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The Value of Empathy

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Empathy is a rare commodity, but needed more than ever.

Recently, a story has been circulating newsrooms across the country. The family of Sgt. La David T. Johnson, one of four soldiers killed in an ambush in Niger, felt disrespected when President Donald Trump said to the grieving widow that the soldier “knew what he signed up for.” (Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/18/us/politics/trump-widow-johnson-call.html) Whether you take this exchange as valid or believe it is “fake news”, the sentiments reportedly expressed raises questions about how we value empathy in today’s culture and society.

According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of empathy is:

the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner. (Source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/empathy)

You may not have experienced a specific tragedy or disappointment. You may not have endured another’s pain. Yet, when you value empathy, you can extend compassion and connect deeply to their experience. Too often, the value of empathy is being dismissed and replaced with a callousness and apathy that permeates every sector of society. If you are attempting to start a new business and fail during your first try, rather than being greeted with words of compassion or being coached, you may be on the receiving end of words such as “You should have prepared more” or “Your business plan was weak” or “You needed to do more research before making the leap”. Apathy’s default is always what you could have done better and how you are a victim of your own weakness and lack of preparedness. It never considers circumstances out of your control, unexpected roadblocks or the emotional roller coaster endured to reach a particular goal.

The lack of empathy doesn’t end in the business arena, but extends in relationships, employment, and other areas of life. If you’re relationship or friendship failed, you don’t have what it takes. If you still are unemployed, you didn’t look hard enough. If you’re in need of assistance, you’re lazy. If you are having a hard time loosing the weight, you’re undisciplined. See the pattern? Apathy immediately resorts to what is wrong with you or what’s missing. Empathy relates to your pain, demonstrates compassion and serves to journey with you to healing and wholeness. Your pain may have been a result of wrong decisions. Your condition may have been a consequence of your poor planning. But, when you are bleeding, you need to address the wound with tender love and care. If I’m bleeding, I simply don’t need good thoughts my way or feeling sorry for me (pity or sympathy). I need sympathy with a compassionate response. I need empathy.

Whether you are in a leadership role or serving others, we all can grow in valuing empathy for our fellow man and woman. When I review the Scriptures, I see a man by the name of Jesus who spoke truth but in love. I witnessed a man who showed compassion, coupled with correction. I see a man who took time to tackle the problem and not the person. We can all learn from Jesus’ example. And if you find yourself having difficulty showing empathy to others, I would suggest you ask yourself this question: “How would I like to be treated?” – RF

The Power of Consistency: Interview with Ken Hester

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KenHesterInterview

 

As a part of the REFlections Interview Series, I’m honored to present an interview that speaks to the successes and challenges of ministry and our life of faith in Christ. As one of the emerging voices in our generation, Ken Hester has proven through word and deed that his faith in God is real! Ken is the campus pastor at Elevation Church, overseeing the Gaston campus in Gastonia, North Carolina. I became acquainted with Ken about 6 years ago when he was the College Pastor at Crossroads Fellowship in Raleigh, North Carolina. Presently, as an Elevation Church campus pastor, Ken shared some of the lessons he’s learned along the way.

It’s my prayer that this interview blesses you like it blessed me. Thank you Ken for sharing!

KEY – RF: Ryan Faison | KH: Ken Hester

 

RF: If I had to describe Ken Hester, how would you want me to describe you?

KH: A passionate leader. I’m not afraid of change (and I could be accused of embracing too much of it)! I like fun stuff and I’m certainly a thrill seeker. I’m a husband. This year on June 2nd, my wife and I will celebrate 8 years of marriage. I’m a coach. I’ve enjoyed my experiences as a basketball coach over the years and even thought it would be my career. I’m a pastor. As a thrill-seeker, it is awesome that every weekend, GOD WINS! Jesus is #1 on the scoreboard! There’s salvations and baptisms every week. This is my greatest joy.

 

RF: In this season of your life, what is the most rewarding?

KH: Rewarding for me is that my staff, leaders and volunteers feel cared for. I find my reward in the great consistency rather than the great moments. We often times celebrate the moment rather than the consistency. Christ celebrates the consistency. In the NBA Playoffs, Derrick Rose hit a major shot but lost the playoffs. It may be SportsCenter moment, but we may dismiss the team’s consistent effort. The same thing applies to our spiritual life. When I see a congregation consistent in giving, serving and loving, this is my greatest reward.

 

“Christ celebrates the consistency!”

– Pastor Ken Hester

 

RF: Consistency is important to you. How do you value this in your life?

KH: I value it but working on the discipline of consistency. I tried to find a formula for devotion before God. What I realized that for me its one Scripture (maybe two), praying specifically that God reveals Himself in that Scripture, worship in my car (blasting worship in my car for 20-30 minutes), praying on my way home. I realized over the years that it’s not about a formula, but a relationship. I desire to be consistent in that area of my life.

 

RF: What would you say to someone who is focused on “formulas”?

KH: It’s about how God is stretching your faith, not a set formula. Too often, our culture is focused on calculated risk. Faith is “I’m jumping out an airplane and I don’t have a parachute but I know God will catch me!” I’m encouraged by a couple of folks in our apprenticeship program. One apprentice moved from South Africa to serve in Gastonia, North Carolina to be a part of what God is doing. That faith inspires my faith. Another couple just recently got married and moved from Sacramento, California to serve here at Elevation. This is the faith that is demonstrated in the Bible. I need to be challenged in faith. I encourage others to look for everyday faith. If God did it before, He can do it again! 

 

RF: What’s the most challenging area of your life?

KH: One of the most challenging areas on my life (and my wife) is regarding family. We are beginning to share more and more about it with others. We’re been trying to start a family for five years. To say its been a struggle is an understatement. You get a monthly reminder that God has not chosen you to have a family yet. What have you tried for five years and still not seeing fruit from? Not many things. If you go to school for years, you received a degree. We’ve been trying to have a family for five years and haven’t seen that reward yet. It challenges our faith. We’re mad and hopeful. An array of emotions. What’s challenging for us is to remember that God’s promises never return void. When all you see is void — it can be a direct challenge to your faith. We’re reminded of Abraham. I hope I don’t have to wait 35+ years (lol), but we trust in God’s promise to have a family. We can’t see it now, but it doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

 

“When all you see is void — it can be a direct challenge to your faith.”

– Pastor Ken Hester

 

RF: How do you minister to your wife during this challenging season?

KH: Supporting my wife in the small things makes the difference. It’s not only about extravagant gifts. It’s praying for my wife when she’s not aware I’m doing so. Doing little things around the house that relieve pressure. When we are battling, we are in this together. My wife’s not battling infertility – we are battling infertility. It’s a team effort. We are in this together.

 

RF: In the midst of your own challenge and the challenges your church faces everyday, how do you encourage them not to get discouraged when promises come to pass in someone else’s life but you’re still waiting?

KH: I’m always reminded of Pastor Steven’s (Furtick) words: “Don’t compare your behind-the-scenes to someone else’s highlight reel!” The highlight reel is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Periscope, etc. But, what are others struggling with that they don’t want you to see? They may have a child, or a spouse, or blessed with a job that you think that you want, but they also have behind-the-scenes. They just haven’t told you about it. If you were to go through my social media platform, you would not know the struggles. Even on a campus level — people see the moments, but not the struggles. It’s death by comparison. Don’t be discouraged by a post that doesn’t tell the whole story. If someone receives a blessing, celebrate it! It’s their blessing, not yours. The comparison game is a slippery slope. Focus on what gives you joy and write them out. You’ll be surprised — you have more joys than struggles. We tend to focus more on the struggles than the joys.

 

“Don’t compare your behind-the-scenes to someone else’s highlight reel.”

– Pastor Steven Furtick (quoted by Pastor Ken Hester)

 

RF: What brings you joy being a part of Elevation Church family?

KH: I want to thank Pastor Steven for the opportunity to serve. I appreciate the passion and consistency in pursuing the vision of people far away from God being raised to life in Christ! Pastor Steven has shared with all the campus pastors that this is not his vision, but our vision. As the Gaston campus, it is Elevation but its own feel and identity. It is a joy to see the growth and the love of God shared throughout all the campuses.

 

RF: Where do you see your campus going in a year?

KH: We’re believing God for 3,000 people. Right now, we are averaging 1,100. If God did it once, He can do it again. If I see in Acts 2:41, it can happen now. It is not out of the realm of God’s perspective. It will take work, prep, innovation, creativity, people and prayer. I want our campus to align with God’s will in every way.

 

“If God can do it before, He can do it again!”

– Pastor Ken Hester

 

RF: Last question Ken. If you could talk to younger Ken, what would you say?

KH: I would probably say — don’t make too many plans for yourself because God will change them. I went to school to be a basketball coach. I was one. I won 5 championships. I was successful (or what I thought was successful). As I look back, I learned so much in coaching that informs how I pastor and serve people. I think I would be a bit more generic and leave room for God to change my plans. Let God change your plans! I was stubborn especially since I was up for an Athletic Coordinator job. But, they went in another direction. Three days later, I received a notification from the Senior Pastor of my church inviting me to be the College Pastor. The rest is history. Let God change your plans. It’s my prayer that sharing the struggles helps others see that God has a plan for your life and He will accomplish it through you.

 

ABOUT KEN

Ken Hester is the campus pastor at Elevation Church Gaston. An innovative and proven leader, Pastor Ken leads along with a team of devoted Christ-followers at Elevation Gaston to see people far away from God being raised to life in Christ. Ken studied Sports Administration from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. He is married to the love of his life, Ashley Hester.

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