Before I begin, let me get some markers on the ground. First, I am predisposed to value, respect, and support those in all spheres of the leadership chain – even those I disagree with and am ideologically opposed to. I also believe it is possible to maintain that posture while challenging views and honoring God in the public forum.
Second, my appeal to all leaders is toward better leadership and not away from wisdom, safety or health. My church, for instance, is not currently meeting in-person. This wisdom, however, should not be misunderstood as an invitation to violate our liberties or to blatantly discriminate in methods or responses.
A Biblical Grid for Great Leadership
While good leaders make good decisions, great leaders make the difficult decisions that only time will determine to be great. As Jesus said, “wisdom is shown to be right by its results.” (Matthew 11;19, NLT) Good leaders recognize the moving pieces in a situation; great leaders have the discernment to understand what is moving the pieces. Good leaders make decisions based on “either/or” scenarios because they only see the moving pieces; great leaders consider “both/and” and are willing to make the difficult decisions demanded by that natural tension because they see what is moving the pieces.
The greatest leader was Jesus. His leadership was always aimed at identifying the heart of a matter. Take adultery, for instance. Jesus taught that not only was the act of adultery sin, but the underlying lustful thinking that led to the adultery was also sin. When asked about the Law, He said He did not come to abolish it but to fulfill it. And regarding the subject of honoring those in authority, His message was to give to Caesar what was Caesar’s while still giving to God what belongs to Him. At every point and with every teaching, Jesus led by getting to and dealing with the heart of the matter (the things moving the pieces).
Another great leader was King Solomon. When confronted with two women claiming to be the mother of the same child, like Jesus, Solomon used a “both/and” leadership approach to effectively solve the dilemma. He decided that each woman would get one half of the child. True wisdom knew that the mercy of the real mother would reveal her identity. His leadership was neither politically correct nor took the easy position of an “either/or” stance. It was, however, a great decision by a great leader that produced the best outcome.
Covid-19 and Governmental Response
In the current climate of health crisis and our reaction, I see some very disturbing positions being taken by leaders. The one-sized-fits-all approach some leaders are taking, both in government and in the church, are not examples of great leadership. Worse yet are those leaders in both arenas that heat their furnaces “seven times hotter” whenever anyone questions the facts or premise behind their decisions. (This, of course, is a reference to Nebuchadnezzar’s idolatry that caused his anger to go to unreasonable lengths to enforce what he wanted worshiped – himself!)
Why is it unrighteous for us to expect great leadership from our governmental leaders? For instance, why should we settle for health and safety at the cost of discrimination against churches? Why would our leaders arbitrarily make it an “either/or” situation? When government treats one entity with different standards and consequences than it applies to other entities, it becomes the personification of discrimination. If abortion clinics and liquor stores can remain open, there are no intellectually honest reasons why churches should be closed.
The Governor of my State has expressly threatened churches with punitive damage if they were to do what the local grocery can do – allow more than 10 people to “congregate” in parking lots and buildings. This is not only offensive but absurd. It is intellectually dishonest to say that the 50 people who might visit a church (with social distancing in practice) would pose more risk to each other than the risk they are exposed to by going to a grocery store frequented by hundreds, even thousands of strangers a day.
If there are reasonable restrictions to occupancy based on a building’s square footage, then apply those restrictions to everyone – government buildings, businesses, and churches alike. A great leader and a great decision would demand more. The measure of logic and justice should be equal across the board. I expect better from my Governor.
Similarly, we are being told locally and nationally that we can either be safe OR have economic and social freedom. Remember, great leaders work from a “both/and” proposition that forces them to do more than broad stroke reactions which willingly sacrifice everything else for one specific outcome. We SHOULD do everything we can to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 and the loss of life associated with it. But we can do more than one thing at a time. Why is it that only the lives of those who are and might be affected by Covid-19 are being valued?
What if the public prescriptions of leaders to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 will cause equal or more loss of life in the form of suicide, mental health, and the cost of foregoing maintenance care (as is the growing concern of many doctors)? What about the loss of quality of life in the form of generational and economic instability? It seems we are only too willing sacrifice everything else for a single result. Who is going to pay for the trillions of dollars of government subsidies – our grandchildren and their children? Isn’t that immoral too?
Jesus defined the work of Satan as a three-fold agenda – “to steal, kill, and destroy.” (John 10:10) Jesus came to “destroy” all three of the “works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8) If we only focus on mitigation of death and the enemy succeeds in multiplied stealing and destroying, we have to own the responsibility that we were the ones who let the “fox into the hen house”.
I realize these are tough times with very tough issues to tackle. But we must tackle them well for EVERYONE’S sake. That will require good leaders to become great leaders. That is why I am raising the challenge and standing up to ask for more from our leaders.
Leading the Church through Difficult Times
To my brothers and sister in Christ, and to fellow leaders in the Church: I have been heart-sick over how we have fallen victim to self-righteousness, self-importance, and a general lack of appreciation for a biblical worldview. The condescending positions taken by so many – demanding that all believers either “honor authorities” (Romans 13) at any cost or defy them at all cost – makes God almost unrecognizable through us. To suggest that such a complex issue can be distilled into an “either/or” decreed by a Pope, Pastor, or Ministry Leader is absurd. Let me say it again – that is patently absurd!
Romans 13 is getting a lot of attention these days even though it is only one part of a biblical worldview. I would submit to my fellow leaders that honor does not always look like compliance. Jesus did not comply with the religious leaders of His day. In fact, most of the time He responded bluntly to them as if He expected more from them. Neither did Jesus simply comply with the political leaders of His day. He did not change His message or actions to placate the conscience of Herod or Pilate. This is how Jesus honored them well – He allowed them to unjustly convict Him and crucify Him. But do not mistake that honor for compliance.
Some even try using biblical scenarios out of context to help justify their opinions, like using the God-mandated house quarantine on Passover to suggest that God is universally for social distancing and house quarantining. Dear ones, do we not realize that Israel was a slave nation under Egypt at that Passover? Are we really wanting to use that analogy here? Does that not actually bolster the view that the overreaction and overreach of our government could lead to an erosion of the freedoms that make us American – religious and otherwise?
I have said from the outset of this health crisis that the enemy is merely using Covid-19 to capture a more relished prize, one of bigger proportions and with much more consequence. That is not an attempt to minimize Covid-19; it is merely to say that we are blind (neither prophetic nor discerning) if we cannot see BOTH the moving pieces AND what is moving the pieces.
The grip of fear causes rippling torrents of shame that drive people (and leaders) to excuse away their need for more and more control over those around them. This demonic triumvirate – fear, shame, and control – is the real enemy behind the moving pieces and if we do not wake up to address it, we will be led (and even worse, lead others) like sheep to the slaughter.
It is this demonic triumvirate that has already enticed so many church leaders to cross boundaries they would not normally have crossed. Self-righteousness makes for ugly priestly garments. Universal pronouncements that sting with the hotness of a furnace (Nebuchadnezzar) also smell with the smoke of self-importance. If the enemy of God can so easily infect the ranks of God’s leadership with this “virus”, secular leaders stand no chance of resisting it.
Great leadership demands that we refuse to partner with fear, shame, and control, even if it is dressed up as the only means to keep us “safe” (what an oxymoron). Do everything that wisdom warrants – wash your hands, exercise appropriate cautions to minimize transmission risk. But if your wisdom ascends to the throne, God is no longer sitting on it. Then your protection and safety will have only your wisdom to rely on. If, as leaders in God’s House, we allow anything other than God to sit on the throne, then we have lost the only thing of any value we had to give to God’s people. We have become like the Pharisees – blind guides trying to lead the blind. (Matthew 15:14)
Where are the Great Leaders?
I believe the earth is still groaning for the revealing of those who can represent God accurately – His sons and daughters. This is especially true in times like we are living in today. Great leaders can carry the power and purpose of more than one truth at a time. Great leaders are willing to do the hard work of processing “both/and” so that they can make difficult but wise decisions that do not cause more pain than the problem they are trying to solve.
We can and should do better than we are doing. EVERY LIFE MATTERS to God, those touched by Covid-19 and everyone else. Let us humble ourselves before God and ask Him to give us wisdom to be great leaders. And let’s pray for that same wisdom for our Mayors, Governors, legislators and President.