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Leading in Crisis

Lessons for leading God's way

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“ . . . Be still, and know that I am God . . . ” (Ps. 46:10a).

These days, God has taken away the illusion of control that is so embedded in all of us. And we are eagerly trying to get it back, even if it is for as honorable an intention as ministry.

We can’t stay still. Even in the stillness, we seem unable to stop moving. Our fear keeps pushing us into frivolous efforts to gain some measure of control. The false self, which is nothing but the masks we use in our futile attempts to save ourselves, blossoms whenever we are overcome by stress or danger. In other words, whenever we feel threatened, we switch to protection mode—talking a lot, moving a lot, eating a lot, working excessively, worrying like crazy, being too critical, and projecting a knowing-it-all posture.

Don’t get me wrong—we are always trying to save ourselves. The only difference is that in a crisis, the false self is on steroids. And trust me, you don’t want that. Sadly, we tend to underestimate God’s aim in calling us to be still during a crisis—many times resigning to the crisis as a temporal inconvenience to be endured and not as a potential means to a profitable end.

Every crisis exposes our human condition: hurries, fears, bondages, insecurities, unhappiness, loneliness, and so much more. We can’t stand silence, so we embrace noise. We don’t know how to be alone, but it doesn’t translate into mastering community. And because we don’t manage the former, we ruin any attempt at the latter. So it is with silence—because we avoid it, we normally don’t know what, when, nor how to speak.

Those who lead—in any capacity—tend to think in terms of the “task at hand” and sometimes pay little attention to the “hand in the task,” meaning to their own persons. Attending to his (or her) own inner world must come first—both for doing things right and for doing the right things; especially because doing the right thing will sometimes mean disappointing others.

Of Disappointments and Efficiency

It could come as a surprise that leadership has a lot to do with disappointing others, especially other leaders. In Mark 1:36–39, Jesus disappoints a multitude that was looking for Him because He knew very well what He should be about. He never led by surveys nor by any external pressure but by real intimacy with His Father. The verse immediately before states, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35).

In Matthew 26:6–11, Jesus disappoints His own disciples when they scold a woman for doing something He considered worthy of praise. In fact, a certain self-evident pattern emerges in the gospels: Jesus teaches a lot of His lessons by disappointing his followers.

You have to be made of a certain material to lead that way and to make disciples that way—seeing and doing what others won’t, sometimes when they least expect it. I suggest [Jesus’ leadership pattern] has a lot to do with His intentionality to practice stillness in fellowship with God.

When the Spirit led Jesus to His own quarantine in the desert, He willingly left the world without the benefits of having Him on duty. And He did it precisely out of His love for the world. Christian leaders of all kinds need to operate from a solid center, free from others’ opinions and from the fear of men. Sometimes the best leaders will stand all alone, even if surrounded by people, because they think differently from the rest. That’s what makes them leaders—or, better said, why God made them leaders.

I once heard that crisis gives you clarity. After going through several crises myself, I can affirm that truth. Let me share some lessons I’ve learned about leading during crisis that all those crises have helped me see more clearly in my stillness.

Lessons in Leading During a Crisis

  • If you allow Him, God will lead the way!
  • Don’t fall into the lie that you have to save the day! Be gospel minded and let God do for you what you can’t do for yourself.
  • Don’t buy into a worst-case scenario mindset; hopefully we are going to get to the other side with more rather than less!
  • We can do a lot without a church building.
  • We can use our budgets a lot better.
  • People grow in the desert; let them experience it!
  • Discipleship is best suited for real life; let’s meet people there!
  • Money is not as essential as we thought. We may not have much of it, but we have what is most needed.
  • Expect new talent to get into the game.
  • People will show more openness to change than you think.
  • Those far from God starve for hope and reach out.
  • Team leadership gets the attention it deserves and becomes highly valued.
  • Periodically ask yourself, “What’s mission critical?”

I have also learned a thing or two about myself:

  • In a crisis, my false self keeps telling me I have to save the day. But I know very well that when I lead from fear things tend to get ugly. And the truth is, people don’t need me as much as my false self keeps telling me they do. They need God!
  • I shall prioritize my time with God. I’m not taking anything away from people when I step back and stay still. I don’t feel guilty for not producing all the time.
  • I need to keep preaching the gospel to myself. In a crisis, your soul can get really loud. Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones said you shouldn’t let your soul preach to yourself; rather you need to preach to your own soul. In Psalm 11, David can hear his own soul saying to him, You shall flee to the mountains; you can’t do anything about this crisis; you won’t even see the arrow that’s about to hit you coming. Be afraid, David. I love that David says, Wait a minute, I hear you—BUT GOD is in His holy temple. Nowadays, BUT GOD has become my logo. So, I keep preaching to my soul, instead of the other way around.
  • I need to be vulnerable and real. Walter Bruggemann introduced me to what he calls Psalms of Disorientation. In a crisis, I immerse myself in those psalms because they provide language for my disorientation. For example, Psalm 13 helps me to ask the hard questions. There are no shortcuts to the struggle of being alive and becoming my true self—and asking questions is a big part of that process.

So it’s OK (and necessary) to say things like, “God, it hurts!” “God, I don’t get it!” “How long, Lord?” It doesn’t mean God will answer those questions on our terms—I promise you He won’t. Nevertheless, He will show up—not to give us an answer to our questions but, like in Job’s case, to give us a surprise! One that will surely make us worship, entirely satisfied just with His presence!

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