Leadership

Leading during turbulent times

A crowd pressing up the steps towards the Senate Chamber of the Capitol. Photo by Tyler Merbler at Flickr. 2021.
A crowd pressing up the steps towards the Senate Chamber of the Capitol. Photo by Tyler Merbler at Flickr. 2021.

Lewis Center Director Doug Powe writes that the tragic events of January 6 demand our best leadership. He outlines ways church leaders can respond to the fallout from the ongoing political upheaval.

Most of us were shocked by the events of Wednesday, January 6, 2021. Not in our wildest imaginations did we expect to see the U.S. Capitol building breached. The political fallout ever since has been rapid and constant. In this season when our communities are already beleaguered by the crises of coronavirus, racial tension, and economic distress; and when faith leaders are already overtaxed, it feels like the straw that broke the camel’s back. But leadership is about opportunities, and this tragic event is an opportunity that demands our best leadership.

Words Matter

Barry Black, the chaplain of the Senate, astutely said, “Words matter, and the power of life and death are in the tongue.” As leaders, our words matter in what we say and how we say it. We are called to be honest and to lead individuals toward God’s vision. Being honest does not mean blaming others or pointing fingers. It does mean naming the suffering and fear that occurred and is occurring. Honesty is never easy or convenient but is essential.

Grief, Lament, and Faith

Images of the storming of the U.S. Capitol building will be seared in our collective memories like our memories of 9/11 or the Kennedy assassination. Such dramatic tragedies strip away our sense of security. They undermine our collective confidence in our social order. They create anxiety and fear. Faith leaders have a role to play in lamenting this loss of innocence and helping communities grieve other losses. But most importantly, we can assure people of the abiding presence of God even in tumultuous times. 

Honest Dialogue

We can create space for generative dialogues. During COVID-19, this is more challenging because the conversations will likely be virtual. But it is important to create a place where individuals can ask questions and talk with others who disagree and agree with them. The goal of the conversations is not to convince others to see the world as you do, but to provide a place of sharing stories and listening to the stories of others. Whether we agree or disagree with someone should take a backseat to hearing their stories and discern the movement of God.

Prayer

This is certainly a time when prayer is critical. Being intentional about prayer and helping the congregation to pray is important. We often throw out the phrase, “I will pray for you!” This is a time when we need to pray urgently and without ceasing for others and the country. The line from the Lord’s Prayer, “your will be done” seems most appropriate. It is not about what we want, but it is about leading others to participate in God’s hopes for humanity. The power of prayer cannot be overstated, and this is a time when we as leaders need to practice it.

A New Vision

The church is called to lead individuals toward a vision of a new heaven and earth. As faith leaders, we can give a glimpse of how God intends for us to exist. Martin Luther King called this the Beloved Community, a place where all humans flourish together. It is a vision that certainly seems far off at times, but it is a vision that we must continue to share. Chaplain Black is right. Words matter. Our words, our leadership, and our faith are critical at this juncture in history.

Related Resources

Originally published by the Lewis Center for Church Leadership. Republished with permission by ResourceUMC.org. F. Douglas Powe, Jr., is director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership and holds the James C. Logan Chair in Evangelism (an E. Stanley Jones Professorship) at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. Ann A. Michel is associate director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership of Wesley Theological Seminary and teaches in the areas of stewardship and leadership. Lovett H. Weems, Jr., is senior consultant at the Lewis Center for Church Leadership, distinguished professor of church leadership emeritus at Wesley Theological Seminary, and author of several books on leadership.