A sage way forward in divisive and destructive times
“I will…transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope.”
Hosea 2:15 NLT
“A time of trouble and darkness is meant to teach you lessons you desperately need.”
The number of heart-wrenching dialogues I engage in about the future of the Church in Canada, specifically the MB Church, is steadily increasing. An urgency among Christian leaders to find a way forward is palpable in these conversations. This urgency arises out of profound uncertainty regarding how to engage the mission in divisive times. This season is one where relentless anxiety about the vacuum of unity within the Body of Christ is prevalent; a time when fear abounds about yet another ideological, political, or philosophical conflict breaking onto the ecclesiastical landscape. The trepidation is that just one more ‘trouble’ could decimate the flagging remnants of Christian fellowship and community. For many leaders, the weight of our time is crushing. And yet, I wholeheartedly claim that our hope remains because “the LORD works out everything to its proper end” (Proverbs 16:4a NIV).
In these turbulent times, what counsel am I offering? Full disclosure, I provide greater detail and respond to specific scenarios in my conversations with Christian leaders. However, for the sake of this piece and its limited format, I simply offer some broad, over-arching convictions which I share with everyone. I have also included further help in the two sidebars.
Don’t panic, rush or give up.
First, don’t panic, rush or give up. If you get stuck in an elevator, hear a smoke alarm ringing or get into trouble while swimming in deep water, the advice given is always the same – don’t panic. The same is true for Christian leaders facing troubled times – don’t panic. To panic when facing any degree of danger tends to result in a catastrophic failure of one sort or another. So, leaders, stay calm.
In addition, a powerful temptation for any Christian leader is to rush a response, a plan or a strategy without doing the wise things like gathering all the information, committing a matter to prayer or waiting for the Holy Spirit (and earthly sage counsellors) to provide insight. Nothing of any lasting spiritual value unfolds in the rush. The reality is that acting out of alarm is ill-advised, too often achieving a negative outcome. St. Vincent de Paul wrote, “He who is in a hurry delays the things of God.”
Most importantly, don’t give up. Remember the Apostle Paul’s words to the church in Corinth: “…stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58 NIV). My dad told me that in tough times the wise keep on keeping-on.
Start with faith.
Second, start with faith. We have the great testimony of faith in the New Testament book of Hebrews to encourage us in our walk with God, especially when the world around us is falling apart. This testimony speaks of faith when an all-life-destroying flood was about to consume the world, faith when the vast armies of Egypt were about to vanquish a nation, faith when the future was unknown or threatened, faith when faced with conflict, persecution, prison, torture, or death.
Take note of this testimony’s opening claim:
“The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd”
(Hebrews 11:1 MSG.).
The author of this New Testament passage was steeped in Old Testament narrative and theology. This ancient likely allowed Proverbs 3:5-6 to shape his thoughts and writing:
“Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
he’s the one who will keep you on track” (Proverbs 3:5-6 MSG.).
Faith always was, and is, the way forward in distressing times. Not faith in faith, but faith in a sovereign God. Leaders, faith honours God, God honours faith. And, as a trusted mentor once told me: We don’t need great faith, just faith in a great God.
Follow-up faith with prayer.
Third, follow up faith with prayer. Prayer is the way to be transformed and to transform our circumstances. Prayer is a means by which we become more like Christ and thus the channel by which we become gospel change agents in our world. Prayer helps disciples see what God sees and feel what God feels. Prayer is a tangible means by which we seek and receive an understanding of who God is, who we are, what God is doing and how we can join with him. Prayer was central to Jesus’ earthly walk and ministry, how much more should it be integral to our life and work? In the gravest of circumstances, Jesus prayed. As he hung on the cross, tortured and dying, he uttered – “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34a NIV). Can we imitate him in our present circumstances?
Leaders, be mindful of Scripture’s counsel:
“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful”
(Colossians 4:2 NIV).
“Pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17 NIV).
“The end of all things is near. Therefore, be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray” (1 Peter 4:7 NIV).
In faith, with prayer, stay focused on the mission.
Last, in faith, with prayer, stay focused on the mission. Leaders, seek God’s agenda, not that of others, or your own. God’s mission has a faith community, and this faith community needs leaders passionately on mission. Christian leaders are to be about the business of the Father, co-labouring with him in his redemptive purposes as revealed to us in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20), the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-39) and the Great Collaboration (John 17:20-23). The grand distraction of our supernatural adversary is having leaders question whether these are really the main things God wants us to be about. In this space, it is obedience to the three ‘greats,’ not doubt about their veracity, that advances the gospel and reaps the blessing of God.
The profound challenges facing Christian leaders in 2021 – and they are titanic – should not distract them from the doing the kingdom work of the Father to make disciples, answering the kingdom call to deeply love him and others, and living out the kingdom value of unity. Each Christian leader has a specific and unique place and purpose in the unfolding kingdom blueprint of God. This is an honour and privilege; a responsibility to faithfully carry out for such a time as this. May you long to have these words of the Father said to you: “Well done good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).
American tennis great Arthur Ashe said, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” As Christian leaders, we would add “with God” on each point. Leaders, be encouraged. Stand firm. Stay on mission. In short, be calm and carry on.
LEADERSHIP in troubled times: the counsel of PROVERBS
“Ultimately, being a positive leader is all about leading with faith in a world filled with cynicism, negativity, and fear.” Jon Gordon
ASK for wisdom
“It is the Lord who gives wisdom; from him come knowledge and understanding.” Proverbs 2:6
TRUST the Lord
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Never rely on what you think you know. Remember the Lord in everything you do, and he will show you the right way.” Proverbs 3:5-6
“No human wisdom or understanding or plan can stand against the Lord.” Proverbs 21:30
GUARD your heart and lips
“Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” Proverbs 4:23
“Those who guard their lips preserve their lives, but those who speak rashly will come to ruin.” Proverbs 13:3
SEEK wise counsellors
“Get all the advice you can, and you will succeed; without it you will fail.” Proverbs 15:22
“Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.” Proverbs 19:20
LISTEN for the whole story
“To answer before listening—that is folly and shame.” Proverbs 18:13
“True humility and fear of the Lord lead to riches, honor, and long life.” Proverbs 22:4
SHOW mercy to those who oppose you
“If the one who hates you is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him water. If you do that, you will be making him more ashamed of himself, and the Lord will reward.” Proverbs 25:21-22
– Rev. Philip A. Gunther
LEADERSHIP in adversity: lessons from Nehemiah
“This good work.”
“A leader is great, not because of his power, but because of his ability to empower others.” John Maxwell
“Leaders envision themselves making a difference.”
Nehemiah rebuilt the walls around Jerusalem in the face of colossal resource and logistical challenges, external threats, and internal conflict.
We witness Nehemiah…
FACE a need and the adversity around it with prayer before anything else – 1:4-11; 2:4; 4:9; 6:9.
IDENTIFY himself as a servant leader – 1:6,11.
EXHIBIT courage in the face of fear – 2:2,3.
LEAD from a place of robust faith – 2:20; 8:10.
CALL the community to a powerful mission and then unite them to achieve it – 2:17-18; 3, 4.
DEPLOY people according to need and their skillset – 3, 4.
MEET external threats with a call to trust God – 4:14.
CONFRONT internal problems in a timely manner – 5,9,10,13.
– Rev. Philip A. Gunther
Recommended Resource for Christian Leaders: Leading Me (Steve A. Brown).
- The most significant leadership challenge you will face is yourself.
- “You can lead without character, but character is what makes you a leader worth following.”
- “The hallmark of our lives and leadership needs to be who we trust.”