Early in ministry, one of the youth, for whom I was responsible, was in remission from Leukemia. He went with us on a long weekend trip.
But then, tragedy hit.
While we were away, he died. Yes, on the trip.
His father was with us, but the situation was complex. We were camping in another state.
Did I mention this was early in ministry? I wasn’t even six months into serving in the local church.
So I called back home to inform the rest of the staff what had happened.
The reply I received was, “What do you want me to do about it?” I heard those words as if the tragic news I just shared were a massive interruption and a distraction from the day’s plans.
I’m certain now the reply was said in shock. But the words were unhelpful, to say the least.
It was not what I needed to hear.
I needed someone on the other end of the phone (that was quickly losing a charge) to show me compassion.
My heart was broken.
I was devastated – this young man was a bright light of hope, love, and laughter.
His family was a precious part of our community.
The fifty+ teens and adults traveling together loved him like a brother.
This was a kick in the gut. I was stunned. Sad. And I needed to lead.
It took three phone calls to connect with a colleague, friend, and mentor before I heard the words, “Hang on, let me gather a few people so we can pray for you and the group.”
Words of prayer that brought comfort and compassion.
That was all I needed. I needed someone to show they cared.
Have a Heart
The circumstances above taught me a lot about leading with compassion. Sometimes it takes knowing what you need to offer others what they need.
To show compassion, you need to learn about what matters most to people. For me, what mattered then still matters now: please listen to what I say…truly listen.
But showing compassion doesn’t stop there. There’s an important next step. Pay attention to what matters. Ask questions about what matters. And, that will require remembering the details.
Show You Care
Reflect and act on the items below. Whether you are in a local church, non-profit, corporation, or neighborhood, these actions can have a positive influence on your relationships with others you lead.
Focus on Staff and Leaders
If you are leading any organization with more than 12-15 people, you will not be able to show compassion to all of them in the way that they need. In the life of the church, that is why it is important for people to have relationships with one another and a small group of people.
As a leader of leaders, facilitate relationship building.
There is no way I could have cared for the needs of all fifty+ people with us on the trip. But others showed up to help care for all of us. They drove hours to be with us. Some came over from their campsites to care for us when they heard the news. They cooked meals, drove students back home, and partnered with us. Some sat silently and were present. Others distracted us with the events of the day. And some prayed like warriors.
It was this incident that taught me the beauty of the connectional nature of the United Methodist Church. But it wasn’t the institution that cared, it was the leaders. This incident showed me the love of Jesus embodied in the people called Methodist. People from other United Methodist churches all around us reached out. Other pastors called to check on me. And still others grieved with us as we grieved.
Compassion was shown and experienced. It started with staff and leaders.
Recognize people regularly
Offer words of appreciation often. Everyone wants to be noticed for doing good work. So whether it’s a high five, a verbal thank you, a text message or an email, remind people you appreciate them.
Words of appreciation are essential in showing compassion. Be specific and timely with your words and actions.
Ask for input from staff, leaders, participants
In any “volunteer” organization, people are involved at different levels. As a result, showing you care happens in different ways. If you’re working on a building renovation and don’t include key leaders, you’ll immediately send a message you don’t care about them or their opinions. (You’d never do that, so the example is illustrative.)
There are people who have unique perspectives because they are not immersed in the day to day or even week to week leadership. Here, you can ask what they think or what they’d recommend given a particular situation. You might be surprised at what they have thought about that you haven’t.
The weather that weekend was less than ideal for camping. Honestly, it was horrible. While deciding to stay or return home, as severe storms closed in, I asked for input from the leaders, from the students, and from the parents. Should we stay or should we go?
The highlight of the weekend, Holy Communion, had not taken place. We were all eagerly anticipating that moment. We needed to join together at Christ’s Table. But I quickly learned my weary soul wasn’t the only one that wanted the comfort of home. Our leaders wanted to be with their spouses and their children. Our students wanted to be together, but not in the rain, wind, and mud. So we decided to pack up camp and head back to the church.
And, you guessed it, others were there to help. Sometimes, all it takes is a simple ask…even in the worst of conditions.
Ask yourself the following five questions to sharpen your compassion skills:
- What have I done this week to make sure leaders know I care?
- How can I collaborate more often with others?
- In what ways am I tailoring how I show compassion to the people I lead so that they feel cared about in ways that matter to them?
- How can I ask more often and tell less often?
- Plan to continuously learn more about people’s interests outside of this organization. Where do people work, what are their hobbies, where do family live and work?
And, please, for the love of God, (and all things good, right, and beautiful,) when someone calls you in crisis, don’t say, “What do you want me to do about it?” as if you’re interrupting their plans.
Instead, find the words that say, “I hear you. How can I be helpful to you at this moment?” When those words come, you’ll not only show compassion, you demonstrate you truly care.
- Learn how you can leverage your strengths in your leadership. As you learn what naturally occurring talents you have and begin to leverage your talents in leadership, you’ll also learn how you can offer compassion and care. Why? Because you’ll stop trying to be someone you’re not. Find out more here.
- Are you Jesus follower?
- Begin to explore Strengths-Based Disciple-Making. As you consistently focus on the mission of making disciples and changing the world, you’ll deepen trust in your leadership.
- Review the “Basic Needs of Followers” here.