexities of Reformation and Civil War, guiding people to live lives of service to God and to others.
I expect many church leaders will be using biblical and historical stories like these to help and motivate their people, and that’s good. But I’ve been wondering if there’s another way to communicate that would resonate well with people not just inside but also outside the church. Because it’s not just followers of Jesus who want to build a better world.
As I’ve pondered these things in recent months, I reckon the language of values may well help. Certainly at The Belfrey in York, the church which I lead, we’ve thought and taught on values over the last year, and found it helpful.
Brené Brown describes a value as ‘a way of being or believing that we hold most important.’ Values are valuable because they shape culture. They influence not just what we do, but how we do it. They’re about the attitude, the assumptions and the mindset that we bring. Values are often unspoken and so are often unseen. I often think of them as being like the engine under the bonnet of a car. If we don’t attend to them, then we’ll suffer from cultural break-down. So they need to be well maintained and tuned, but of course they only get attended to if we lift the hood. So as we look to 2022 and beyond, let’s raise the lid, and let me share seven values that require our attention – not just in church, but in our communities, and in our nation – as we continue to live with Covid and its variants, and hopefully move increasingly toward a post-pandemic world.
Our post-pandemic world doesn’t need people who will take. People who will grab. People who will be selfish. No, we need people who will give – of their time, energy and resources. We’ve seen so many fine examples of this during lockdown and it’s great that many, like Captain Tom, were championed, although there are no doubt lots more unsung heroes for whom we should also be grateful. As we look ahead, we’re going to continue to need people, families, streets, churches and whole nations to model such generosity of spirit in word and action. Of course we need to take care of ourselves too. We must be aware of burn-out. And yes, when we’re generous, there’s a danger of exploitation. But if Winston Churchill was right that ‘we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give’ then we must live open-handed, generous lives. Christ modelled this perfectly for us in his sacrificial death, forgiving us and teaching that it is better to give than receive (Ac. 20:35). That’s why generosity is key to our future.
Simplicity is about doing a few things well. It’s about knowing our priorities and living them. This is not easy, as most of us live over-complicated lives with competing demands. That’s why living simply is not the same as being simplistic. Simplistic is foolish; simple is wise. Most of us know the frustration of trying to cram too much into a day, or into a holiday. Too many of us do the same with our lives. We then wonder why they’re not satisfying and not impactful. History shows that the change-makers are focussed people. So let’s do less and do it better. Maybe that’s why in a complex religious world of many laws and commandments, Jesus simplified them down to two: love God and love people.
We live in a beautifully crafted world, made by a wonderful Creator. He has put creativity into our DNA, and his Spirit inspires us to good design, not just in art and architecture but in culinary and crafts, in music and media, for pleasure and for praise (Ex. 31). He also stimulates creative ideas, plans, and solutions to challenges at home and work. The church has often been at the forefront of such creativity, and has an opportunity again to encourage creatives in every area of life. Creativity cultivates contemplation, resulting in a renewal of wonder and joy. I’m hoping for a fresh release of creativity in the coming years.
Diversity is about appreciating difference. It’s about welcoming a breadth of people and backgrounds. It’s about going from monochrome to technicolour. The church has sometimes led by example in this, with the church in Antioch (in Acts 13:1-2) being the most multi-racial leadership team of its day. There is much talk about inclusion today, and rightly so. Too often we have discriminated against people based on their sex or skin-colour, and that is unacceptable. Talk of diversity is sometimes challenging, but it’s important, with further conversation yet to be had about how we live with competing diversity agendas. Nevertheless, this is an important value which contemporary society rightly appreciates, and that all people, especially followers of Jesus, should be speaking into.
Living a life of integrity is about being honest. Rather than telling lies we speak the truth, seeking to do what is right and best, not just for ourselves but having in mind others too. That’s why integrity is more than just ‘being true to myself’ – because none of us live in isolation, but in community. Who I am and what I do affects others. We all know this, which is why there’s such a cry for justice today and a desire to hold leaders in politics and business to account for their actions. But such accountability should extend to all, with everyone honouring integrity. Imagine, for example, if a group of people committed to consistently doing this with their words: in their conversations with family and neighbours, as they post on social media and write emails at work. ‘Speaking the truth in love’ (Eph 4:15) in this way would be highly transformative, as people aimed not to tear down or destroy people, but rather to encourage, improve and build up. Surely this is a time to pray and work for more integrity in every sphere of life?
Humility is about living humbly. It’s about wanting to help and make a difference but with no desire to take the glory. That’s why CS Lewis said that humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less. Humility begins with each individual, including me, acknowledging and confessing my self-centredness and natural desire to put myself first. But what if we lived differently, empowered by the same Spirit that was in Jesus Christ? If we look back over the last century at the truly ‘great’ people of history, who’ve brought lasting transformation, they’ve been people of humility – people like Martin Luther King Junior and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Jesus said just this, that greatness is about servanthood (Lk. 22:26). Our British ancestors knew this, which is why they named the senior leader of our nation the ‘prime minister’ – the principal servant.
Festivity is about celebrating well. It’s about being grateful for the energies of life and all that’s good in people, and honouring the times and seasons with appreciation. We often do this with feasting and partying, but we can also be festive when we’re sad, for example at a funeral, for even when mourning there’s always much to be grateful for. The New Testament understands this, recognising that it’s good and healthy to be thankful in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18). This is why festivity is a key default value that can be expressed in a breadth of contexts and in the midst of all sorts of emotions. Having nearly two years without much to celebrate, most people are hoping for more rejoicing in the coming season, and understandably so. It’s time for more laughter, more story-telling, more dancing and more fun in our lives. We need the joy of festivity.
So there we have it. These seven values have not only been helpful in past generations, but are still practical, powerful and prophetic as we look to the future. One word which summarises them all is kindness. Kindness is practical love – love expressed not just in feelings and sentiments but applied in compassionate action. So these are kind values – values that need to be expressed in everyday life with warmth and wonder. They are values rooted in the kind heart of the God revealed in Jesus Christ. They are values that represent what Archbishop Stephen Cottrell calls Christ’s ‘expansive vision of a new humanity.’ They are seven values for the post-pandemic world.