We’re stuck in a polarization spiral right now. It’s some twisted cultural carnival ride we can’t get off, and our politics and arguments have the world spinning with centrifugal force pressing people harder to extremes, backs stuck to the wall. I understand why friends in ministry have stepped out or are on the verge of calling it quits. It feels like we’ve entered the demented tunnel at the Wonka Factory and everyone wants off the ride, but the rowers keep on rowing and they’re certainly not showing any sign that they are slowing . . ..
That’s what Wonka yelled. And that may be the best thing pastors and leaders can do. How do we sift through the daily outrage and begin to see beyond it, while leading others to do so as well? Here are six things to remember to help you lead through crisis.
1. You’re not an expert on everything. It’s amazing to watch people become experts on constitutional law, religious freedom in secular nation-states, epidemiology, and obscure theological disputes. And it’s crippling for pastors to feel the pressure to always say the right thing at the right moment about every issue. You can’t do it, or at least you ought not to try. One of the fastest pathways to burnout or disqualification is to try to become God yourself, knowing all things, rather than walking in the humility that admits your limits.
2. You’re responsible to know something about many things. Conversely, you do have a responsibility to meet people where they are. Preaching, pastoral leadership, and theology are never disembodied. We serve real people in real time, and we preach a real Savior who entered into both. God is not distant and his Word is living and active, with something to say to our hearts in every moment and circumstance. This is what gets missed so often in calls to “just preach the gospel,” as if the Spirit won’t empower us to apply that gospel to the issues on the hearts and minds of all to whom we preach. You don’t have to chase the news cycle, but you should have something to say about real life with consistency and regularity.It’s crippling for pastors to feel the pressure to always say the right thing at the right moment about every issue. Click To Tweet
3. Poke holes in the tunnel. Crisis makes us feel like we’re in Wonka’s tunnel—out of control with no vision for where things are heading. If Jesus is the light of the world whom darkness cannot overcome (and he is!), then we must shine that light into the darkness of every moment. Exposing polarized narratives for their oversimplification and limitations can help poke holes in the tunnel of crisis to allow the light of truth to illuminate deeper realities so we can see the way forward.
4. Understand a prophet’s role. Everyone loves a prophetic voice when it speaks up for issues they’re passionate about and takes their preferred side. Beware the temptation to cater to your church too much. It’s easy and can bring much affirmation and praise for your leadership. But a look at prophets throughout Scripture shows a different story. The primary function we see prophets fulfill is to address issues within God’s people, calling them to confess sin, repent, and turn to God. This kind of gospel preaching will be much more difficult—but far more fruitful—as the Spirit brings conviction that leads to life and healing.
5. Strive to be a peacemaker. Prophets and peacemakers may be separate gift mixes, but both are essential. Keeping the peace is foreign to our calling. However, the right timing and measure of a prophetic outcry can lead the way to healing and unity in profound ways. Keeping the peace stays vague, aloof, and ambiguous, catering to people’s preferences. Making peace takes clarity, proximity to people, and specificity to speak into issues.The more chaotic the world around us gets, the more we will do well to focus our work locally, with the people and church we’re called to serve. Click To Tweet
6. Choose the lesser place. As Francis Schaeffer said, all of us—pastors, teachers, professional religious workers and nonprofessionals included—are tempted to say, “I will take the larger place because it will give me more influence for Jesus Christ.” Both individual Christians and Christian organizations fall prey to the temptation of rationalizing this way as we build bigger and bigger empires. But according to Scripture, this is backward—we should consciously take the lowest place unless God extrudes us into a greater one. If we lose the space to be still and quiet before God, we lose our qualification to lead God’s people.
In all of this, don’t lose sight of the reality that you cannot be everywhere, know everything, and speak into all things all the time. Silence over time may indicate complicity, ignorance, or a deep-seated fear to address issues. Silence for a time could be a great mark of wisdom, though. As James said, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19).
The more chaotic the world around us gets, the more we will do well to focus our work locally, with the people and church we’re called to serve. We must not duck addressing the broader issues and narratives of our time, but we also have nothing to fear. God has entrusted this moment to us, and none of it is by accident (Acts 17:26). Crisis comes for us all, so let’s be ready to lead well through it for the good of our churches and the glory of God.