Learning about Leadership in a Crisis
“What sort of military warfare would that be in which the fighting was left entirely to the officers?” – Edward Higgins, General of The Salvation Army from 1929-1934 (Stewards of God)
Local Officers and Corps Officers are critical to the accomplishment and sustainability of the Salvation Army’s disciple-making mission, yet the present COVID-19 crisis has disrupted the normal ways that we have worked together. If the normal ways of working together were appropriate to former challenges, they are not an option for today’s challenges. We now see local leaders stretched outside their comfort zone – a must for growing as a leader and for gaining ground in gospel mission. Soldiers who have shied away from attending online meetings are now using the internet for discipleship. Tech-savvy soldiers who had not led in conventional program ministries are now critical to ministry teams. We are all more likely to appreciate someone with the designation “Social Media Sergeant” or “Social Media Professional” than we were even in the year 2019. When the present crisis gives way to a new era of corps ministry, here are some lessons that we may bring into leadership:
We Are Not in Control. All the things that we thought would never change – for example, violent civil wars, endless news cycles fixated on a single topic, our routines (precious or despised) – can change overnight. Humility is a biblical virtue for true leaders – that is, those who defer to God’s will instead of boasting about their plans. We are learning now what James told us long ago (4:13-17), “All such boasting is evil.” We’ve gone from swaggering to staggering. Now, we learn the most valuable leadership lesson of all, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding …” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
We Can Be Responsive. Routines add a helpful measure of predictability, control, and peace to our lives. They can ensure quality, consistency, and safety if used properly. They can also become intractable idols that prevent us from being responsive to issues in ministry and mission. Before the crisis, think of the tough decisions you might have put off until a more opportune time: Cancel, change, or continue a program? Reduce or reallocate an expense? Invest time and money into online discipleship tools? Learn a new skill? Because we did not have the end of business-as-usual in sight, we thought that we could make all of these decisions “tomorrow.” Some of us even felt that attempts to change were futile. “Yesterday,” we learned to take those discussions more seriously. Those of us who had been pipers and prophets of new modes of ministry and who had decried business-as-usual discover, to our chagrin, that we are not as close to the cutting edge as we thought. This crisis challenges us all to be responsive and to, “keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25) as we strive to serve the present need.
We Are All in This Together. Before the present crisis, we categorized some problems as “ours” and some as “theirs.” Jesus encountered a man who did the same (Luke 10:29). That is, “we” had one set of problems while “they” had another – whichever way “we” and “they” were categorized. The world is realizing that this crisis afflicts all humans – Christian and non-Christian, rich and poor, American and otherwise. In some African nations, where HIV/AIDS has had a widespread impact, ministries for people afflicted with the virus are not assumed to be “outreaches,” because people in the church are afflicted. The same is true of poverty. Whereas many American churches conduct some kind of “outreach” to those who are poor (a.k.a. “them”), many African churches recognize the poor as their own. America, which has become the epicenter of a global pandemic can learn much from the church in Africa by seeing that all human ills are the concern of the church and that no human affliction, in spite of its attained reputation, should be considered foreign. Remember Jesus Christ, who “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4). He made them his very own. Perhaps, as losses slow and the sharpness of grief subsides, we will find ways to reach and minister that are more inclusive of the breadth of human experience – to “rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).
These are lessons that we can learn during this crisis that could make our corps ministry leadership stronger than ever and our mission more responsive to the Spirit and to the needs of our neighbors.
by Isaiah Allen