"While He was still speaking to the people, behold, His mother and His brothers stood outside, asking to speak to Him. But He replied to the man who told Him, 'Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?' And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, 'Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in Heaven is my brother and sister and mother.'" - Jesus speaking in Matthew 12:46-50
Like many of you, I've learned a number of lessons this past year. I'm going to share some leadership lessons learned during this pandemic.
The first lesson confirmed what I already knew, the family of God is vital to our growth and stability as followers of Jesus Christ. It confirmed our family truly is "whoever does the will of my Father in Heaven."
A year ago everything started shutting down, not just in the U.S., but around the world. Economies crashed and churches, schools, businesses, governments ... pretty much everything closed for at least two months; much longer in other parts of our nation and world.
We didn't close Love In Action. I was concerned with the needs of the homeless and the poor during a time of crisis when everything was closed. It meant there would be more needs to meet. I communicated with Dothan Mayor Mark Saliba and he agreed we were essential, so we kept going.
I don't want to focus on that in this blog entry, though. A very important aspect that kept Martha and me strong through the toughest times of the pandemic was keeping our Love In Action Family together. I heard from people who could not fellowship with their church family except through Zoom and other technology. It just wasn't the same for them and they struggled spiritually.
I told our staff and volunteers at the beginning that if they didn't feel safe serving during the pandemic they didn't have to, but Martha and I were going to keep doing what we can to help those in need and share the Gospel.
LIA staff member Pamela Johnson told me, "I'd be disappointed if you closed." Our small staff stayed and so did most volunteers. The elderly in our LIA Family understandably stayed at home, well, except for Robert. If you know Robert, you know there's no keeping him at home.
We gained more volunteers as we kept running toward the pandemic to help people. Our family actually grew during the pandemic. The daily fellowship kept us all strong. Daily serving and sharing the Gospel on the streets and at LIA together strengthened us spiritually. We worshipped together. We continued living life together.
Without our LIA Family being together daily the pandemic would have been much tougher. We all grew more in the Lord and closer to each other. We learned that we don't run from situations, we run to them in the name of Jesus to help those in need and encourage people who are going through the toughest times of their lives.
As a leader, I had to balance our response with safety. We changed how we did things. Instead of gathering everyone inside, we kept everything outside. We still kept our showers open and laundry services available for the homeless. Part of the fight against Covid-19 is good hygiene, so those two parts of the ministry were more important than ever.
We cut our services back to just hot meals at first, and then we continued to helped families and individuals with groceries, hygiene items and clothes. We did so with having very few people in suite 6. We sanitized everything even better than we did prior to the pandemic. Once we understood how serious the Covid-19 pandemic was, I required masks to be worn.
As we all know, the requirement of masks is not popular with everyone, and not everyone in our LIA Family were happy with my decision about masks. But, as the leader of a ministry, you have to seek God and make the decisions you feel He is leading you to make no matter if they are popular or not.
The safety of our volunteers and those we serve was just too important to me. As a leader, if there are tangible ways to keep people safe, then do it. They are family. You want your family safe and healthy.
A number of us have had Covid-19, including Martha and me. However, nobody has caught it at Love In Action. Only one homeless person has had it, and he had not been coming to LIA until the hospital sent him to us.
However, I would not allow him to exit their van. He still had Covid. I couldn't endanger everyone else. I instructed the van driver where to take him. It was an isolated area where he couldn't unintentionally infect anyone else. We gave him a tent and camping supplies, and provided him food, water and other supplies during his time of isolation. He is healthy and doing good now. We now see him at LIA during the week.
Not neglecting to meet together and encouraging one another daily as God instructs us in Hebrews 10:25, was the key for all of us making it through 2020, and the first quarter of 2021, much easier than if we had been isolated from each other.
As a ministry leader, do your best to keep your family together no matter what's going on. God created His church, the Body of Christ, for a reason. He didn't want us to try to live this life for Him alone. We need each other.
Keep your family safe, while understanding there are risks involved. Jesus told us there would be many risks and challenges. Communicate those risks so your family will know, and so they can better understand your decisions. They all may not agree with you, but they will obey because they love and respect you. They know you are doing what you believe is best for them and the mission.
Thank you LIA Family. Martha and I would never have made it without each of you. We never would have seen 211 decisions for Jesus or distributed over 1 million pounds of food to people in need in 2020 without you. We love you all.
Thank you for putting up with your much less than perfect leader. Thank you for respecting my decisions even when they weren't popular with some of you.
Looking back, I certainly see things I could have done better. But at the same time, I see how God worked through this incredible Family to do amazing things during the toughest times any of us have ever lived through.
I'm sure the people we served will always remember how God showed His love for them and how He kept His promises of never leaving or forsaking them.
To God be the glory!