Three Leadership Lessons from Good Friday

Photo Credit: Per Ola Wiberg via FreeStockPhotos.biz

Today is Good Friday, a day of hopes dashed, a day of deep grief. Jesus and the disciples went from Palm Sunday, with Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the crowds shouting “Hosanna!” to betrayal, arrest, denial, and crucifixion in five short days. The disciples had thought the crowds had at last recognized Jesus as king, only to find them turning against him a few days later. In shock and disbelief, they watched as the Romans crucified their beloved.

Everything had looked so good, only to be overturned in such short order. Jesus had taught the disciples to be leaders, to help him invite people to encounter God in fresh ways. They saw people healed. They saw hearts opened. They witnessed their ministry expanding. They thought they knew what being a leader following in Jesus’ footsteps meant. Now what? Brokenhearted, they responded in different ways. Peter had denied Jesus after the arrest. Others ran away. The disciples were not at their best. They hid, afraid. They didn’t know the resurrection was coming. They had no idea what the future held. For all they knew, they would be crucified like Jesus.

I find myself empathizing with the disciples on this Good Friday. The future looked bright for the organization I serve, the Shalem Institute, just two short months ago. With programs filling, a visionary strategic plan, and a prospering major fundraising initiative, the future held promise. A staff and board who loved Shalem and worked well together held it all together. I felt like the most fortunate person in the world, to be able to work at this place with these people at this time.

Then COVID-19 hit Italy. No pilgrimage to Assisi. Then no Iona pilgrimage. Then another major program down. Then our annual staff/board retreat homeless, as the retreat center hosting it closed. Then, our staff working from home. Suddenly, we had let down many eager pilgrimage and program participants and lost about 10% of our annual income, with more looming losses on the horizon. What now?

We found ourselves facing great loss. So much of what we do involves gathering in community, staying in beautiful, nurturing, prayerful retreat centers, sharing meals together. Staff share walks and lunch together in the middle of the work day. We celebrate birthdays and accomplishments together. We experience embodied love, laughter, and prayer. All of that had vanished in the blink of an eye.

Even as we began to re-envision our upcoming programs, we knew they wouldn’t be the same. A virtual staff/board retreat on Zoom can’t hold a candle, for example, to the in-person hugs and meals and walks at a retreat center nestled in a wooded area in Maryland in the first blush of spring. The losses were real.

What can we learn from Good Friday? First, we can acknowledge that we, like the disciples on Good Friday, will not always be our best selves as we feel shock and loss. This is a time for loving and tenderly forgiving one another. Second, like the disciples, we must grieve. Acknowledging the magnitude of the losses and allowing ourselves to feel grief is the first step. Third, as we ask, “What now?” there will be messiness. We don’t know what the future holds or how we will be called to step into it. We must live in the not-knowing for a time before the next steps become clear.

Loving and forgiving one another when we are not at our best, acknowledging the magnitude of the losses and allowing ourselves to grieve, and accepting the messiness and not-knowing of this time will all serve us well as we seek to muddle through to the unknown future. May we allow the lessons of Good Friday to lodge deep within our souls.

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