Shepherding Leadership in Turbulent Times
Almost every Christian leader I’ve talked to over the last two years has confessed to me the struggle of leading in this turbulent age. Partisan divides have always marked the American experience, but in recent years, the easy reach of social media, polarizing politicians, and an increasingly hostile culture have created new fault lines and a resorting of political and cultural tribes.
I’ve had my own share of difficult experiences, lost friendships, and public controversies. And yet I still firmly believe God has made us for this moment.
If we are indeed Christian leaders and not merely people with titles and offices, then it’s incumbent on us to both understand the times and carry ourselves with godly confidence in the power of God to move among his people for his glory.
Four C’s for Leading Today
So what does it look like to lead in 2022? I think there are four important traits for those entrusted with the care of God’s people:
The best leaders in this age are shepherds who wisely navigate conflict...
- Leaders must lead counterculturally. We should not give up on building bridges to those who disagree with us politically. We should not abandon persuasion. Yet, we must understand that increasingly the mission of Christian organizations will, at various points, conflict with the prevailing social ethos. Leaders have a choice. They can abandon historic, biblical orthodoxy to accommodate the times or they can lead with both courage and civility, allowing their organizations to point the world to a strange gospel that offers a better story. We shouldn’t go out of our way to offend. We should love those who disagree with us. And yet, we shouldn’t be surprised when the words of Jesus that were controversial in the first century are controversial in the 21st.
- Leaders must lead with clarity. Those who are entrusted to your care deserve to know exactly where your organization is going. Muddled missions and obscure communication lead to organizational inefficiency and confusion. It is especially important to be clear in an age when it is so easy to be misunderstood, even and perhaps especially by fellow Christians. Leaders have to be keenly aware, not just of what they are saying, but how they are being heard both by their team, by their constituents, and by those who observe. Successful organizational cultures move forward with purpose and vision, undaunted from their God-given task.
- Leaders must lead toward community. The Christian community is sadly, like the rest of America, sorting and dividing into narrower and narrower tribes, based not on shared values but shared enemies. The Church needs statesmen who understand the issues worth fighting for and places where God’s people can agree to disagree. We need bridge-builders, willing to fight for the sacred truths passed down through the ages and willing to fight for the unity of God’s people. The best leaders in this age are shepherds who wisely navigate conflict, avoid unnecessary quarrels, and engage in the fights that really matter.
- Leaders must lead with character. We live in an era of widespread distrust, much of it earned as institutions at all levels have failed us in recent years, from the media to government to church to parachurch. People yearn for authentic and accessible leadership, which is neither self-seeking nor condescending. In an age of scandal, the Christian community needs leaders of character who embody the ancient virtues described in Scripture, particularly the leadership qualifications outlined in places like Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3.
Those who assume the mantle of leadership today are stepping into a challenging assignment. But we should not yield to the cynicism of the age, where people on the left and the right have written off the church.
I believe God is at work in the world today, among his people, to accomplish his purposes.
I believe God is at work in the world today, among his people, to accomplish his purposes. He has not erred in calling us to this time and this era of salvation history. I believe the Spirit is drawing the lost to a saving faith in Jesus. I believe the church is the most important institution in the world. And I believe God is not in heaven wringing his hands over the things that keep us up at night.
So we should not yield to the nostalgia for days past or wish away our context. Instead, we should embrace the calling to live on mission for him today, right here, where we are.
Daniel Darling is the director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement, assistant professor for faith and culture at Southwestern Seminary, and the author of several books, including A Way with Words (B&H Books, Aug. 18, 2020), The Characters of Christmas (Moody Publishers, Oct. 1, 2019), and The Dignity Revolution (The Good Book Company, Aug. 14, 2018).
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