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.

Witnessing extraordinary impact


Written by Neil Hart, Executive Head, Mergon Foundation

The world is a small place, but there sure is a lot of ground to cover. There are 7111 languages spoken in the world today, of which 23 account for more than half of the world’s population. Over a quarter of all these do not have a single word of scripture translated. Over 100 tribes remain ‘uncontacted’ meaning no outsider has ever been in meaningful contact with them, nor does any language translation exist to communicate with them.

Within this complexity, many great gains have been made, like reducing extreme poverty (people living on less than $2 a day (from 42% in 1980 to 10% in 2015) and famine has vastly decreased (according to The NY Times: ‘People often think that famine is routine, but the last famine recognized by the World Food Program struck just part of one state in South Sudan and lasted for only a few months in 2017). Literacy is increasing sharply, Infectious diseases are decreasing, child deaths have halved in just a few decades. Much of this is as a result of organisations led by smart and compassionate people who have given their lives and/or finances to see the changes come about that society so desperately needs.

At Mergon, we have the great privilege of partnering with many such organisations. I want to tell you three stories of what we see happening across the regions we are involved in and to celebrate these wonderful people whose hearts have been moved by God to do extraordinary things:

In Lebanon, millions of children displaced from their countries are left with no clear future; they have lost their homes, friends, security, identity and even families.  One of our ministry partners in Lebanon provides a safe haven for children, mothers and families. Here children receive a good education and are being well prepared for their return to Syria. Many of these will complete their education in Syria and will also rebuild society, their communities and a country from a biblical world view, giving them a future that could have been completely stolen from them.

In Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Younoussa and his wife, Alphonsine, are working with children and students in a country with 59% of the population under the age of 24! God opened their eyes to the needs in their own city. Using the tools and methodologies they honed over years in the mission field, they started discipling children living on the streets, seeing them discover Christ, being baptised and teaching them in turn to make disciples. In the process, they’ve seen many of these kids return to their homes, find jobs and will be trained in various skills. Amongst many other things they are training leaders, running a Bible correspondence course and coaching multiple church planters who are being sent out consistently. They are giants in the Kingdom, yet when you sit with them, you experience a loving humility always ready to give more.

In South Africa, we are partnering with so many God-glorifying ministries. Johan and Astrid from Victory4All left the Netherlands in 2002 to come and serve less privileged children around Jeffreys Bay with the aim of bringing lasting change. They have since invested millions of rand in the community with a specific focus on education. Their King’s College currently reaches 350 learners up to Grade 4 with excellent education and an intentional focus to introduce the kids to Christ and disciple them to become agents of transformation in South Africa.

Would you join us in prayer for God’s kingdom to continually expand. It truly is the best news for living on planet earth. His Kingdom is peace, it is joy and it brings healing and forgiveness and grace with it. We celebrate the selfless work that our Mergon partners do in bringing His Kingdom into the dark places of this world.

All rights reserved. Copyright 2018 Mergon Group.

How Does Change Happen?

By Neil Hart

More than ever in South Africa we need active citizenry. When individuals and groups come together with the purpose of creating beneficial, lasting, Kingdom transformation in the lives of communities, it allows for the peace and prosperity of the majority.

At Mergon Foundation have the great joy of working with over 100 ministry partners across Africa and the Middle East whose deep desire it is to bring this kind of change. But how does lasting change happen and why does it take so long?


The reality is that we live in an era of the commodification of civic participation. We sign up for an online petition, we buy from certain stores that we believe do good, we give to charities, we stand at a comfortable distance. What should be the beginning of our involvement is often the end. We need more deep involvement.

Worldview shapes how we think about change. This year, I’ve been in the US, China, Africa and the Middle East, four distinctively different worldviews. Theorists have created many assumptions on how worldview influences social change. Some of them are:

  1. Progress – shaped by the futurists, the forward thinkers, humans who want to improve their future. Optimists, individuals who have control over their destinies.
  2. Cycles – as seen through the eyes of historians. Predicable patterns have emerged through time and we will repeat these cycles in a way that shapes our future.
  3. Ideas – clear and compelling thoughts as disseminated by visionaries and articulated through the media. Ideas like ‘abolish slavery’ or ‘Marxism’, which are seeds planted in minds of the masses and frequently watered until change begins to happen.
  4. Conflict and power – two ends of the same continuum. Conflict stemming from uprisings, activists, struggle and justice advocates. Or power from the elite few with money and position who dictate progress or change.

On the African continent, we live in a power/fear worldview, which means we often swing to different sides of the pendulum. Many will believe that they are simply powerless to effect change, yet we also see power-fear manifest as religious control, leading the congregation masses astray. We see the unassailable ‘man of God’ syndrome. In politics we see fear-power as social authority – hierarchical and patriarchal. We suffer the consequences of unaccountable leaders.

Kingdom transformation

At Mergon, we are compelled by the idea of Kingdom transformation. We believe that Jesus came to bring the Kingdom of God to earth and that His Kingdom is advancing through all the difficulties of human living on planet earth.

Systemic change, the kind of deep transformation that Jesus started, happens slowly. Sometimes I think the church suffers from short-term thinking. We are looking to the next conference for change, or the launch of the next worship CD or to our slick media channels. While we can celebrate all these things temporarily, they fall hopelessly short of what the Bible calls us to: “Seek first the Kingdom of God…and all these things will be added”, Matthew 6 refers to a group of people who are un-anxious, have all their basic needs taken care of and who live with the right heart perspective towards money (and by association, power). Contrast this with our present South Africa with the highest Gini coefficient in the world (the measure of income inequality in a nation), people lacking basic needs and such high levels of anxiety that women and children cannot walk the streets in safety. Something must change.

How does Kingdom transformation happen?

1. We know from the New Testament that Kingdom transformation starts bottom up and not top down. Jesus said the least will be the greatest, that the foot-washer would be the most influential. Therefore it starts with the common individual and not the president.

There are various entry points that I see in Kingdom transformation:

  • The Heart – God touches my heart and moves me deeply. I respond to His love by opening my soul to His influence.
  • The Head – God overwhelms and eventually wins my intellectual arguments and I decide to trust His cosmic sovereignty, placing my future in His hands.
  • Power – I see His power at work, either through a healing, a deliverance or the enormity of creation. It confounds my reasoning and I decide to bow my life to His almighty hand.
  • Follow – I start to follow in obedience. The simplest of beginnings. I watch a friend or a friendship group and I grow in my relationship with God. Jesus’ first instruction to His disciples was to follow. Dramatic change happens through simple obedience.

2. Kingdom transformation happens when changed individuals bring cultural change. When a tipping point of families transforms the atmosphere of a village, or when a number of skaters or lawyers influence the heart and mind of their urban ‘tribe’.

This seldom happens fast and it seldom happens in the church. It mostly happens slowly and happens in life. This is the long game and it requires us to take a long-term view.

A recent National Geographic article tells of how Christianity overthrew the Roman Empire. This secular source does not refer to any individual leader or political party with means. Rather it alludes to a groundswell of change. The most powerful human empire that the world has ever known was toppled by transformed individuals bringing cultural change!

I can tell many stories of this kind of change. Of ex-prostitutes bringing transformation within their ‘tribe’ in China or Uganda. Of an adult orphan who is raising funds to build orphanages so that those without parents will feel the love and care that He did not know but found later in a loving Father. I can tell of entrepreneurs who work with other entrepreneurs across many African cities to disciple them to have maximum impact through their business resources, bringing generosity and change. There are so many stories of hope in the nations.

3. Lastly, Kingdom transformation accelerates through unity. We have seen the biggest, most catalytic change happen when people and organisations intentionally unite themselves across boundaries to be of one mind and heart to bring change. This is seldom easy. It requires trust that is given and not waiting for trust earned. Ephesians 4 urges the unity of the saints for the purpose of the maturity of the church. When a united, mature church hits the streets, nothing will hold it back. It will bring the light of deep kingdom transformation into society.

All rights reserved. Copyright 2018 Mergon Group.

Three Defining Characteristics Of Courageous Leaders

Keri-Leigh Paschal – Executive Director, Nation Builder

Every generation has called for more leaders – courageous leaders – who will stand up for good, wholesome principles that have the betterment of people and planet at their core. We do know we need them, across all sectors of our society. But do we need to define that they are ‘courageous’ leaders? Or is courage a given character trait of good leadership?

Courage is a vital virtue of good leaders, “those who would rather challenge what needs to be changed and pay the price, than remain silent and slowly die inside” (Andy Stanley). Yet every situation that calls for courage involves some kind of uncertainty and some kind of risk, which in turn implies vulnerability. Not a characteristic most would associate with courage, but one that Nelson Mandela intimately understood: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

It takes courage to see challenges as opportunities, to address injustices past and present, and to shape society’s future direction. And the courageous pioneers who do, share these three main characteristics: They have deep conviction, they can effectively tap into unrealised opportunities, and they view themselves with humility.

Deep Conviction
Leaders of businesses that make a tangible difference in society – while also making a profit – have a passion for the wellbeing of people. This deep conviction leads to a business approach that is centred on being a force for good in society, a selfless and authentic motive outside of profit.

Profit is essential – because without profit a business would not be sustainable, and the passion to make a difference, would remain a mere desire and not become reality – yet the conviction to be good and do good determines the ultimate end of the business, by shaping both the day-to-day decisions and long-term investments that together ensure a lasting positive impact.

Unrealised Opportunities
Courageous leaders view the world differently. They see frustrations, constraints and differing perspectives as fuel for innovation that drives solutions.

They are curious and can be found immersing themselves in new contexts to give them a broader understanding of and insight into their ever-changing landscapes. This enables them to identify where pain points exist and drives their passion to engage more effectively through their business to provide a different service or offering and thereby turn unrealised opportunities into real gains.

Humble Approach

“True humility, scientists have learned, is when someone has an accurate assessment of both his strengths and weaknesses, and he sees all this in the context of the larger whole. He’s a part of something far greater than he. He knows he isn’t the centre of the universe. And he’s both grounded and liberated by this knowledge. Recognising his abilities, he asks how he can contribute. Recognising his flaws, he asks how he can grow.”

(Ashley Merryman, The Washington Post).

Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It is having a right view of your skills, character and position. It takes a courageous leader to not have all the answers and to see the skills and understanding of those better equipped to meet the challenge. It takes vulnerability to seek assistance, ask good questions and build partnerships to achieve the greatest possible outcomes.

The three characteristics briefly described above are simple, yet require authenticity in heart and approach to truly be a force for social good.

In the social development landscape, we often see business people impose their views and preferred solution on those in the development sector. However, there are many credible social impact groups who have already learned the hard lessons and therefore understand the landscape. The key is to find the right partner and have the humility to trust their judgement on how to engage constructively in building the social fabric of our nation. Those investing in these partnerships experience greater joy with each life that is transformed.

Within our local business community, where the economic and social realities are challenging, courageous leadership is the only approach that can ultimately redefine our society.

Let us engage our entrepreneurial spirit, let us think creatively, and let us work together in finding solutions to the unique complexities that our colourful nation presents us. Let us find the courage in each of us, and let us lead.

All rights reserved. Copyright 2018 Mergon Group.

Courageous Ministry Leadership

Neil Hart – Executive Head Mergon Foundation​

It’s a lonely role leading anything. Once the excitement dies down the responsibility kicks in. There are so many questions. Are your people inspired by the mission & committed through the hard times? Are they living together in a healthy culture and growing in their contribution?

Is the organisation operating efficiently with good governance? Are funders hearing stories of the contribution in society and coming alongside you to enhance your efforts? Is the Board involved and helping to lighten your load? And greater pressure…are they inspired by your leadership?

We understand the pressure you feel, leading a ministry requires deeply courageous leadership.

The good news is that there is no perfect leader. Even the best I know are not complete leaders. We all have faults and blind spots. We are all a work in progress in the Master’s hands. Be vulnerable with those you lead – I’ve found that the strongest, most effective leaders are insecure. The reality will surprise you. You are probably the very best leader; for now, you are what your organisation needs in this season.

At Mergon, we partner with over a hundred ministries and leaders across 30 countries. We journey with them in 3-year partnership cycles so we get to see a few things in this time together. Leading a ministry is selfless and tough, but very little in life compares to giving your life away for something that means so much or reverberates so deeply into eternal realms.

Over time we have seen some healthy organisations operating in ways that rival the best of corporate best practice. Sadly this is generally the exception to the rule.

Jim Collins, in a foreword to the book Engine of Impact, wrote that “most nonprofits limp along, operating far below their potential impact”.  Even with wonderful, committed leadership and teams, the podium for healthy organisations is sparsely populated.

From over 25 years in business, I can tell you that there are few corporate leaders that have to deal with as much pressure as some of the ministry/NGO leaders I have worked with. In business there are generally well paid, qualified staff to delegate to, in ministry often not. In business, we protect our hearts from the messiness of people’s lives, delegating this to the HR department. In ministry, we live with the emotion 365 days a year.

Having been a CEO in business and in ministry, I want to share 5 points that enable more effective leadership and will imbue you with courage:

1. Win trust by being personal

Great leaders know how to be personal. It’s not a ministry thing, great CEOs in all walks understand this. The bulk of being personal relates to circumstances or information that is not work related. Marriage, kids, financial pressures and needs, fulfilment, rest etc. Do you know these details in your team’s lives? The better you do this, the more trust you will have. The advantage of trust? Well, its immeasurable really, you simply cannot lead well without it.

2. Empower your team with greater responsibility

Expect much from your team by showing respect for the individual skills and experience they have. I have learned that everyone comes with a past that should be respected and given due consideration. Your volunteer or manager may have a degree in something that they are not putting their daily time to. Find space for this to be expressed, and you’ll be amazed at how much more people come to life when they use their skills, interests, training or experience. As a leader, its your responsibility to uncover and maximise this.

3. Have organisational clarity

Ministry leaders are often so filled with passion for the work that one expects everyone will thrive on the same purpose. The truth is that many employees thrive on clarity. A CEO must create and communicate organisational clarity to every single member of the team. It is a truth that humans needs to understand (and buy into) what they are contributing to and how their success (or lack thereof) impacts the outcome of the work. Think of your team members, does each one know for certain what they are meant to be doing and what a difference their contribution makes to the overall goal?

4. Share vision often

Real clarity comes with a compelling vision. A CEO must be great at articulating vision, and doing it regularly. It is astounding how much vision-casting is required to keep a team focused and excited. Find several ways to communicate the same vision: through video, words, pictures, in Keynote presentations or through drama…do what it takes to regularly keep the vision clear and compelling.

5. Raise leaders, not followers

If you asked me what the single most undervalued skill of CEOs is I’d say it is the raising of leaders. There are a few important aspects to doing this well. The first is identification. For me, this is a combination of prayer and using personality tools (of which there are many available) to discern good candidates.

Secondly we should test leaders-to-be. You can always rely on people with tested character, those who have been through the fire. Find ways of testing faithfulness in small and big ways.

Lastly a CEO needs to be able to call out the gifts and talents that they see in prospective leaders. There is little that accelerates growth in an individual than someone who believes in them and tells that how good they are at specific things.

There is little more fulfilling than leading an organisation or team that is healthy, passionate and effective, contributing to growing God’s Kingdom. A healthy team will make you sleep well at night, only kept awake by the God-given mandate and vision you carry.

All rights reserved. Copyright 2018 Mergon Group.