4 Essentials for Leading through Challenging Times

CTA - Christ to All /Aug. 24, 2020
4 Essentials for Leading through Challenging Times

By Jane L. Fryar

Leadership is never easy. Leadership grows harder in times of uncertainty. And we are certainly living in uncertain times! In times like these, it can be helpful to go back to the basics, back to principles that serve leaders well in good times and in bad. Here are four that I find personally helpful:

  • Stay confident.
  • Stay honest.
  • Stay connected.
  • Stay future-focused.

 

Stay confident. Followers take their cues from us. They decide how to act and even how to feel, as they watch us. The confident hope of Christian leaders is not fake. It’s not “putting on a brave face.” Instead, it comes from the promises of God himself, promises like this:

Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.

Isaiah 43:1

We can trust our Lord because he is trustworthy! We have seen our Savior hang and bleed, suffer and die on Calvary’s cross. He has redeemed us. He is the Good Shepherd who calls us, individually, by name. He claims us as his very own, despite our fears, our failures, our sins. Nothing can snatch us out of his hands—hands that still bear the nail scars. We can trust a Savior who has done all that for us!

The confidence God gives us makes it possible for us to fame the flame of hope in the hearts of those who follow us.

Stay honest. Followers know when their leaders are blowing smoke. Refusing to face facts does not build trust. We need to be honest about both personal and organizational challenges. Remember, though, that catastrophizing helps nothing and encourages no one. In one of the Bible’s most comforting passages, the Lord lays out some of life’s most uncomfortable facts:

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.

Isaiah 43:2

There will be floods—floods of emotion, floods of trauma, pain, and even death. There will be fire—the fires of earthly loss, of dreams destroyed, of temptations to fear and doubt.

But look back at the passage, noting that little word “through.” God’s people will face floods and fire in this life, but we are going through! How do we know? Because we have our heavenly Father’s word on it:

For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

Isaiah 43:3

It’s as though the Holy God himself raises his right hand and swears to the truth of his promise. “I AM,” he says, echoing his vow to Moses at the burning bush. “I am the LORD your God,” he exclaims, calling forth the faith he has placed in our hearts. “I am your Savior!” he reminds us.

Christian leaders acknowledge the floods. We face the flames. We deal with the facts. But all the while, we remind ourselves (and our followers) that we are going through!

 

Stay connected. As church members obey stay-at-home orders, it’s easy for them to begin to feel disconnected. As leaders, we want our followers to stay safe and, frankly, we want to stay safe ourselves. Still, relationships of trust between leaders and followers deteriorate quickly in the absence of touchpoints, of communication.

Ask any organizational consultant, “lack of communication” shows up in the list of “the top five problems” in nearly every church, business, or government organization. Any organization with more than one member needs to pay more attention to communication!

That’s why leaders find ways to stay in touch:

  • Send a weekly email, inviting everyone to “reply all” in answer to questions like, “How are you doing—really?” Or “What one gift from God brought you joy this week?” Or “What Scripture verse have you found really comforting during the past month?”
  • Phone people. Have an unhurried conversation. Listen five minutes for every minute you talk.
  • Set up small-group meetings online.
  • Go really old school. Mail handwritten notes, thanking followers for their service and promising to pray for them.

While you’re doing all this, don’t ignore your own need for connection. Who is supporting you, encouraging you? Whose listening ear are you bending? If you are married, your spouse is perhaps a logical choice. However, no matter how strong and understanding that person may be, no one individual can provide the broader perspectives and the daily inspiration you are likely to need over the long haul.

Above all, of course, Christian leaders want to stay connected to the Lord as we pray, not just for our churches, teams, and committees, but also for ourselves and our families. Check out Psalms 62:8; 86:7; and 91:15. Mediate on Isaiah 65:24; Jeremiah 33:3; and 1 John 5:14. The Lord will listen! He will hear! He will help!

Stay future-focused. The past is gone. There are no do-overs. If we have sinned, we know we can take those sins to the cross and walk away forgiven. Once we’ve done that, we need to step forward in faith, not looking back.

Later in Isaiah 43—the passage with which I began—the Lord reminds us that he is the one who “will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (v. 19). God’s mercies are “new every morning” (Lamentations 3:23). So seize the day—every day—in confident hope!

Keep thinking forward. You know what God has done in the past. What is he doing right now? Where is he at work? How could you and your group have a part in that?

You are welcome to copy this article for one-time use when you include this credit line and receive no monetary benefit from it: © 2020 CTA, Inc. Used with permission.

Editor’s note:

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