By Kent Annan & Jamie Aten
Christian leaders seek to pattern our lives after Jesus—in our homes, at our jobs, in the grocery store, and in our communities.
In our cultural moment wrought with crises, we’re faced with a new question: What does it look like to lead well in peculiar and difficult circumstances?
Here are leadership lessons to encourage and help you as a Christian leader to navigate the seemingly insurmountable obstacles facing the church and society.
1. Submit to God’s Calling
The choices you’ll make as a leader during these days, weeks, and months may not make everyone around you happy.
When Peter and John were brought before the Sanhedrin to be bullied into silence, they answered, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him?” (Acts 4:19). Submit to the voice of the One who is above all others.
In response to the “Father of compassion and the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3), who we’ve known to be extremely gracious, the church’s response to COVID-19 is a moment to honor God and serve God’s kingdom.
This time is an opportunity: to submit to God in all things, with confidence that God continues to redeem the world, the church, and each of us in new ways.
How hopeful that in challenging times we can seek to submit to the God who redeems as we cling to what is most essential: the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
2. Keep Going
As we face new challenges during this COVID-19 season, you’ll likely hit a wall of exhaustion or discouragement many times.
When the apostle Paul was persecuted for sharing the good news of the gospel—threatened even with death—he was relentless in his mission, announcing, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (Acts 4:16).
When it’s difficult, keep going.
But also remember that even as your church and community needs you now, they’re going to need you even more later.
This is why it’s so important for you as a leader to remain committed to staying spiritually and emotionally grounded in God, in whom we live and move and have our being.
This is possible through regular rhythms of spiritual discipline like sabbath, prayer, and time in Scripture.
In all things, press forward with faith in our refuge and strength, the triune God of grace who can, in this moment and all others, be trusted.
3. Speak Truth
During challenging times, the world needs leaders who will “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Seek God’s wisdom and then be faithful to speak out for what is most just.
In a climate of fear and misinformation, Christians must stay committed to acquiring and sharing the best information available.
Citizens must also commit to working for the wellbeing of our communities and supporting those on the front lines.
Right now, the frontlines include scientists who are working to understand COVID-19, to prevent its spread, and to find a vaccine.
We should reject the kind of political partisanship that divides and puts people at unnecessary risk for political reasons.
We’re called to love God and love our neighbor. This always demands wisdom. During a crisis, wisdom to guide our love is as important as ever.
3. Focus Attention on People Who Are Most Vulnerable
Disasters, including a pandemic, both exacerbate and put a spotlight on existing injustices.
We should stay particularly cognizant that the most vulnerable among us are most at risk. Commit to pursuing their wellbeing as we pursue our own.
Specifically, remember those who are hungry, those who are poor, those who face racial injustice, those who are marginalized, those who are elderly, those with disabilities, those who are refugees, those who are immigrants, those who live with financial need, those who are unemployed, those without homes, and other vulnerable people.
As the body of Christ, stay committed to partnering together so the stronger members can help the weaker ones as we seek to continue to lift up what is good and righteous.
God is calling those with needed resources to give faithfully and generously.
By our love, we testify to the gospel of hope for the world through Jesus Christ.
4. Practice the Values You Preach
During this time, live and preach the perfect love which drives out fear. We embrace creative solutions to new problems, confident that God is the author of life.
This moment needs people to put their values into action. Jesus called out the leaders of His day in His story about the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).
As a man who’d been robbed and beaten was bloodied on the side of the road, he was ignored by a priest and a religious teacher.
Refusing to practice what they preached, these leaders failed to embody the greatest commands: loving God and loving one’s neighbors.
There’s no instruction manual for leading in this moment in history. But our work on the ground can be strengthened and informed by faithful Christian leaders who’ve preceded us.
5. Stay in Conversation with Other Leaders
Leadership can be rewarding—and also lonely. During this time, we’ve seen how keeping up with the pace of information while carrying the weight of decisions can be draining.
Research has shown the importance and effectiveness of humble leadership.
Part of this is knowing our own limits. And when we know our limits, we can reach out for support. We can also support others.
Conversations with other leaders is a vital way to give and receive this support. Over the past seven months, we’ve both found sustenance in a series of conversations with other wise, faithful leaders.
We’re continuing that this week with a college president, pastor, and CEO of an international nonprofit. As we continue to move forward into the unknown, we’re grateful we can do this with you and others.
We hope you seek and find the same kind of connections to help sustain you.
KENT ANNAN, M.Div. (@kentannan), is director of Humanitarian & Disaster Leadership at Wheaton College. He is author of Slow Kingdom Coming and After Shock: Searching for Honest Faith When Your World Is Shaken. Follow him online at kentannan.com.
JAMIE ATEN, Ph.D. (@drjamieaten) is founder and executive director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute and Blanchard Chair of Humanitarian & Disaster Leadership at Wheaton College. Follow him online at jamieaten.com.