Last week, in a county board of education meeting in Tennessee, the board voted to require masks for students, staff, and visitors in elementary school buildings and on all school buses. The vote came after a contentious 4-hour meeting that was frequently interrupted by anti-mask residents who were in attendance.
The tension of the meeting spilled out into the parking lot. Two men, who were among the anti-mask contingent, directly threatened a doctor who testified in favor of the mandate. As the doctor was getting into his car, a man yelled, “We know who you are, and we know where to find you!”
Another man yelled, “You will never be allowed in public again!”
Leading in the Midst of Crisis
I don’t know about you, but such events are unthinkable to me. Frankly, they are disturbing and disgusting. I’m not questioning the right or opportunity to express opinions, but I am questioning the actions of threatening, blaming, and shaming.
As I read that report, I began to think of you as a leader. How do you speak up and lead when you know the people entrusted to your care are conflicted in their thinking, angry in their speaking, and threatening in their actions? Too often the reaction to mask mandates and vaccines pushes aside public health and human dignity. When there is an opportunity to think of others and to respond with care and compassion, the reaction is self-focused and filled with rage and intimidation. So, how do you lead in the midst of a crisis?
A Good Word
I don’t know how many churches there are in the Columbus metro area, but I do know there are over 200 United Methodist congregations in the Capitol Area Districts. I also know that the people entrusted to your care wait in anticipation for a good word from you. Although the event referenced above was in Tennessee, you lead and serve people, in your central Ohio communities, who have similar feelings and opinions regarding masks, vaccines, and personal rights.
How do you lead courageously in the midst of a crisis?
1. Remember who you are and why you do what you do.
You are a child of God, and you have the opportunity to let people experience God’s love and care in and through you. Your identity is shaped by who God is and not by your preferences. So, regardless of your personal feelings about masks, vaccines, and personal rights, you are thinking of what is best for the people around you, recognizing their potential, and assisting them to live into being who God has created them to be.
As a courageous leader, who is a Jesus follower, your leadership is characterized more in the fruit you produce than in your opinions. So, your life is not characterized as much by whether you agree or disagree with masks and vaccinations as it is by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23).
With that in mind, it matters where you start. You are a Jesus follower. Start there. You are a leader within a community of Jesus followers. Help people start with Jesus. This will take courage because some people will want to start thinking of themselves as “American” or “free” or “white” or “Republican” or “Democrat.”
Starting anywhere other than Jesus separates us from one another. Starting anywhere other than Jesus, people perceive that their sense of self is being threatened. They feel insecure, powerless, and out of control. Sometimes people feel they must defend themselves and protect their rights. At other times, people are not thinking in terms of relationships or character. Care and forgiveness are nowhere to be found. Remember who you are and why you do what you do because who you are is how you lead!
2. Be a peacemaker.
As a Jesus follower, you are identified as a child of God by your peacemaking. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9). It is not always convenient to stand firm in faith. Courageous leaders face their fears, trusting and risking vulnerability because they know who they are.
Too often leaders think that keeping the peace is more important than making peace. Keeping peace often comes with keeping silent. If you don’t speak up, then you are keeping things peaceful.
It is difficult to speak up when you know that most of the people around you are going the other way. But if you stand in fear and react out of emotion, you give power to what is not real and to what is not true. At any given time, people react out of fear. At such times, silence is not an option.
It is easy to give in to your thoughts and feelings of uncertainty. But courageous leaders look beyond the immediate situation and circumstances. Things are not right with the world. What we are experiencing is more than differences in opinion, lack of knowledge, or poor communication. It cannot be explained away as someone’s likes and dislikes. The struggle is real and dangerous.
At times like these, people are looking for a peacemaker, someone who leads with trust and confidence. They are looking for someone who can offer hope, not as wishful thinking, but as God’s preferred future of shalom. So, raise your voice and speak clearly.
- Wear a mask – For your own health and out of care and compassion for others
- Get vaccinated – For your own health and the well-being of others
- Your right as a Jesus follower is to love others. Insisting on your own rights negates the love you have received in and through Jesus.
Be a peacemaker. Being a living child of God is not easy, but people will recognize and experience God’s love in and through you. Who you are is how you lead!
3. Be the leader needed for this time.
You were created to lead at this time in history. You have been gifted with the strengths and abilities to lead courageously and effectively. To be the leader you have been created to be, you will need to join hands, if not hearts, with people with whom you may not associate, agree, or understand. Model for your community and the world God’s design for all creation. Uncertainty and confusion can seem overpowering. Yet, God’s plan for creation is to bring order out of chaos.
It is not easy, but when you know who you are and why you do what you do, you can step up and lead with courage in troubled and uncertain times.
Here are a few things to remember:
- Do to others what you would have them do to you (Luke 6:31)
- Love one another…By this everyone will know that you are my disciples. (John 13:34)
- Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 5:32).
- Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility regard others as more important than yourselves (Philippians 2:3)
- Love is patient, love is kind. It is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on getting its own way. It does not dishonor others. It is not easily angered or resentful and keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not celebrate wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (I Corinthians 13:4-7)
- Don’t let any foul words come out of your mouth. Only say what is helpful when it is needed for building up the community so that it benefits those who hear what you say (Ephesians 4:29)
- Be imitators of God as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us (Ephesians 5:1-2)
- Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. . . so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm (Ephesians 6:10-12)
When you come to the end of the day “having done everything” you can, stand firm, because you know that in the midst of all the confusion there is the presence of God. You have been created to lead for this moment. In whatever you face, you are standing firm on the promise, power, and victory of the Risen Christ. Thanks be to God!
You can make a difference. You and I know that we can’t do it alone and God is not going to do it for us. But you can be the leader needed in the midst of crisis when you open the door and invite God through Christ to enter in. To you, who has been created to lead at the time, the invitation remains, “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come to you and eat with you, and you with me.” (Revelation 3:20).
In the midst of crisis, be the leader God has created you to be. This week, how will you model the love you have experienced in Jesus? In what situation or circumstance will you step up and lead with courage and grace? Remember, who you are is how you lead.
Let me remind you that Karen Cook, Sara Thomas, and I are with you on your leadership journey. When we can be of encouragement or help, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We are ready to assist you with insights and resources in becoming a courageous leader.
This week, check out LeaderCast. Sara Thomas and I have a conversation about Doing Hard Things. Listen to Episode 192 here. To become a regular LeaderCast listener, subscribe and receive a new episode each week as well as catch up on past episodes. LeaderCast is one resource you will want to have as you navigate the leadership challenges of 2021.
Who you are is how you lead.