By Timothy D. Sprankle
Crisis may come at any hour. It does not wait until we’re armed and equipped, locked and loaded, dressed and ready for the day. Like a thief, crisis may come when we are settled down, tucked in, and checked out for the night. In a moment, you’ll be awake, and perhaps, afraid. However, if you are a well-prepared, others-oriented, and mission-focused leader, God will enable you to navigate any crisis. Below are three keys for leading others in crisis.
Leaders see daily problems as training for dire moments.' @timsprankle Click To Tweet
Well-prepared leaders see common problems as practice for critical moments. Long before Jesus suffered on the cross, he made a practice of surrendering Himself to His Father’s will (John 5:19; 7:16; 12:49). We all know Jesus’s prayer in this dire moment: “Not my will, but Yours, Father, be done” (22:42). Jesus does not simply pray his way through the crisis of the cross. Gethsemane is the culmination of thirty-plus years of practicing prayerful trust and obedience surrender. I am convinced He could pray, “Your will, not Mine,” because he practiced that prayer his whole earthly life.
Leaders view every day as practice because every day has problems to solve, tensions to manage, and people to love. A conflict in marriage trains us for tough conversations at work. A temporary loss of work trains us for seasons of unemployment. Difficulty with technology trains us for creative troubleshooting and discovering new tools.
The following questions may help a leader assess how God is training them for future crises:
- What daily routines help me set my mind on things above (Col. 3:1-4)?
- How am I dealing with time management, personal soul care, and energy levels?
- What personal goals have I currently met? What did it take to meet them?
- What interpersonal challenges have I faced recently? What have I learned?
- What have I been troubleshooting at work in recent days? What have I learned?
- How have I navigated a recent financial or resource deficit?
- What systems or processes in my life help me work through complex problems?
Leaders minister to distressed individuals during crisis. People often leap to extremes in critical moments. Fear drives some to obsess, overreact, or desperately fend for themselves. Others cling to a naïve optimism, ignoring all media and repeating the mantra, “Everything’s fine.” The spectrum also includes those who keep busy to distract themselves or insulate themselves with ignorance or hardened skepticism.
Leaders know each person responds to crisis differently. Before giving sage advice or a gentle rebuke, leaders actively listen. They ask questions to surface others’ hopes, fears, and feelings. They empathize and reflect what the person shares, validating her concerns without necessarily agreeing. When leaders talk, they heed Paul’s words, “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). Leaders must challenge fearful or skeptical thinking—which makes people toss about like waves of the sea (4:14)—also communicating carefully to avoid adding to others’ stress or cynicism. Jesus modeled “speaking the truth in love” to Peter before and after the disciple’s critical denial at Calvary.
The following questions may help leaders empathize, ease panic, and keep others hopeful:
- How have you been feeling about the crisis? How has this changed in recent days?
- What causes your blood pressure to rise? When do you feel most discouraged?
- How has this crisis helped you turn toward God? What have you been praying?
- Who are your go-to people for encouragement, support, and understanding?
- What is something you can do today (and for the next few days) to face this challenge?
- What are some promises or truths about God that remain sure in this trial?
Leaders do not abandon their mission during crisis but refine it. Most leaders suffer mission drift at some point. A pastor’s commitment to “reaching the lost for Christ” may morph into a career of “teaching the crowds on Sundays.” A non-profit leader’s focus on bringing economic aid to single mothers may expand into a social justice movement for racial equality. Crisis has a way of clarifying the mission, stripping it down to its essence, and helping it shine like gold.
Jesus understood his God-given mission. Luke demonstrates this sense of mission in his gospel account, repeating the word translated “it is necessary/I must.” Jesus’s mission comprised communion with His Father (2:49); preaching the gospel (4:43); seeking the lost (19:10); suffering on the Cross (24:7); and fulfilling Scripture (24:44). His disciples also received a critical mission: denying themselves daily and following Him (9:23).
Leaders are mission focused in crisis. As churches have been mandated to close their doors and meet online during the COVID-19 crisis, their mission to make disciples did not change. When a married couple suffers a miscarriage, their tragic loss does not relieve them of their calling to loving communion. When schools move to eLearning, their mission to inspire, equip, and educate remains intact. Crisis upsets our methods and lays bare our mission.
Effective leaders will not cave to crisis. They will stand firm. They will lead. @timsprankle Click To Tweet
Effective leaders will not cave to crisis. They will stand firm. They will lead. They will leverage the critical moment to clarify their mission, care for others, and endure another day of training as a disciple of Jesus.