Writing for our ministry family in these times reminds me of the book of James which addresses the Twelve Tribes dispersed abroad. Even though we may be relatively close in comparison to those Twelve Tribes, I think we all are recognizing the disconnection that sheltering in place brings and feeling as though we’ve been dispersed to the edges of the world.
James goes on to write to the faithful followers of Jesus, “consider it all joy when you encounter various trials knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance, and let endurance have its perfect result that you might be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:1-4)
These days I am spending more time than usual reading articles about change, the ‘new normal’, and how to make the most of the opportunities around us. The one topic that has caught my attention more than the rest is leadership in times of crisis. Not so much for the how-to’s of leadership, but rather the symptomatic recommendations being prescribed to help leaders ‘cope with’ or, ‘get through’ these challenging times. The most immediately insightful – yet presently unhelpful – thing I read was, “Leaders are made for times of crisis or chaos.” I liked this because it identifies a key attribute or expectation of leadership: to be prepared for difficult times. The unhelpful part is that leadership in times of crisis is not a skill you can put on like a raincoat when it rains. Rather, leadership is a wardrobe purchased over time with something for all seasons.
In this time of crisis the world needs people who have clarity in the midst of confusion, who have peace under pressure, and who can provide direction in the distress.
Leaders, like disciples, are formed over time but proved in a moment. Leaders are formed by the intentional practices, priorities, and lifestyle choices they make every day, but the effectiveness of a leader, like a disciple, is made perfectly clear when crisis arises. If you ever felt guilty about spending time reading, studying, or caring for yourself with rhythms of rest and exercise while there were other things going undone, it was for this moment. When we live into our values, share our lives, and move the mission forward with others, that is when we are leading. We lead by example and we lead through our actions. But when it is most important, when times of crisis come, the capacity of our leadership is revealed.
In this time of crisis the world needs people who have clarity in the midst of confusion, who have peace under pressure, and who can provide direction in the distress. James reminds us that we should lead from a posture of joy knowing that stress and trials of various kinds are to be expected, and if we have the vision to see the end from the beginning we know with confidence that God will work in the midst of it all and even make us stronger for the experience. It may be hard to hear this in the midst of it, but it’s true: Take courage. Help is on the way and hope is at hand.
So what should I do right now? James outlines a few things to keep in mind when tough times try us. Do you need wisdom? Ask of God for wisdom with confident, single-minded faith knowing God is faithful to answer and provide. The Holy Spirit will give us what we need to navigate this season both practically and for the soothing of our spirit. Persevere. Remember, we are in this for the long haul. We are not looking to escape from pain, inconvenience, or trials of faith. We are a people called to incarnate the living God. We are the people who help, who love, who care, who advocate, who stand in the gaps created by circumstance or injustice. We are a people who labor together. Implicit in James’ instructions is the understanding of the community of faith who together, with humility before God and others, have the ability to meet the needs of those around us.
Leaders are formed by the intentional practices, priorities, and lifestyle choices they make every day, but the effectiveness of a leader, like a disciple, is made perfectly clear when crisis arises.
For those of you who are leading those around you (whether it is your family, neighbors, employees, or a congregation) and have been preparing for this moment in your everyday choices, well done. We see you. We affirm you, and we bless you. For those who are finding yourself ill prepared for the crisis at hand – looking for a raincoat in the rain – take courage, you’re not alone. I think of the old saying that the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, but the next best time to plant a tree is today. We are a community of faith who is committed to work together for the health and wholeness of our leaders and people to the end. We are with you. We are for you, and the bravest and wisest thing you can do is ask for help and not go it alone.