Leading through the COVID pandemic has been exhausting and emotionally draining. It seems that no matter what you say or how you lead, someone is unhappy and feels the need to make it known. Whether it be with wearing a mask or being vaccinated, it has been difficult to stay the course and be focused in the midst of the continual pushback.
Leadership has become more of a burden than an opportunity when you add a divisive political climate, racial unrest, and uncertainty of the church to the pandemic. It has become difficult to lead with confidence and courage when you feel the ground is moving and you don’t have a firm place to stand.
The Complexity of Humanity
I get it. When I was in my early teens, a very important person in the community, a church member, was arrested on drug charges. His arrest was part of the headlines of the local newspaper.
The Sunday after his arrest, I was sitting with my grandmother in the sanctuary before worship. I listened as she and her friends discussed the man arrested. I heard two different reactions to the event.
One person said “I simply don’t believe it. He and his family have been a part of this church for years. He has served in Viet Nam and become a leader in the community. I think this is a mistake. He is a good man.” Another person said, “I wasn’t surprised at all when I read the paper yesterday. I never have trusted him. There is something about him that has always made me suspicious.”
I remember being confused by the differing reactions. I know now that I was learning how complex the human decision-making process can be. Obviously, there was more involved than just an objective response to facts.
Before the man was ever accused of anything, people had already formed certain impressions of him. Those assumptions explained why one person could look at the situation and say, “I don’t believe it; there must be a mistake,” while another person could look at the same set of facts and say “I’m not surprised at all. I never have trusted him.”
Assumptions are important when it comes to how we deal with the facts in the world around us. We human beings are not purely rational, objective creatures. We see the world through our assumptions. That is why I say, “it matters where you start.”
You are influenced by your assumptions about God and your assumptions about the people entrusted to your care. It is not simply about what God does or does not do, but whether your starting point is one of trust or mistrust. Your assumptions make all the difference in your leadership.
Where You Begin Matters
If our assumptions are so influential in shaping our decision-making, how do we go about forming our assumptions? According to the scripture, this is the place where our trouble begins. We human beings do not take the task of assumption building seriously enough. The question is, do we base our assumptions on solid evidence or arbitrary hearsay?
In the third chapter of Genesis, we get a description of how the first mistrust of God came to exist. It is an example of careless, irrational assumption building. Out of the joy of God’s own aliveness, God decided to create the world. There were no ulterior motives. God was not trying to get something for himself. Rather God was trying to give something of himself. God wanted to widen the circle of joy.
To set this into motion, God proceeded to show the man and the woman how things were meant to work. They were free to eat from all the trees of the Garden except one, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The fruit of the tree was poisonous to their systems. It was placed there to serve a religious reason rather than a nutritional one. God saw that the whole mechanism looked good.
Then out of nowhere, a snake moved into the picture and began to ask questions. He asked the woman, “Did God put you in this beautiful place and then prohibit you from eating this fruit?” She responded quickly to the gross overstatement, “Oh no, we can eat everything in the garden except that tree in the center. God said it would be poisonous to us.”
The snake shook his head and said, “The old scoundrel is threatened by you. God knows that if you eat the fruit, you will be just like God. You were created to build up God’s own ego. Holding you down builds God up. If you know what is good for you, you will call God’s bluff. You will eat the fruit and take over this place.”
The accusation of the snake put creation in a totally different perspective. Up to this point, there was no indication that suspicion of any kind had entered the minds of the man and woman. More importantly, there was not one shred of evidence for such an attitude of distrust. Nothing God had done would have given the humans reason to believe the serpent’s accusations.
Without checking things out or going to the source and trying to get to the bottom of the situation, the first man and woman carelessly bought into the unfounded suspicion raised by the snake. For no good reason, they embraced the rumor and began to act as if it contained the truth about God. That incredible carelessness has had devastating results.
A New Perspective
So, imagine that I am sick, and I am caring for myself with old prescriptions. I get sicker and sicker until I call my trusted primary care physician. Suppose she comes by my house to check out my illness. I show her the medicine I have been taking, and she says, “This is the worst possible stuff for your problem. Put it away and start taking this prescription. In a matter of hours, you will start feeling better.” And she writes out a prescription.
When my trusted physician leaves, suppose a plumber who has been working to unclog my sink comes out and says, “I overheard that conversation. Did that doctor tell you to quit taking your old medicine and start taking some of this new stuff? Those doctors. The problem is your old medicine was paid for and there is no profit in it for her. The only reason she is giving you this new prescription is to make a little money on the side. You can’t trust doctors these days. If you know what is good for you, you will stick with the medicine you have and forget all about that new prescription.”
Now, what would you think of me if I bought into that kind of mistrust? You would say I was crazy to take the word of a plumber over the word of my physician when it comes to medicine.
Yet, according to Genesis, this is exactly what our forebears did back in the beginning. They took the word of a snake over the word of their Creator when it came to interpreting life. They uncritically accepted a negative image of God that had no basis in fact and began to build their assumptions with mistrust. Thinking the world was a conspiracy rather than a creation and God a foe rather than a father, the humans proceeded to take life apart and put it together in ways that did not work. They drank the poison and got sick, just as they had been warned, and all of creation proceeded to degenerate into chaos.
Careless or Care Full?
That is how God’s bad reputation got started. With a flimsy accusation and some careless assumptions, centered in mistrust.
Now, how has God responded to this carelessness? Did God get defensive and strike back in anger? No. According to the scripture, God’s response was, “God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all” (Romans 8:32).
Jesus Sets Things Right
John Killinger put it this way, “Jesus is God’s way of getting rid of a bad reputation.” Overall the confusion and suspicion that has been generated by the conspiracy theories, God sent Jesus so that people could see what God looked like. In other words, in Jesus, you can see and experience that God believes in you. The question is, “Can you trust a God like that?” Is the one Jesus portraying a sadist, trying to hold people down and dehumanize them, or a joyful Creator who all along has had nothing but good in mind?
Jesus is God’s attempt to set right what has gone wrong. This is why Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself” (II Corinthians 5:19). Jesus is God’s way of reaching all the way down to our assumption level and showing us that, from the Garden until today, we have been mistaken about who God is and what God wants to do with us.
It Matters Where You Start
You are leading in a time of mistrust and suspicion. In a time when some people want to take the word of social media over the fact of science. When others want to create anxiety over a healthy vaccine yet put their lives in jeopardy with a horse dewormer. You are leading in a time of inconsistencies when people say they have a right to make decisions about their own bodies by not wearing masks yet want to take that same right away from women when it comes to their own bodies. How do you lead courageously in the midst of such mistrust, suspicion, and confusion?
It matters where you start. As you know, going toe-to-toe, arguing your point does not work, much less bring peace. So where to you start? Start by taking the action of God seriously enough to build your assumptions upon it. Allow the image of Jesus to penetrate down to the level of your assumptions, and love the people, regardless of their point of view, the way you have been loved.
- Based upon this action of God, my assumptions are:
- You are a beloved daughter and son of God. God has chosen you, given you a name, and loved you from the beginning.
- You have been called a lead in this time in history. God created you to live and lead in this time.
- You have been gifted to face the cynicism and conspiracies of today. It is never easy to stand up and speak when the vote is going the other way, but you are not alone. God is with you, for you, and works for your good.
God believes in you.
Because who you are is how you lead, what one thing will you do this week to show the people entrusted to your care that God believes in them? Remember, it matters where you start. Why not start with the fact that they are beloved children of God and gifted for love and service for this very time in history?
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 Leadership as Service. Listen to Episode 194 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.