The power of media during COVID-19: learnings from the Middle East


Destitution, war, ethnic division and political and religious oppression are only some of the daily challenges for millions of people in the Middle East. Even so, no one envisaged empty streets and shops, travel bans and curfews and a cloud of uncertainty and fear to shape the memories of 2020. While it has been an onerous year everywhere, in many Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) countries, COVID-19 has meant an even deeper plunge into poverty and unemployment – not to mention the pressures of an unpredictable future.

With people restricted to the confines of their homes, online viewership and engagement numbers inevitably rose across the board which opened a world of digital possibilities. By effectively harnessing digital and social media during COVID-19, many Christian ministries and NPOs have been able to bring hope to desperate people in the MENA region. There is certainly a lot to be gleaned from their learnings over the past few months.

Viewership and engagement surges

Most ministries saw an unmistakable increase in online viewership and engagements.

Before COVID-19 Al Hayat Ministries, a 24/7 Arabic Christian satellite television channel, had an average of 329,000 views on their YouTube channel, whereas during COVID-19 that number increased to 2,85 million views. Unique users grew by 79,000 people. With regards to actual engagements, the channel noted an increase of 700,000 Facebook engagements between March and July 2020 in comparison to the period of December 2019 to February 2020. Their YouTube engagements on the other hand grew by 61,000 over the same period. What has been even more interesting and valuable than likes or impressions, has been the number of personal messages the Al Hayat team had to respond to. This figure increased from 20,000 to 32,800.

Why this dramatic surge in numbers? The ministry believes people are now even more inclined to think about life after death and they are earnestly searching for the truth.

During the beginning stages of the COVID-19 outbreak Heart4Iran, a ministry devoted to reaching Iranians through social media, mobile technology, satellite TV, underground church planting and counselling, noted over 12,000 decisions for Christ in just four months (March-June 2020).

‘More than 90% of these people are coming to us through the internet. This is a brand-new demographic and audience – these are the millennials, the future of the country. This is a phenomenal historic moment for us in Iran – so much so that World Mission sees the underground church in Iran as among the fastest growing churches in the world,’ said Dr. Mike Ansari of Heart4Iran.


Reflecting on year-on-year growth Miracle Connect, which shares the gospel using Arabic programmes on social media, internet radio, mobile apps and satellite TV, reported an increase of 260% in video views of more than 30 seconds, as well as an increase of more than 375% in unique engagements.

Arab Centre for Consulting and Training (ACCTS), on the other hand, noted an increase of 443 average monthly messages while their monthly engagements grew by 31,628. ‘Many of our target groups have accounts on social media, which allows us to promote our organisation to reach, nurture, and engage with them and assist them through their journey — no matter their location or restrictions hindering them of actual presence,’ explained ACCTS’ Ruba Rihani.

SAT-7 KIDS’ Facebook audience engagement increased by more than 500% whereas SAT-7 TÜRK is experiencing its largest ever audience engagement numbers since it began broadcasting in 2015. Since the beginning of lockdown, SAT-7 ACADEMY witnessed an estimated 4,000% increase in phone calls, messages and comments, and a 400% increase in social media engagement.

‘Before, SAT-7 ACADEMY would receive 800 messages a day, but now we receive around 3,000 messages daily,’ shared Carla Bachir, the initiative’s audience relations officer.

From viewership to discipleship

It’s one thing to have the somewhat expected growth in viewership and engagement, but how have people managed to grow and mature in their walk with Christ during this time of isolation?

Miracle Connect reported that they fully presented the gospel one-to-one to more than 5,000 people. Not only that, but they also completed a 30-day online and on-the-ground discipleship journey for 301 people compared to 189 people during the same period in 2019. That’s an increase of 59%. This year they also started seven discipleship groups on WhatsApp with a total of 24 people, in comparison to 2019 when they had four groups with a total of 15 people. The participants are from Yemen, Morocco, Algeria and Libya.

Samuel of Al Hayat explained the precautions necessary when engaging with viewers, ‘When ministering in the Muslim world, we always have to take safety measures when following up. We start with messaging and phone calls and later, once we are convinced that the viewer has genuine intentions, we arrange face-to-face meetings with our local church contacts.’

He recalled the story of a man from Saudi Arabia who contacted Al Hayat’s follow-up team after watching many of their social media live programmes and praying the sinner’s prayer: ‘In his conversation with our follow-up team, he said that he would really like to meet with a believer in Saudi Arabia and sent us his phone number. We have a local contact, an American missionary, who first met him face-to-face to determine whether he was truly a believer now. Both were in fear when meeting one another, not knowing whether it was a trap. But over the course of three days with prayer and discernment, the missionary concluded that he really believed so he started to disciple him, baptised him, and connected him with a local Muslim background believer (MBB) pastor who is now continuing to disciple him.’

Even though people prefer and will always seek genuine, face-to-face interaction, Ruba of ACCTS noted that it has been a mostly positive season. ‘The Lord used COVID-19 to open the doors for online discipleship in the Middle East. In our life-growth journey we can include women from Muslim backgrounds from Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, the Arab states of the Persian Gulf and even Jordan, where the regime does not grant the freedom of religious belief. They lack churches and Christian support groups. This programme plays a significant role in including them in a church community where they can belong, grow and gain self-awareness. We witnessed women motivated, encouraged, and sharing within their circle of influence as well as home church groups supporting each other in a country where they are minorities. They also receive an individual follow-up, starting day one of the training for one month,’ she said.

‘We have been given, through the COVID-19 crisis, a new opportunity to tap into the future of a nation – to see the destiny of a nation potentially changed from the inside out,’ noted Dr Mike of Heart4Iran.

Insights from media ministries

Al Hayat

According to Samuel, online media platforms were particularly crucial during the COVID-19 lockdown because people were fearful and looking for answers.

The Muslim Woman is one of Al Hayat’s programmes which had a notable increase in  viewers during COVID-19 – especially at the beginning of the pandemic. The programme is hosted by Sister Amani, a former Muslim (now Christian) woman and it specifically reaches out to Muslim women and MBBs, giving them a forum to discuss the important issues in their lives.

During COVID-19, Al Hayat also started producing Facebook Live programmes.

‘Social media is an extremely current and fresh form of media,’ said Samuel of Al Hayat. ‘Filming, uploading and publishing content on social media can take place in a matter of minutes. Traditional media, on the other hand, is very well thought out and professional, but usually takes a much longer time to produce. Through social media, we are able to react quickly to current events and also interact with our audience in real-time. This is why social media is extremely helpful for us, operating in the Middle East,’ he explained.

‘The highlight of my day during the lockdown was the time I spent serving on Facebook Live – whether I was on camera or supporting other hosts on the team and answering the viewers’ questions and requests,’ recalled Sister Amani. ‘We quickly realised that we share a bond with our viewers and that they trust us. Fear, uncertainty, and grief were among their common questions and both Muslim and Christian viewers asked for prayers.’


According to Ruba, digital platforms were essential during COVID-19: ‘Women needed a place to share their hearts and struggles and perhaps online meetings were the simplest, safest way. We saw it as an opportunity to raise women’s awareness and empowerment. Many women facing violence, war, family pressures, and insecurities that resulted from the harmful effects of COVID-19 and perhaps the lack of discipleship opportunities, found refuge and hope. Some women benefited from the training, and others began to apply the knowledge practically, seeking to develop their lives and influence others.’


As part of their COVID-19 response to viewers, Christian satellite broadcaster SAT-7 continued to produce live broadcasts with skeleton staff in studio. The channel’s response to the pandemic has been to prioritise live programmes and in four specific ways across live and pre-recorded programs: COVID-19 awareness and prevention information; education; physical and mental well-being for families and children; and spiritual support.

Their SAT-7 KIDS channel, whose key strategy is to adapt to children’s changing media habits, partnered with SAT-7 ACADEMY – an education and social development initiative that provides remote learning for children and support for parents and teachers through satellite, online, and social media – offering programming that equips children socially, emotionally and educationally.

‘We want to empower youth to discover their identity in the Lord and to be confident in Him: in His guidance, provision, and protection,’ said Andrea El-Mounayer, SAT-7 KIDS channel manager.

‘Today more than ever we are delivering a truly holistic ministry in our response to the pandemic and increasing audience engagement across our channels is sending a clear signal that we are responding to a much-needed call,’ noted Nicoletta Michael, development manager of the SAT-7 International Office.

Making the most of media

The nature of the crisis was such that viewership numbers would’ve probably increased even if media organisations had not adjusted their response strategies. A global crisis would naturally cause people to fear, to have questions and to search far and wide for answers and sources of comfort. However, 2020 has shown that making the most of the available digital platforms is an opportunity not to be missed.

The learnings from these Middle Eastern ministries on how they effectively use digital media to reach people with the gospel, even in the most unlikely circumstances, causes a sense of urgency to prioritise digital strategies.

Where to start?

Though the world of digital and social media can be overwhelming, it is easily accessible and can be extremely effective. But where does one start?

1. Choose your persona – who are you trying to reach? Create a particular example persona of who you want to reach so that you can tailor your message and choose your platform accordingly. Avoid just shooting out a message to the masses without knowing who the one person is you’re speaking to. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9: ‘I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.’ Start praying about who your persona or your audience is.

2. Choose your platform/s – you don’t have to use every single available platform to get your message out. This strategy often poses to be stretching and tiring and isn’t always as effective as you might hope. For example, if you are wanting to reach youth specifically, do proper research about the platforms they are using the most. Is it Snapchat, TikTok, Instagram, YouTube or Facebook? If your research shows that your persona doesn’t spend time on Facebook or YouTube, for example, you don’t have to target those platforms and you can focus your time and resources elsewhere.

3. Create relevant customer engagement – to be able to engage with people via digital platforms, you need to carefully align technology and data with human values and identity. According to a recent article on Deloitte, ‘Long term engagement with people requires end-to-end capabilities to translate customer insights into actions that are both relevant and meaningful.’ The article notes that with digital becoming an integral part of the ‘new normal’, those brands that can elevate the human experience will be able to make a lasting emotional connection with their customers, which then becomes transformational.

4. Be bold and open to learning – don’t be intimidated too easily. Now is the time to approach the world of media with an open and teachable mind. According to McKinsey, ‘companies often experiment at a pace that fails to match the rate of change around them, slowing their ability to learn fast enough to keep up. Additionally, they rarely embrace the bold action needed to move quickly from piloting initiatives to scaling the successful ones.’ Do small trails and learn from your mistakes as you go along.

5. Get advice and help from knowledgeable people – you might consider asking a digital expert for their advice and training. Or, if you are in the position to do so, outsource your digital strategy to trustworthy, knowledgeable people who have experience in digital and social media.

All rights reserved. Copyright 2018 Mergon Group.

The four priorities of a leader


‘Coming out of COVID-19, we’ve all been through a massive learning curve. There’s been a lot of pressure on leaders to manage both emotional well-being and challenging circumstances. But now most teams are asking “what’s next”?,’ says executive head of the Mergon Foundation, Neil Hart.

During a recent Elevate Leadership webinar, Neil focussed on four priorities that will help leaders to move their organisations forward.

1. Create (apostolic) vision

‘“Apostolic” is the call to go, to move forward in God’s kingdom. We know that we are all sent, no matter what gifting you carry as a leader. Creating an apostolic vision within our teams is embedded into all of our spiritual leadership mandates,’ says Neil.

‘A recent Gallup study that looked at learnings from past crises revealed that people need leaders to provide a clear path forward. I’ve found that vision is a fairly linear path: firstly, there has to be a clear Godly revelation. As leaders, we simply have to hear from God. No textbook, no degree, nothing can supersede hearing from God and casting that vision for your team. Next, a Godly revelation produces clear vision, clear vision creates action, and that action establishes God’s kingdom,’ he notes.

Vision works like the rudder on a ship – it determines the direction of the team. A ship can still sail without a rudder, but it won’t necessarily go in the right direction. With a rudder (vision) the ship moves forward and in the right direction. A vision focuses teamwork and connects and unifies people towards a common goal.

From the many vision speeches he’s deconstructed over the years, Neil has found that there are four important and common aspects to casting vision:

1. A clear values connect: what do we stand for or against?

2. Direction: what are we moving towards?

3. Actions: what must we overcome to get there? What will you regret if you don’t act

4. Reward: what is the reward that is in store?

‘Vision can be powerful. It unifies, inspires action, creates hope and it settles fears. If you have a group of people that you’re leading that have these things in common, you can move mountains,’ notes Neil.

2. Create a people-centred culture

‘A healthy organisational culture is a goal in itself. The fingerprints and purposes of God are first woven into your people before they are woven into your mission. We don’t achieve anything significant from the Lord except through people. This is a team game that God has called us to’ Neil says.

‘Culture comes out of a set of common behaviours, behaviours come out of values, and leaders espouse values. As a leader, the value of valuing people is what will create a people-centred culture in your organisation. Jesus seemed to be able to see each person for who God had made them to be and it’s our role as leaders to make sure each person is intricately tied into the organisation and into relationship.

According to Neil, there are five types of toxic cultures leaders need to be aware of:

1. Works-based culture: all about performance, things are never quite good enough.

2. Ego-based culture: a charismatic personality can often become overly personality orientated and ego driven.

3. Money-driven culture: money or the lack thereof is the focus.

4. Weak accountability culture: misplaced pastoral gift where you want to love everybody and keep them happy but don’t hold them accountable. As a result, we may well underachieve.

5. Fear-based culture: Trust deficit, lack of love, fear of failure. Not motivated by love but motivated by fear.

On the flip-side, the characteristics of a people-centred culture:

– It’s a safe space where people experience both mental and psychological peace. It’s a space where people can be vulnerable and free to take risks.
– It’s a culture where people are prioritised over performance.
– It’s a culture where there’s dependability – meaning we keep our promises and we do what we say we’re going to do.
– It’s a culture where there’s a shared sense of purpose for meaningful work.
– It’s a culture that results in impact so we can celebrate victories together.

3. Create organisational clarity

‘God weaves us into the narrative of who He is and who we are in Him. A Jewish Rabbi once said the greatest gift of the Isrealites to the world is that law is connected into narrative. ‘What that means,’ says Neil ‘is that when you look at constitutions around the world, every constitution has a law or a judicial system but we don’t always know why those laws were made. However, the Jewish system wove the law into the narrative’.

Neil says that in any healthy organisation we know what the narrative is – the history, stories and what God called us to. But the ‘law’ part refers to organisational clarity. Organisational clarity is all about why we have to do what we do and weaving people into that structure. It’s also about having the right people in the right places, having clarity of purpose, structure and accountability. Leaders need to learn how to creatively over-communicate these three things over and over again to create clarity in organisational processes:

– Why we exist (mission / purpose statement)
– Our values
– Our key milestone for the year

‘If you find that there is a lack of clarity about who is responsible for what, there are unclear decision-making processes or rationale behind the things that you are doing, or that teams have poor visibility into project priorities or progress, it is a sign that you need to improve organisational clarity for your team. Ask yourself if team members know what the mission or project goals are and how to get there. Do team members feel like they have autonomy, ownership and concrete projects?’.

‘God is a God of order and infinite detail and we see that throughout all creation. This plays into how we lead – we should lead with order and infinite detail. God delights in the creativity that removes chaos,’ says Neil.

4. Create a new generation of leaders

We are in a constant generational transition. A rising tide brings in all the boats. In the same way, when leaders grow other leaders around them, the whole organisation rises up. God has one purpose throughout history that He has expressed through many leaders and many generations, so everything we do should carry this idea of God being a generational leader.

‘God’s vision for us as leaders is to think generationally,’ says Neil. ‘Succession is already happening whether we like it or not. The reality is that through priorities, attitudes, actions, memories, language etc, leader-shaping is happening all the time. Leader development is also not limited to a programme. Rather, it’s what God has built into the natural life of communities and organisations.’

He says that in the future someone will build on what you have done but the question is how will they build and how well have you prepared them? The next generation must understand the past, honour the past and build on the past while the older generation must share the past, trust God for the future and build and empower the next generation.

In closing, Neil highlighted some things we need to look for when we select future leaders:

1. Character: Are they a servant leader? Are they reliable? Do they have integrity?

2. Competence: Do they have the necessary skills?

3. Chemistry: Are they likeable, how well do they connect with the team?

4. Core values: Are their core values in line with the rest of the team?

5. Courage: Do they take faith risks and rise to challenges?

6. Capacity: Will their work ethic enable them to manage tasks well and do they have  emotional capacity for leadership?

7. Courtesy: Do they show respect for other team members and are they collaborative in their approach?

Watch the full webinar here.

All rights reserved. Copyright 2018 Mergon Group.

Sustainable change requires active participation


Why the most important thing we are doing won’t bring lasting change

By Neil Hart

The first principle I learned in philanthropy is that a soup kitchen that doubles the number of people they feed does not double its effectiveness, but actually halves its sustainable impact. It also creates more dependence on social and state support systems.

This simple principle should inform much of our thinking around social impact and is the topic I will explore in this article. But, before I dive headlong into that, I want to first celebrate the incredible work of soup kitchens and other feeding schemes during this time of COVID-19.

The recent drone footage of people in Mooiplaas near Pretoria queuing for food deeply moved me. Thousands upon thousands of people are desperate for food in South Africa and across the African continent. Hunger will certainly be one of our greatest challenges in the year ahead.

Mergon recently established a Gap Fund which serves as a distribution platform for small grants to financially support indispensable NPOs in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis. We did this in response to witnessing many NPOs losing funding while the need for their services significantly increased. Each week, we pray through a long list of applications from incredible NPOs who are responding to this crisis. We have received close to R7.3 million in contributions thus far, and have been able to make more than 95 fund allocations.

Nobody knows our communities like the NPOs who are so deeply invested in the wellbeing of our nation’s people. What would our government do without these people sacrificing their time and resources and risking their lives to take care of people?

Our country needs to recognise and elevate the status of these heroes. Our medical professionals are rightly getting praised, but there is a sector of society, equally invested, who are remaining nameless and faceless. This is one of the noblest activities we could be doing at this time, helping those who are in such great need. John Bunyan said ‘You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.’ And we will most likely never be able to repay these unsung heroes.

Feeding people is not enough

But only feeding people is not enough. Sustainable change happens when we give responsibly – attending to the immediate, felt need (this will always be the first act of unconditional love and kindness) – but also leading people away from dependence towards self-sustainability.

Our initial acts of kindness should always lead to the reintegration of people so that they can become economically active. However, skills development as such should also not be the ultimate goal – it must always seek to connect people to opportunities to become economically active. And apart from skills development and a connection to opportunity, we should also journey with people to transform their worldview. This is a journey of body, mind (soul), and spirit. All acts meeting physical needs should be authentic and fueled by the love of Christ, expecting nothing in return.

Holistic transformation

It’s also important to remember that sustainable, long-term acts of kindness that lead to holistic transformation never happens in a vacuum – it is a wonderful opportunity for collaboration between state, business and church. It would be wise to seek those opportunities intentionally.

One of my favourite examples of a clever organisational pivot is the Red Band Barista Academy, founded five years ago as a way to address youth unemployment. As lockdown commenced, they realised many of their baristas would go without salaries due to coffee shops being closed. Soon, coffee4heroes was born which allowed people to sponsor a cup of coffee (R30) for a healthcare worker – a doctor, nurse, lab technician or hospital administration staff. Within a month, they received sponsorships for 1,700 cups of coffee and baristas received some income again.

It’s critical that, even in the heat of a crisis, we not only pivot our organisations, we also pivot mindsets.

In a recent survey we sent out on the topic of innovative sustainable solutions for communities, we heard many people respond that instead of only focussing on feeding schemes, more effort should be put into helping communities plant their own gardens, or establish community food projects with agriculture starter packs, tools and a supply of sustainable seed. There would still be a need for food parcels and soup kitchens, however, it would be for a much shorter period – until these gardens yield enough crops for people to eat or sell. The challenge would be to get people intimately involved to see the bigger picture so that they will actively participate in the solution.

One respondent indicated that it could be beneficial if, instead of individuals becoming solely dependent on food handouts, they could be encouraged to either assist with making up or handing out the parcels, as part of a remuneration. This would potentially give them a sense of responsibility and employment.

Other innovative ideas from respondents included teaching communities the Farming God’s Way principles, and getting small groups of people (like church cell groups) to adopt a ‘Food Mama’ and help her with vegetables to supply the sick or needy in her immediate area.

Becoming part of a changing force in the nation

If we only feed people, we will have to keep on doing just that, as the people will always remain hungry. If in addition to feeding them, we give them an opportunity to let their hearts and minds be transformed, train them and connect them to opportunities, they will become part of a changing force in the nation.

Let us be Jesus’ hands and feet, and allow Him to guide us towards creative solutions towards human thriving. Let’s update our thinking of how we can help someone create a life instead of only feeding them to keep them alive.

Neil Hart is the executive head of the Mergon Foundation. 

All rights reserved. Copyright 2018 Mergon Group.

Leadership in the four phases of crisis

Watch the full webinar here.

In this Elevate Leadership Webinar Paul Donders brings clarity to leading in the four phases of a crisis, equips us with the tools to thrive, and inspires us to think ahead.

According to Paul, leaders need to be aware of and prepared for four different phases during the COVID-19 crisis. ‘All four phases are important – even if you aren’t there yet. As leaders, we need to be with our teams and support them where they are at, but at the same time, we have to already live in the next phase mentally and emotionally. That is the challenge for leaders,’ he says.

So what are the four phases and how do you give leadership in each of these phases?

Surviving phase

The first phase is surviving – you are thrown into deep waters and you have no boat. The survival phase is a time of mourning and fear – the people you serve have lost many things including freedom, money, security and health.

‘The good news is, in the Bible, there are 365 verses about fear – one for every day. God knows that fear is a normal thing that can and will happen,’ says Paul.

In this phase, there is a need for understanding and basic security for the people you lead and there is a need to find some rhythm in daily life.

Two leadership styles are very important in the survival phase:

Empathic leadership: Be with your team, ask good questions and listen to them. Accept their pain and fear. This is not a time for lecturing or preaching. Instead, listen to your team and make sure they know you are there for them.

Robust leadership: Provide ideas for daily rhythms for a healthy lifestyle. People need daily exercise, quiet time, healthy food and sleep. Provide your team with ideas to get into these habits. Enable your people to be productive in small actions. Find out what people can produce on a daily basis and provide them with the tools they need.

Coping phase

When you arrive in the coping phase, you have learned to handle the situation – the working from home, the Zoom calls, and everything that comes with the COVID-19 restrictions.

The initial shock is over, and now you need to discover the new reality of how the world works. You have now found a lifeboat, but you are still in rough waters. You’re not surviving anymore, but coping with the wildness of the crisis.

In this phase there are three types of leadership styles:

Adaptive leadership: Grow in adaptive quotient. This is the phase where every member of your team can learn to be more adaptive. Translate your unique skills into the tools you need in this new world. Transform your products so they add real value to your customers.

Resilient leadership: Train yourself and your team in the seven resilience competencies and get ready for the marathon. Build up social and structural resources (e.g positive friends, a culture of feedback, surroundings where people can do what they do best, healthy finances).

Communicative leadership: Communicate seven times more than usual. Communication needs to be daily and weekly. Be honest, informative, personal (share your personal fear and challenges) and be helpful.

Restoring phase

In this phase, you need to build resilience in the depth and width of your organisation. In the coping phase, you were building resilience on a personal level, now you are building it in the organisation – in the systems, communication and finances.

There is now a need to refocus the mission so that everyone in your team can align their efforts for the common good. When you’re in the phase of restoring your organisation to its previous state, you need to think about getting off the lifeboat (of the coping phase) and start building a bigger boat.

In this phase there are also three important leadership styles:

Architectonic leadership: Build resilience in all systems of your organisation and build your foundation well. Design effective structures, systems and meetings. Grow in productivity again.

Mission-driven leadership: Refocus your mission to be relevant in this new world. Redefine your DNA, morals and value code because mission-driven leadership also needs a healthy base of culture. Inspire all stakeholders – internal and external – and invite them to become a part of the mission.

Customer-oriented leadership: Mediocrity in customer service is no longer accepted. Even as an NGO, people rate you on the level of your customer service. Redesign the customer journey. As a leader, be the example of customer service inspiration.

Empowering leadership: Train your next-level leadership to grow into their full potential. Meet with each one of them, one-on-one, weekly. Give trust in a generous way. Search, select, integrate and develop the right people that will embody your renewed mission and culture.

Transformational phase

In this phase, you need to build an expedition ship – a  really strong boat that will enable you to discover new worlds. Transform your culture into the one you need for the new world you want to discover. In this phase, you will need energy to finish the marathon!

The three leadership styles in the transformational phase are:

Dreaming leadership: Take an eagle eye’s view of your organisation’s whole journey. Dare to dream! Discover the challenges and questions of tomorrow.

Design-thinking leadership: Team up with strategic thinkers and work through all the phases of design thinking (inspiration, ideation, implementation).

Cultural leadership: Shape your culture, set it deep in people’s minds, and secure the implementation on all levels. Transform your organisation into a healthy future-proof identity.

The challenge to leaders is to be one or two phases ahead of where our team and organisation are. Ask yourself, where are you and your team in the four phases? What is your next step to grow?

Paul Donders is chairman of the board of X-pand International, CEO of X-pand Nederland, and managing partner of X-pand South Africa. His passion is to help professionals and leaders discover their unique talents to grow into their full potential in a healthy way. He inspires other leaders to break through barriers by navigating complexities with greater confidence.

All rights reserved. Copyright 2018 Mergon Group.

Emotional resilience in tough times

Watch the full webinar here.

The cumulative strains and stresses of the past few months have resulted in a large number of emotionally fatigued leaders, which is not something we can afford to ignore.

In the first Mergon Elevate Leadership webinar, we heard from Dr George Roux, a seasoned psychologist, on how leaders can practically take care of themselves and build emotional resilience. Dr Roux has worked extensively with ministry leaders and has an intuitive understanding of leaders’ needs and how to serve them towards emotional health.

‘The impact the virus has had on the world has been catastrophic, on the economic front but also on a personal level,’ says Dr Roux. ‘It’s influencing our overall well being – physically and psychologically.’

‘Statistics show that 35% of the South African population is suffering from a psychological stress-related illness, whether it’s anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or burnout,’ he explains.

Time to reflect

Dr Roux says it’s crucial for leaders to become aware of how they are coping. Leaders need to become aware of how this time has impacted them by asking themselves what has happened (or is happening) to them emotionally, physically, spiritually, and in their relationships. As leaders have been taking care of others, they now need to prioritise taking care of themselves.

‘If we think of a car’s instrument panel on the dashboard: there are two red lights that we need to be very aware of. The one is measuring the temperature of the car and the other one is measuring the oil temperature of the engine. If either of these flicker, we are trained to stop the car immediately because if we don’t, we’ll cease the engine. The same should apply to leaders – when the red lights are flickering, whether it’s stress, anxiety, depression or burnout, you need to stop and measure yourself,’ he explains.

Dr Roux has compiled four short questionnaires to help measure stress, anxiety, depression and burnout – the four biggest issues people are struggling with at the moment.

Building resilience

Resilience can be described as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties or to bounce back from setbacks and trauma. Resilient leaders also carry the responsibility for helping to protect the people in their teams. But how do we become resilient leaders?

1. A resilient leader is an honest leader. This is not the time to pretend that we ‘have it all together’. This is a wonderful opportunity to admit to ourselves, as well as to our teams and those we serve, that we are all vulnerable. There is something freeing in being vulnerable and acknowledging that we don’t have all the answers and that we’re all battling with the uncertainties.

2. The situation we’re in is also an invitation to start thinking outside of the box again. This is, in a sense, a ‘half-time’ experience for us where instead of focussing on  success, we need to rather focus on significance. Have honest conversations with your teams and invite them to participate and give their input. Use this time to brainstorm new ideas, new vision, new goals as well as new strategies.

3. Remember that we are human beings, not human doings. Being with God is far more important than doing for God. It’s not about all that we do, but also about who we are. To become resilient leaders, we have to freshly clothe ourselves in our true identity – our identity in Christ. We have to remind ourselves that the most important thing in life is not our ministry, nor is it the people we serve – it’s our families and those closest to us. We shouldn’t be in ministry if it is to the detriment of our own health or our at the expense of our most important relationships.

4. This time should also be an invitation into grace and faith. God will not let us down. Remind yourself and your team that it’s not your ministry, it’s God’s ministry. He has provided in the past and He will continue to provide. We can relinquish all our concerns to him.

How do I assist my team during this period?

1. Your openness and vulnerability as a leader should be an invitation to your team to share. Ask them how they are coping and what their fears and concerns are. Also, remember to ask them to complete the four questionnaires:

2. Involve each person on your team to join in brainstorming sessions to find new solutions.

3. Protect the members of your team. Make sure your team members have personal protective equipment in place.

4. Be patient with yourself, your family, and your colleagues.

5. Meet regularly with your team to support and encourage one another, and to pray and laugh together. Focus first on your team before your ministry.

6. Don’t focus on the things that are out of your control. Instead, focus on the positives, the things that are within your control.

Mergon’s Elevate Leadership Webinars has been curated specifically for the tough season we’re in. The next Elevate webinar will take place on 21 July 2020, presented by Paul Donders on the topic of ‘Phases of leadership in crisis’.

All rights reserved. Copyright 2018 Mergon Group.

Cultivating a culture of prayer

Written by Etienne Piek*

Dear Mergonites

What an amazing time it is to be alive and serving God, knowing that we are not dependant on our own strength or abilities but His grace and His providence. We have spoken in broad terms about the importance of prayer in all that we do here at Mergon and in the months to come we aim to create more opportunities for corporate and personal prayer at the respective offices. As our different offices have a somewhat different rhythm and culture, we would like to invite each office to build and foster their own rhythms of prayer to fit their context.

From our side we will be sending regular updates on the many aspects of prayer and we would love to receive your feedback, input and testimonies.

Let’s start off with what Prayer is!

As a group we respond to God’s call in 1 Tim. 4:1-2: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”

Prayer is seen not as a function or isolated discipline, but indeed as an integrated lifestyle that is centre to the life of a Christ-follower. As John Wesley put it: “God will do nothing but in answer to prayer. Whether we think of, or speak to, God, whether we act or suffer for him, all is prayer, when we have no other object than his love, and the desire of pleasing him. Proceed with much prayer, and your way will be made plain.”

Prayer is in a sense much more about the pray-er as it is about the prayer. When we respond to God’s invitation to “ask in His Name” it is as much about what happens within the one who prays than what he/she prays for. Prayer is relationship and it is within the confines of this relationship that the power that raised Jesus from the dead is released to change the heart of the pray-er towards His Kingdom and the things that breaks His heart.

Prayer is simple words from simple people towards their heavenly Father to see His Kingdom come. It is often expressed in wordless adoration and waiting upon God to move in the heart of the pray-er and therefore not a forced rhythm filled with impressive and theologically loaded words.

Prayer will be fostered as a relationship/conversation between God and His called people, acknowledging different kinds of prayers at different times by different kinds of people. In the words of Richard Foster: “And so I urge you: carry on an ongoing conversation with God about the daily stuff of life, a little like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. For now, do not worry about ‘proper’ praying, just talk to God.”

Let’s pray!

(Etienne Piek* is the Regional Manager (South Africa) at the Mergon Foundation)

All rights reserved. Copyright 2018 Mergon Group.