5 Biblical Principles to Guide Leaders at This Time of Crisis
March 27, 2020
At times of unpredictability, some things remain predictable. People are still people. God is still God. The church is still the church. The Word is still powerful. Heaven is still real. Hell is too. We did not know the future with any more reliability five months ago than we do now; all that has changed in that regard is now we know that we do not know the future. When the world has turned upside down, it’s important to remember who is in charge of the world.
That does not lead us to a blithe optimism in the face of contrary data. But nor does it cause us to give in to negative prophets of doom trope. Every time there is a crisis, the conversation splits into two groups: those who say that the glass is half empty, and those who say it is half full; those who look on the bright side and are optimists by nature, and those who are pessimists. All of which means that it is essential that leaders draw their thinking from first principles—unchangeable first principles—and biblically shaped principles.
I do not know how this COVID-19 virus will develop, mutate, or impact the world in the days to come. But there are still things that I do know. And when unknowns surround us, we must make decisions and offer leadership based upon the knowns. Here then are 5 biblical principles to guide leaders at this time of crisis.
1. The Sovereignty of God
This is the thinking behind the great “refuge” psalms of Psalms 46 and 91. “God is our refuge and strength” (Psalm 46:1). “I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust’” (Psalm 91:2). Both those psalms are worth reading in their entirety, meditating on them, and allowing their attitude to formulate your leadership and (indeed) your life.
But what do they mean for these particular circumstances in which we are embedded? The sovereignty of God means that this COVID-19 is not a surprise to God. It means that His plan has not been derailed. It means that—in the inscrutable wisdom of the Almighty—His design is to use this crisis for the progress of the gospel. And what that means is we should position our leadership and organizations around the assumption that there is a purpose behind what is happening and a new set of realities that are emerging with gospel potential.
I’ve said it like this to our team: “Never waste a good crisis.”
2. The Power of the Word
The Bible is replete with claims to the power of God’s Word. Consider Jeremiah 23:29, “Is not my word like fire, declares the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” Or, more familiarly, Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
Why does this biblical principle—the power of God’s Word—matter at a time like this? Oh, how it matters! Consider the thinking of the Apostle Paul in prison at the end of his life. Suffering. Facing certain and imminent death. Where does his mind turn? To the power of God’s Word! “…I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!” (2 Timothy 2:9).
What this biblical principle about the power of God’s Word means is that this is not the time to pull back from proclamation, to go quiet and diffident; now is the time above all other times to move forward with proclamation. Herald. Proclaim. Announce. Write. Teach. Online and through virtual means, yes. Stuck at home, yes. In the hospital, maybe. Suffering, perhaps. Dying, maybe. But God’s Word is not chained! And therefore, as leaders we are to prioritize and enable and facilitate and proclaim God’s Word.
3. The Efficacy of Prayer
When the early Christians were under intense pressure—not because of disease, but because of persecution—they turned to prayer. Listen to how John Calvin describes the lesson that we are to learn from the disciples’ prayer in Acts 4:23-31. Calvin writes, “We learn from this example what our duty is when our enemies imperiously threaten us. For we ought not to laugh carelessly in time of danger, but the fear of danger ought rather to drive us to crave the help of God.”
What that means for us who seek to lead during this time of crisis is that we should lead people in prayer and towards prayer: prayer meetings (necessarily virtual); exhortations to prayer; encouragements to persist in prayer. Could it be that God is calling his people to pray to him through these awful circumstances? Revive us again, O Lord! We are not saying that we should merely pray—as if prayer should ever be practiced to replace medical advice or prudential action. Oliver Cromwell’s famous advice during his time of war was to “trust in God and keep your (gun)powder dry.” And we must pray and seek medical advice, act prudently and exercise good stewardship of our resources.
Nonetheless, pray we must. Surely if any set of circumstances would drive us to our knees, then these should. Surely we should be crying out to God to have mercy on this world that he so loves, on his church for whom he gave his blood?
4. The Priority of Evangelism
I am not the first to notice that in recent years evangelicals have become less known for evangelism than for other cultural or political preferences and priorities. If ever there was a moment to redress that imbalance, it is now. Reflect on Paul’s priority. “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others… For the love of Christ controls us… Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:11, 14, 20). Persuade, appeal, implore. When was the last time in our evangelism we sought to persuade or appeal or implore?
What this biblical principle—the priority of evangelism—means is that leaders will not only seek to set up practical and physical help for those affected by COVID-19 (or the unemployment that has hit many people in its wake). We will also, and as a priority, seek to use these circumstances to invite people—and not just invite, persuade and appeal and implore—to come to Christ.
5. The Resilience of Church
In recent years, there has been much handwringing about the decline of church attendance among the “nones”—those who are “spiritual but not religious.” There has even been something of a statistics and data war regarding how significant this decline is and whether or not it’s real. (Certainly, there are many churches that are thriving in the midst of this conversation about church attendance among millennials). Some wonder whether the current necessity of church moving online is further undermining the need for churches to be churches; after all, the basic reality of church is that it is a gathering. But the biblical principle here must be applied. Jesus famously said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). The church is resilient. Amazingly so. And we are seeing that at the moment. Virtual gatherings abound, and ongoing life and vitality are throbbing through the church—even if in ways that are unusual and that we would not have predicted as recently as a few weeks ago.
What that biblical principle about the resilience of church means for leaders is that downturns and difficulties are not times for church (or gospel) work to diminish but rather increase. The American Civil War was, in the midst of its calamitous destruction, also a time of great spiritual impact through the work of D.L. Moody and many others. The Great Depression saw churches move forward in renewed confidence and boldness. There are opportunities for the church and for the gospel, and our task as leaders is to make the most of those opportunities.
And the way to do that is to rely upon unchanging biblical principles, especially in changing times.
If you are without a church service this weekend, join Pastor Josh Moody by Livestream this Sunday morning at 9:30 or 11 a.m. CST for College Church’s services.
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