Online Conversation | Crisis-Ready Leadership
with Shirley Hoogstra, Russell Moore,
Justin Giboney, & Walter Kim
On Friday, June 26th The Trinity Forum and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities hosted a conversation on leadership in a time of crisis. What does it take to listen, respond, learn, and lead? How do leaders prepare for the unexpected and unpredictable?
Shirley Hoogstra, Russell Moore, Justin Giboney and Walter Kim highlighted the historic values of leadership, shared lessons learned from their own lives, and provided encouragement for leaders today.
The painting is Storm in the Rocky Mountains by Albert Bierstadt, 1866.
The song is Your Labor Is Not In Vain by Wendell Kimbrough, Paul Zach, and Isaac Wardell.
Transcript of “Crisis-Ready Leadership” with Shirley Hoogstra, Russell Moore, Justin Giboney, & Walter Kim
Shirley Hoogstra: What a delight to be with these good friends today. The CCCU is honored to partner with the Trinity Forum on their now shouldn’t-miss Friday webinar. The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities serves as the national voice for Christian higher education. We serve over 140 institutions in the U.S., and they are Christ-centered colleges and universities that allow students to explore their faith deeply during their college years while also exploring their vocation and calling. This is achieved because of the outstanding Christian faculty employed on our campuses. One aspect of vocation is being a contributor to the world. This often happens through being a leader in a business, a nonprofit, a classroom, or a hospital around the world, just to name a few. Christian colleges take seriously this role of raising up the next generation of Jesus-formed leaders. That’s who we have in this conversation today as well: Jesus-formed leaders who are serving the world. Thank you, Cherie.
Cherie Harder: Thank you, Shirley. I want to add my own welcome to all of you for joining us. All of us at The Trinity Forum have been so excited to be able to partner with Shirley and with the CCCU in hosting today’s event. We’re really glad you can join us for this, our fifteenth Online Conversation since the pandemic began. Part of our mission at the Trinity Forum is to equip leaders to live and lead faithfully, wisely, and well. In our current context, that necessarily means leading in and through crisis. We find ourselves now in the midst of at least three overlapping but distinct crises: a public health crisis in which America leads the world in both infections and deaths from coronavirus; an economic crisis in which rising joblessness and the tanking of entire industries has threatened to decimate the security and livelihood of millions of Americans; and a social and civic crisis fueled both by frustration over enduring racism and injustice and deep cultural schisms, polarization, and a fractured and frayed sense of the public good. So, in these already chaotic and difficult times, can leaders prepare for the inevitable but still unpredictable turbulence ahead? What does it mean and what does it take to be a crisis-ready leader? We have an extraordinary group of discussants today, uniquely experienced in grappling with and addressing some of those questions. Starting off, Russell Moore is the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, which is the moral and public policy entity of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. Justin Giboney is the Executive Director and co-founder of the AND Campaign, a nonprofit which aims to improve how Christians engage in politics and culture. Shirley Hoogstra is the president of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities. Walter Kim is the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, as well as the Pastor for Leadership at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, Virginia. Russell, Justin, Shirley, and Walter, welcome. Let’s just dive right in. We are in the midst of what seems to be crisis everywhere. We’re in the middle of multiple interlocking crises: a health crisis, an economic crisis, a social crisis, and a civic crisis, not to mention some of our ongoing political and cultural crises. Walter, I’d like for you to start us off here by reflecting on [the question], How can any leader possibly be crisis-ready for multiple crises at once?
Walter Kim: In some ways, we can’t be, because the crisis that we are encountering is demonstrating the fact that we are not omniscient. There is no way that we can predict the specific crisis that we will be facing, much less the combination of crises. But while we may not be able to answer the “what” (what is the particular crisis that we could anticipate?), we can answer certain basic questions about “who” (who are we as leaders?), “why” (why are some principles so important to us?), and “how” (how are we to conduct ourselves in this particular moment?). So, Cherie, I think about this question and I think about an instance that happened in history. I think I would describe our moment right now as an Arkhipov moment. About sixty years ago, the world as we know it almost came to an end. But it didn’t, because one man was actually ready for the crisis – not the particularities of “what,” but “who” he was. In October 1962, there was the Soviet buildup around Cuba, and President Kennedy had ordered a naval blockade around that particular island. Unbeknownst to our naval blockade, there was a Soviet submarine armed with a nuclear warhead as powerful as the one that was dropped on Hiroshima. The Navy had been ordered to drop depth charges around to surface any submarines that were underneath. They didn’t want to sink the submarines; they just wanted to surface the submarines. But a particular submarine which this nuclear warhead was on had been submerged for days longer than was normal. The air conditioning was broken. The temperatures in the sub were over 100 degrees. There was carbon dioxide buildup. There was no radio signal, on top of that, so the captain of the submarine was not able to get his orders from Moscow. Records afterwards showed that the captain was on the verge of launching a missile to strike the U.S. But one man convinced him not to: Vasily Arkhipov. He was second-in-command, and it was required of him to be able to unlock the missile in order to have it fired. The records showed that he had very calmly and courageously talked the captain down from this decision. Think about that: one man’s calm and courage in a moment of crisis literally saved the world from nuclear warfare. Had he launched the missile, undoubtedly the U.S. would have retaliated by launching nuclear warheads against the Soviet Union, and we would be living in a nightmare right now. We are in some ways having another Arkhipov moment. The particularities of the crisis are different, but who we are, the moral courage that we could portray, the level of conduct, the calm, the ability to see two sides of an issue – Vasily Arkhipov was able to see things not only from the Soviet side, [but also] from the American side; that perhaps they were not trying to sink the sub, but actually surface the sub. He convinced the captain not to launch, as well as convincing the captain to surface [the sub]. And when the sub was surfaced, the naval blockade opened a way for the sub to safely leave. What an extraordinary moment. For fifty years, the world did not know that, because it was in the secret archives of our national military. Only recently, in the last decade, was this opened up and discovered. I think we’re in a moment where, in a variety of ways and a thousand different places, we are all, as leaders, having Arkhipov moments: decisions of leadership where we’re having to ask the question, Who are we? What do we believe? How are we going to conduct ourselves? We can’t anticipate the crisis in its particularities, but we can be certain kinds of people as Christians, definitely. [We can be] certain kinds of people in these moments.
Shirley Hoogstra: Walter, when I hear your story, I have chills. It makes me think that who you pick as team members is also extraordinarily important to being a crisis-ready leader. What a great story.
Cherie Harder: Russell, we’ll start with you for the next question. Max De Pree once said that the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. But in our increasingly polarized environment, reality itself has become highly contested. We have facts, and we have alternative facts. Even what might seem like a simple recounting of actual events has become increasingly ideologically freighted. How does a leader define reality, much less a vision, when there is so much confusion and conflict around doing so?
Russell Moore: The first thing is to realize where we’re coming from. A lot of that is coming from a place of fear. There’s a tendency for people to want to find a herd, to find a group of people that they can hide with. I think recognizing that is the first part. And then having the sort of imagination to bear witness to what you believe to be the truth – which means to think deeply, to feel deeply, to recognize what’s going on, and to realize that often you’re going to be speaking not only to the audience in front of you, but also to other people who are overhearing what’s taking place. Leadership guru Seth Godin talks about the tendency to become paralyzed by the fear of failure or by the fact that the ideas that you’re putting out are not immediately received. What he said is, any active leadership is speaking and finding the tribes of people who are willing to come along. Seth Godin is not a believer, but he’s talking about something that is a biblical principle. This is exactly what Elijah is experiencing in the wilderness when he’s collapsed before God and says, “I and I only and left.” And God says, “No you’re not. There’s a remnant of seven thousand now, and a number that no man can number from that.” So I think you have to recognize that that’s the case, and simply speak the truth in such a way that there’s a long-term credibility. I think one of the most dangerous things that can possibly happen is if people don’t believe that you believe what it is that you’re saying. The tendency is simply to think, “What would people want me to say? I will say that.” That can make things easy for the moment, but long-term, you’re not going to be believed by the very people who need you to lead them.
Cherie Harder: Shirley, let me ask you about a point that Russell raises, which is the fear and the paralysis. Crises force leaders to make consequential decisions, often among undesirable options with imperfect information amidst pressure and conflict. Mistakes are inevitable, yet often really costly. How do crisis-ready leaders avoid that kind of paralysis that Russell was mentioning and deal with the fear and the specter of mistakes?
Shirley Hoogstra: In this pandemic, I’ve joined a number of different groups of other similarly-situated leaders. Just this week, in the group that I was with, our facilitator said, “In a pandemic, you can only be roughly ready.” Fear and paralysis can happen because you think you have to get the right answer or the only answer. She said, and I so agree with her, that there are so many variables that you cannot pin down; that the best you can be is roughly ready and then go with that. It allows everybody to relax. I think in this time of fear, Christians actually have the advantage, because the Bible speaks about fear – it says, Don’t be afraid, don’t be anxious, not because you’ve got the willpower to do it, but because you can bring your anxiety and your fear to God. I’m sure for the other leaders on this call, you’ve woken up in the middle of the night and you’ve wondered about decisions or actions that you have to take. And then you say, Lord, I just have to give it over to You. You have it. I don’t have to have it. You are the engine. I’m not the engine. And You’ll give me a redo loop if I get it wrong. It is not perfection; it’s faithfulness. Christians in a pandemic live in gratitude to God for being the God that leads ahead of them.
Cherie Harder: I mentioned early the social crisis we find ourselves in, much of which was triggered by the killing of George Floyd and certainly fueled by the injustice of racism and our broader inability to get along with each other and to live with differences. This is one [crisis] that affects all of us in our various organizational capacities. Justin, I know that your organization, the AND Campaign, has been dedicated to improving the ways that we as believers engage both culturally and politically. I wanted to ask your thoughts on how leaders can face this crisis in their own organizations.
Justin Giboney: It’s interesting, as we noted earlier, that we’re dealing with layers of crises, not just one at a time. So I think Walter was absolutely right: in one respect, when it comes to the crisis, we want to bring a calm to people. We want to make sure that we’re a steady hand. But at the same time, when it comes to some of the social issues, I think it’s also time for us to bring a sense of urgency. I think the worst thing that we could do in this situation is not take it seriously and [not] rally the troops and say, We need to deal with this immediately, because these are life or death situations. That’s sometimes the hard part about leadership – you have to do both. In this situation, we have to make sure that we’re doing both. One of the things that the AND Campaign has tried to do, especially when we’re talking about racialized violence, is really bring the church in a redemptive way to deal with the history. The fact of the matter, when we look at it in any historical context, is that we would not be in this position racially in America if the church had done a better job early on. So I think this presents the church with a defining moment. We need to speak in no uncertain terms about where we stand when it comes to racial injustice. We need to make sure that we are absolutely clear, and we need to provide the leadership. Because, as we see, when things get too conservative or they get too progressive, you’re not necessarily coming up with solutions; you’re just coming up with battling narratives. So I think it’s time for the church to step up, speak to our failings, speak to the historical context, but also [speak to] the path forward, because we are strategically placed – whether we be African-Americans, white, Asian, and so on – to have a conversation and to have a wide impact if we get on the same page.
Cherie Harder: Russell and Walter, I’d be interested in your thoughts on that as well, leading as you do within a denomination with a broader coalition of evangelicals.
Russell Moore: I think that Justin is exactly right that there can be a temptation to say, Let’s get through this immediate crisis by pretending that there’s not a crisis. I think that’s the wrong way to go. I have been reflecting a lot in all of these overlapping crises over the past several weeks about C.S. Lewis’s sermon and essay “Learning in Wartime,” where he’s talking about the dangers when the world seems to be falling apart. One of those dangers is being disillusioned. Lewis said [that] you ought to be geared toward the right kind of being disillusioned, so that a crisis starts to re-prioritize for you what matters and what doesn’t. I also think a crisis is an opportunity for repentance, to see what has gone wrong: Why have these things taken place? [This is] not simply to speak to the crisis at hand, but also to prepare people for crises that are coming that you can’t even imagine and know now. [We should] say, How can this happen? Why are we in a situation where, when black and brown Christians have been saying to their white brothers and sisters for longer than can be counted right now, “There is a problem when it comes to the way that we are treated by systems of justice in the country,” so often our tendency as white Christians is not to hear that or to say that’s a distraction? Where’s that coming from? You have to address the immediate problem, but you also have to say, How can we avoid this taking place again in some other way? So there’s often a moment of clarity that can take place in a crisis that actually can lead to, by God’s grace, repentance and conformity with the will of Christ. Sometimes that means we’re not going to have an easy sort of solution. There are a lot of people that I hear who seem to think that time itself will take care of all of these things. “Well, it’s 2020; we should be beyond all of this” – As though history itself could do it! No, this takes repentant people who are constantly vigilant and working together on this. So we ought to be thinking right now, How do we address this immediate crisis, and what are we teaching our children about how to address these issues when they come up in their own lives?
Walter Kim: I think of the admonition in James that we are to be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger. We need to be quick to listen, as both Justin and Russell have said, to the stories of pain and sorrow that have been spoken, sung, repeated over and over again, but often not listened to by those who have power and those who have the luxury not to have to listen to those stories because it’s not their story. The work of Christians in this space [is], this is testimony time. This is the time where we hear the lament of brothers and sisters. We weep with those who weep. We have this call of solidarity that should cause us to listen well and carefully – not defensively, not to negate the story or correct the story, but just to listen to it. [We should be] slow to speak, slow to prescribe answers for others, slow to anger. But I want to say, “slow to anger” is not “no to anger.” In the next verse, it says we are to be slow to anger because human anger, the anger of man, does not accomplish the righteousness of God. But there is still a place for anger. I think of Amos when he railed against the people of God – “I despise your religious feasts. I cannot stand your assemblies.” I could imagine elements of the religious community trying to tone God down. “Wow, God, that’s a little bit radical. ‘I despise your religious feasts’? Can you tone down Your lament and prophetic critique a bit to make it more acceptable?” So, to Justin’s point, while I do very much advocate that leaders should have calm, there are moments of righteous indignation. There are moments where we have to stand in lament and solidarity with the pain of others. It should make us indignant to the point of action, repentance, restitution, and a commitment to restorative justice and a very long labor that is before us.
Cherie Harder: Thanks for that, Walter. You mentioned James and our admonition to be slow to anger, eager to listen. And, of course, the Bible has many other prescriptions for wise leadership as well, which include humility and kindness and compassion and a love of justice. To complicate that, there was a fascinating Harvard Business Review article not too long ago that found that most people have a very hard time distinguishing between confidence (even arrogance) and competence, such that often hubristic, prideful, arrogant leaders are rewarded with increased public confidence, and sometimes there is less confidence placed in those who are conspicuously slow to speak and humble. Shirley, I would love to get your thoughts on how a Christian leader navigates that bind.
Shirley Hoogstra: This idea of the competent leader was written about so well in the book “Good to Great,” when Jim Collins talks about a Level Five Leader. He combines two things there – he combines humility with this passionate and deep will to succeed. One without the other is actually incomplete. So what you mentioned there about humility is an essential piece of being a good leader, a crisis-ready leader. I think that you need confidence as a leader. You’re put out in front. You have to be able to respond quickly. You have to make hard decisions. There is a need for confidence – but an overconfidence can certainly reveal less competence. So how do you know when you’re not finding that right balance? I think [the answer] is forming followers who will tell you the truth. I think you need people who are willing to say when you’re arrogant. I think people need to tell you when they think you’re not doing it right or doing a good job, or you need to speed up. No leader can do it well on their own. This is why, when you look at anybody who’s coming into leadership, you ask, “Can they form a good team? And do they have the humility to hear from their team?” Do you create spaces in your organization where people will speak back to you – even in front of others? Because often we’re working in a group. [We don’t want] disrespect, but [we want to] actually check and make the conversation better. Yesterday we were in our organization and we had to give some hard news. In these pandemic decisions, you feel like you’re making a week of decisions in a day. Sometimes they feel too long to some people, and it feels like it’s not enough time to others. We were talking about this in a group of about thirty people. We were having a very honest and transparent discussion, and one of my colleagues gave this critique in front of the group and said, “This is frustrating. I wish we had this decision earlier.” I really appreciated that. I saw that as a sign of the health of my organization, because we could talk about how followers were feeling about leadership decisions. And I responded to that, saying, “I wish we could make decisions faster. This is the best we could do in this circumstance.” But that portrayed, I feel, a healthy and honest exchange between followers and leaders that make a leader better.
Cherie Harder: Crises by nature tend to be all-consuming, and it becomes very difficult to balance one’s leadership responsibilities with the obligations that one has elsewhere – to their family, to their spouse, to their friends, to their extended family, and the like. Justin, I know that you’re the father of three small children, so this is probably a daily reality for you. Let’s start with you. How does a crisis-ready leader discharge their obligations and duties as a leader in a consuming time when they have many other competing obligations as well?
Justin Giboney: I think my wife’s probably more responsible for that than I am. She holds me to it. But I think it starts with an understanding that if you’re burnt out, or if you get in this situation where you’re no longer being instructive, then you’re not a help to anybody. So you have to get rest. You have to Sabbath, and carve out time to do so. I got great advice from Bishop Claude Alexander who said, sometimes you’ve got to look at your calendar, mark out the days that you’re not going to do anything, and just tell people, “No, we can’t do that.” That can be tough, especially when people are looking for answers, looking to you for leadership. You do have to create boundaries. I wish I could say that I’ve got that perfectly. I think I’m learning as I go. But based on mentors like Bishop Alexander, I am beginning to clearly understand that it is about being able to say no and making sure there’s time for the family. I think this crisis has been helpful because all the kids have been in the house the whole time, and we’ve got a lot of time to spend together. But you have to be deliberate about it. You can’t just suspect that it’ll happen, especially when people are looking to you for leadership and for answers.
Cherie Harder: Russell, I know you have small kids as well. I would be interested in your thoughts.
Russell Moore: I agree with what Justin said. I also think that you have to know yourself in order to know where your particular vulnerabilities are. What are the things that take more from you specifically as a person? Because we’re built in different ways, with different personalities and so forth. So there are some things that I have to really work at making time for, because I know if those things aren’t there, I’m going to be moving toward burnout. If you just let things go on autopilot, then you’re going to end up in a situation where you [might have] a calendar that is completely the same as somebody else’s, but that person could thrive with it and it would be very destructive to you. Similarly to what Shirley talked about in terms of a team, I think the same thing is true in terms of a family. You need to have family members who are able to tell you when things are out of kilter – and not just in terms of time spent. You can spend a lot of time as a member of a family, but if everything is on edge and everyone’s living on eggshells – I was talking to somebody not long ago who was reflecting on his dad, and he said, “When my dad came home, we all had to stop being ourselves, because anything could set him off.” Not necessarily toward anger – in that case, the mentality was, He’s under enough stress, and we don’t want to put any more on him. You have to have a family where you’re able to figure out if that’s you, and have people who can say to you without fear of breaking the relationship, “We need to do something different around here.”
Cherie Harder: Before we went live, Shirley, you were making a very interesting point about leaders and tiredness.
Shirley Hoogstra: I was talking to fellow leaders – I have the delight to be in a discernment group. We’ve been together for about ten years. I called them and I said, “I’m going to be on this webinar, and I would appreciate your prayers, because I’m feeling a little tired.” And they said, “Well, say that when you’re a leader in a crisis, or just a leader with a responsibility, you actually have to know how to manage being tired.” You have to be able to take rest, as my co-speakers here said. But I think you also just have to name that. Sometimes I’ll be in a room and I’ll say, “I want you to know that if you’re feeling that I’ve got an edge about me, it’s not about you. I’m feeling tired.” For leaders to be able to acknowledge what’s going on with them to the people that they serve with can really be helpful. I also think that to be a crisis-ready leader, you have to put yourself in situations where you’re pulled and tested. I do like the conversations about balance, because I think that balance is important. I also think that you have to know how to manage yourself when you’re really pulled and stressed. And that doesn’t come without practice. So it’s a both/and.
Cherie Harder: What are your practices that enable you to thrive, or at least to lead well, when you are pulled?
Shirley Hoogstra: There are some really simple things to do as matters of practice as a leader. One of them is to get enough rest, and to be able to say no to things that happen at the end of the day so that you can actually retire on time – so if you wake up in the middle of the night, you’ve had enough time to maybe get six or seven hours of sleep. I also think that you need to know when you have to go away and be quiet, have solitude, and reflect on the Word of God and pray. Lastly, I think you have to have people who pray for you. If you can cultivate a group of people who pray for you, you will be so much better and wiser – not because of your own strength, but because of those prayer partners.
Cherie Harder: Walter, evangelicals were once well-known, at least in terms of their public expression of faith, as people who believed that character in leadership was of extraordinary importance. There has been some evidence, including a poll by the Public Religion Research Institute, that suggests over the last decade or so there’s actually been a steep decline in how important self-reported evangelicals believe private character is to public leadership effectiveness. I’d be interested in your thoughts on what you think the consequences of this change of mindset are among evangelicals, as well as how important you believe character is to crisis-ready leadership.
Walter Kim: This is a deep question that has so many facets to it in terms of our political climate, the sociology of voting, and the sociology of leadership over the last decade. There are a lot of factors behind it, but I would wish to affirm a few things. One, in God’s great providence, He can, of course, use sinners. We on this panel would all heartily endorse that, and we are grateful that God would use sinners. In God’s providence, He could use rulers of all sorts to accomplish His purposes, and Scripture is full of that. Yet at the same time, Scripture really reiterates the importance of character. The qualifications of elders for leadership that you find in Titus 1 and First Timothy 3 all begin with moral character qualities. Then finally, at the end, you have tacked on, “And this person needs to manage family well, because if you can’t manage a family, how can you manage a church?” So managerial skill comes at the end of the list – it’s preceded by moral qualities. You think of King David – what qualified him? Well, first and foremost, that he was a man after God’s own heart. So I think it would be unwise for Christians to reinforce a divide of qualification from character. In Scripture we see reiterated over and over again the grace of God that could use people, sinners as we all are, for His purposes – and yet what God desires is that the character qualities of leadership would be honorable. James also says that not many of you should aspire to be teachers, because they incur a greater judgment. So there’s already a sense in Scripture that those in leadership need to have exemplary moral character. Because as we talked about earlier, you can’t anticipate the crisis, but what you can anticipate is the moral fiber of a leader in any particular crisis. If the moral fiber of a leader is one that upholds great honor and respect, you can pretty much be assured that that’s going to show up in a variety of places, even when there are moments of failure. And we will all have moments of failure. So is this a long-term trend that separates moral qualities from political qualities or organizational qualities and competencies? I can’t presume to know. But I can issue a deep caution and concern: that in the Christian vision of leadership, the moral fiber and the spiritual qualities of a person are always held pre-eminent, and organizational competencies are secondary to that.
Cherie Harder: We’re going to turn it over to audience questions in just a few minutes, but before we do, one question I’d like to pose to each of you is your thoughts on the disciplines – spiritual, intellectual, physical, even emotional – that you believe are important to crisis-ready leadership: which habits and practices you employ, as well as whether there’s any books you particularly recommend. Justin, let’s start with you on that one.
Justin Giboney: One of the big things that I try to do, especially in moments of crisis, is focus in on discernment. Obviously, prayer is a big part of discernment, but also having a team of advisors. I have guys like Dr. Charlie Dates and Esau McCaulley whom I can call and say, “Talk to me. Help me see clearly what’s going on.” Because sometimes we are too close to an issue, or we’re feeling some kind of way and it keeps us from actually seeing the issue very clearly. So I think it’s very good to have a team of trusted advisors who can help you through those moments – and you can help them through those moments – because you know you share the same values, and they may have a perspective that you really need in that moment. One of the resources that I lean on and look to in that regard was written by Andy Crouch and the team at Praxis Labs. They had a booklet called “Rule of Life.” It speaks to Sabbath, it speaks to communication – all these things that leaders are going to need to be impactful and effective in moments of crisis and just overall. That’s one resource that I would recommend – it’s a free resource from Praxis Labs that’s been extremely helpful for me. But certainly do your best to have a team of advisors whom you can trust, whom you share principles with, to get you through those tough moments where you might not be seeing clearly and your discernment could be a little bit off.
Russell Moore: One of the things that’s helpful to me is a good dose of pessimism. And I’ll tell you why. I was having a conversation one time with this older man who had seen everything in his life. I was posing some issue that I was dealing with, and everybody had been saying to me, “It’s going to be fine, it’s not as bad as you think.” And he said, “Let’s suppose that this is just as bad as you think it is or worse. What then?” That actually was the most helpful thing that anybody had said to me at that moment, because then I could see, [even in] the worst-case scenario, I’m loved by God, I’m united to Christ, I’m raised from the dead within and seated in the heavenly places. And so whatever worst-case scenario I can imagine, even if that is true, my life is not over. I think every leader needs that. [You] also [need] the ability to separate your sense of self from your sense of role and your sense of gift. I have a friend who was talking one time about his dad, and he said, “My dad was a really good man, but when he retired, he died almost immediately, because he couldn’t see that he was not his gift.” I think a tendency is for us to see ourselves as what it is that we bring to the table. Then when you come to a point where, as Shirley said, you make a mistake, or you’re just not up for the crisis, or you’re done with a particular mission, then it’s almost as though you’re threatened with annihilation. And that’s not the case for those of us who are in Christ. So having that sense of who you are in Christ is really important. In terms of things to read, I mentioned Seth Godin earlier. One little book that he did was really helpful for me. [It was] called “The Dip,” and it was about perseverance – just looking at perseverance in people’s lives and how that works. It was really helpful, very short, but I give it to people all the time.
Shirley Hoogstra: I know that everyone in this room today practices disciplines of prayer and exercise and healthy eating and things like that. But I want to talk about something that I came across as a discipline around social media. As leaders, we might spend some time on social media, partly because it’s our job and partly because it’s a way we get information. I have intentionally followed people I admire on my social media, because there’s a lot of things that come up on your feed, and I want the majority of my feed to be things that teach me something. I follow the AND Campaign; I follow Russell Moore; I follow the National Association of Evangelicals. I’m inspired when Russell does the Reading in Exile pieces. They’re funny a lot of the time, and that makes me laugh. Or I see what Justin is doing on his social feed, and I can learn from him when he talks about going from performative to strategy. I think, Yeah, that’s what I want to do. That’s the kind of double-dipping you get in your life. You don’t have a lot of time to do everything, but if you can find ways to put real meaning in the things that you have to do, you’ll get blessed by that. So I follow people I get inspired by on my social media.
Walter Kim: Three things come to mind. One is a practice of friendship that’s been mentioned over and over again. I recall Eugene Peterson, who gave an opening address at Regent College, which is where my wife and I studied for seminary. He mentioned in his opening address [that] during your time at Regent, if you can just make three friends, consider yourself successful – three friends that you will keep for life. My wife and I are flaming extroverts. We thought, Three friends? No, our goal is to get to know every single person in the seminary and just soak it up. [But] I’ve come to see the wisdom of that. For the last twenty-two plus years, I have called nearly once a week with a friend from those years. We’ve lived in different countries at times and different states for the bulk of that time. And yet we carve out, once a week, the time to check in with each other and pray. It has been an extraordinary gift of helping me understand better who I am in Christ to have this person share life with me that deeply. The second thing is a practice of confession. I think, as those perhaps on the Protestant side of faith, that we become very individualistic. So one thing that I would challenge people to is [to] not only confess your sins to God, but enter into regular practices of confessing your sin to a trusted brother and sister in Christ – to learn the discipline of humbling oneself deeply before another, and to invite that other person to speak words of life and forgiveness and encouragement. I have found that to be a transformative practice in my life as a leader. The third thing has been mentioned – it’s prayer. I look at the life of Jesus. He prayed, as was His habit, every morning. Before every major decision, He prayed, He fasted. He is just a man of prayer. And so I would desire for prayer to become as conspicuous in my life as it was in Jesus’s life. To that end, I’ve really delighted in this book “The Soul of Prayer” by P.T. Forsyth – [Forsyth is] a Scottish theologian of a previous generation. I think this book has stood the test of time. It speaks about prayer in ways that are culturally jarring to us, because they’re not prayers of convenience. That is really an American way of doing things. They’re not prayers of efficiency; they are deep invitations to enter into this mystery of what it means to be united with Christ, as Russell has talked about – united with our God.
Cherie Harder: Thank you, Walter. We’re going to turn now to questions from our viewers, and it looks like we have quite a few of them. Our first question comes from Glen Quiring, and I think I’ll direct this to Justin. He asks, “Can you speak to the specific work needed by leadership to create just systems within the institutions you serve?”
Justin Giboney: That’s a really good question. I think one of the first things that the AND Campaign has been encouraging leaders to do is bear witness. We shouldn’t take for granted the importance of actually saying where you stand. I’ll give a perfect example of that: I think of Ligon Duncan, this week or last when he spoke about the flag in Mississippi and that controversy, and how he did it in a very clear way. He didn’t deflect. He didn’t focus on other things. He said very clearly where he stood, and there was no equivocation, no ambiguity. But he also put it into a historical context. So the first thing I’ll say is, make sure it’s clear where you stand, because I think sometimes we can dodge issues through ambiguity because we really don’t want to have to address them. And then I would say, look internally at your own policies. There’s some really good consultants and things of that nature who can come in and take a look at your own policies and some of the things that you do within your organization to help you see the things that might be a blind spot for you. I would definitely advise that, and also to bring in speakers that might challenge you – biblical speakers that are still going to challenge you and the people around you. And then we always have to be thinking about policy and legislation, even externally – so having conversations and building coalitions with other faith organizations to say, These are some issues that we really need to address, because although they may not be affecting our community, if we see our brothers and sisters and our neighbors saying this is an issue, then it probably should be something that we’re focused on and [to which] we’re willing to lend our social and political capital to help move forward. I think when leaders in the church can get to that place, then we’re talking about some real societal and cultural change. But it’s going to take courage, and it’s going to take leaders who are willing to step away from some of the things their tribe would encourage them to do and actually say, No, we’ve got to turn and go a little bit [of a] different direction, because it’s the right thing to do. I hope you catch on and understand later – but this is something that we have to do now.
Cherie Harder: Our next question is from an anonymous attendee who asked, “If you’re a subordinate in an organization, what advice can you give for handling well and responding well to disjointed or weak leadership?” Shirley, would you take a stab at that one?
Shirley Hoogstra: Well, of course, if you don’t have good leadership, people in your organization really do suffer. So the first thing that I would recommend to that person is to find a trusted leader who’s not the leader with whom you are dissatisfied and bring your observations to that person so that you can get the wise counsel of somebody in the organization. I think that you [should] start incrementally with trying to find ways that you could encourage that leader to be better. We would hope that a leader can respond to both encouragement and correction, and with the consultation by somebody else in your organization, you can devise a plan. From the question, I can’t tell exactly how serious it is or what kind of failing that weak leadership is. But in most of these cases, it’s often helpful to get otherwise advice when you’re solving that problem.
Cherie Harder: Our next question comes from Nick Buckner, who asks, “Does the Christian perspective primarily provide an opportunity for looking at all sides, or does it provide something crucially unique which ought to be embraced in spite of prevailing secular voices?” Russell, would you address that question from Nick? Should we air on the side of fairness and justice, or is there a particular vision and agenda? How do you weigh the two?
Russell Moore: I think that there’s not a choice between those two things, because in order to actually lead, you have to accurately know what is taking place. The tendency is to say, Let’s just figure out who’s good and who’s bad. Everything the good people do is good, and everything the bad people do is bad. That’s not a Christian view of reality. A Christian view of reality has an entire world of people created in the image of God and an entire world of people, including us, who are fallen into sin. So it’s going to be much more complicated than that. I think there can be a tendency – I’ve known, for instance, a lot of parents who have reared their children in such a way that when questions came up, they gave them a caricature view of some other viewpoint other than Christianity. They think that’s helping those kids, and short-term it enables those kids to say, These are evil people or stupid people. But then they actually grow up and meet those people and they conclude, That’s not the way that they are; maybe my parents weren’t telling me the truth or my parents didn’t know what was going on. Well, that was never a Christian view. Instead, I think we need to truly and fairly represent everything that we look at. Jesus is always looking truthfully and bearing witness to the truth. And there are times when we’re going to find in that process [that] we’ve seen some things wrong, and we need to correct that and we need to change that. So I don’t think those two things are necessarily at odds with one another.
Cherie Harder: Henry Smith asked, “What does repentance look like for the church beyond a statement of acknowledgement and confession?” I’m betting there’s a bunch of you who want to jump in on that one, but Walter, let’s start with you.
Walter Kim: It certainly needs to begin in those areas – an acknowledgement, a confession. My fear, though, with acknowledgments and confession [is that] if there is not an actual restoration or change of action or plan, then we’re having just the one side of repentance. Repentance is not only a turning away from something, but it’s a turning toward something. You repent from, and you repent toward. If the repentance is simply the alleviation of guilt by acknowledgment and confession, that might be a ‘turning from,’ but there needs to be an ’embrace of’ some sense in which you stand in solidarity with those who have been wronged. You lament with them. Their problems become your problems. You stand in solidarity in action, even if the action needs to be set in terms that are not your own. I think the challenge with the dominant-culture way of handling the issues of racial injustice [is that] it can be the case that dominant culture will invite people to the table that they have set. We want to have this discussion this particular way because it’s comfortable for us. I think in this cultural moment, we really need to take seriously [the question], What would it look like to go to the table set by our African-American brothers and sisters and to have the conversation on their terms? That is a depth and a level of repentance that I think Scripture would call us to: to stand in the place of those who have been oppressed, alongside them, and to see the world in their terms. That’s a challenge, and many churches, frankly, are not ready to make that depth of repentance. But I actually think we’re in a cultural moment where we’re beginning to see a move toward that level of repentance – not just an alleviation of guilt that can be quick and we can put it behind, but an entrance into and a solidarity with those who have, in fact, had been wronged and oppressed, such that the repentance includes that last move which I think is vital.
Justin Giboney: I think Walter makes an excellent point. It has to be more than just the acknowledgement – although the acknowledgement is certainly a place where we can start. This kind of makes me think of First John 3, which says, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ gave his life for us. And we should give our lives for our brothers and sisters.” It has to include an element of self-sacrifice. I think when we have these conversations about reconciliation and restoration, we tend to leave that self-sacrifice out, because that self-sacrifice is hard. That self-sacrifice sometimes asks more of us than we really want to give. I really don’t even have a whole lot of conversations about reconciliation unless we’re talking about resources or policy, and the giving of something to others that you may not have given before. That is, I think, critical to the conversation, because it shows people that you’ve really changed and you are willing to give of yourself. But too many times, we miss that element of self-sacrifice. One of the things we did with the Churches Helping Churches Challenge with the AND Campaign, where we were trying to get more financially stable institutions to give to low-income churches so that they could make it through this COVID-19 crisis, was [to emphasize] that this was part of the process towards a reconciliation. I think what a lot of people miss is – I appreciate the acknowledgement, but when you’re still suffering and people in your community are still getting treated a certain way, it only means so much. People wonder why a lot of people in the African-American community lose interest in a lot of the reconciliation projects that you have. It’s because there’s a lot of other issues we have to address, and if that reconciliation isn’t addressing those issues, then I think it falls short of what Christians, especially, should really be doing.
Cherie Harder: Our next question comes from a viewer who asks anonymously, “How do we navigate conversations about things like a pandemic or racial injustice with people when it seems like we’re all able to find media or information that just supports our beliefs? It seems like there’s no longer any way to have civil conversations based on facts, because facts themselves have become subjective.” Shirley, how would you address this question?
Shirley Hoogstra: Well, I used to watch Walter Cronkite, and there was something about having trustworthy news navigators and news interpreters. We went from having three stations to now having thousands of stations where you get to just pick what you want to listen to. There are a lot of good organizations that talk about the skills for intercultural competence and the skills for civility. I think that you need to get better skills, because if you’re going to talk to people that have different points of view, whether it’s in your family, in your organizations, or in the nation, you actually have to build up some resources for yourself. It’s not easy to do. It requires intellectual honesty. And in order to have intellectual honesty about someone else’s point of view, it might cost you something. You actually have to sit down and say, If I want to agree with that point of view or even entertain that point of view, what is the cost to me in doing so? So I’m just going to say, it takes some preparation work. It starts with yourself. I would say starting with yourself, practice discussing things with other people that you might not agree with before you’re going to ask others to do that. Get better at it yourself.
Cherie Harder: We have a question from Tetsuo Takahara, who asked, “What advice would you all have for the young next generation of leaders who are being shaped by current events? How do we tackle these systems or powers and principalities that seem so large and almost impossible to change?”
Russell Moore: I would say that the main thing is not to become discouraged by how large they are, because all of us as Christians are already experiencing that. Look into your future twenty years from now – if you’re still living, are you still a sinner? Yes. You will still be a sinner. Does that mean that it’s not worth it to be fighting for holiness right now in your personal life? Not at all. God forbid. The same thing is true with all of these other aspects of obedience that we’re called to. The enormity of the crisis shouldn’t be something that discourages us, because we ought to come into it with the sense of the anointing of the Holy Spirit and with the sense of a need for dependence upon God. I’ve been thinking a lot about fear in a project I’ve been working on over the past year, and one of the things that strikes me is how fear in Scripture is so often revelatory. I think about one of the darkest moments of my life. I was at home. It was around the Christmas season. I was completely despondent about a situation I didn’t think that I could do anything about. I happened to turn on the television and the Charlie Brown Christmas special was on, right at the part where Linus starts reciting from Luke 2 about the appearance of the angels with the shepherds – “And the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.” I just went to tears at that moment with the force of that passage coming at me in an unexpected way. But as I thought about it later on, I realized the fear had to happen in order for the next words: “Don’t be afraid, because I have good tidings of great joy.” We see this with Simon Peter going out into the water. Jesus allows him to submerge a little bit before he cries out for Him. So I think sometimes the enormity of the problems ought to drive us to say, This isn’t a simple thing that we can do on our own. This is going to require a sense of dependence upon God, a dependence upon one another, and a sense of joy as we pursue them. I think the worst thing that we could do is to give in to a kind of cynicism that’s out there all over the place that says, The world is always going to be awful, people are always going to be awful; therefore let me just protect myself in my little cocoon and give over to that. That’s a really, really dangerous place to be, not just for other people and loving [one’s] neighbor – it’s also a dangerous place for one’s soul.
Cherie Harder: Our next question is from an anonymous attendee, and it’s a poignant question about how to support a leader. They ask, “I’m a lay leader in my church. My pastor has led us through the pandemic with great fear. I empathize with his personal struggle, but at the same time, I’m very frustrated and hurt by the way he has (or hasn’t) led our church. I know the Lord is not calling me to leave this church family, though part of me is ready to bolt to a more supportive flock. How can we support our leader?” Walter, I know that you are a pastor of a church as well as the head of the National Association of Evangelicals. What advice would you give?
Walter Kim: First, pray for this leader. Pray for your pastor. Uphold them to the Lord. Pray seriously and fast. If the magnitude of the failure is any indication of the need, then I would say pray and fast, and call others to support the pastor in that way. Secondly, relationship. Reach out to the pastor. I would say most pastors really do live in their head with deep concern that they are failing God and their flock. It keeps people up at night. It breaks their heart. Pastors get into this, and they want to have Jesus say to them at the end of the day, when all is said and done, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Come and share your master’s happiness.” Most pastors labor with this conscious weight: Am I going to hear that from Jesus at the end of the day? So recognize that your pastor probably experiences deep insecurities about that. If the pastor doesn’t, the pastor probably should. There’s a level of humility that maybe needs to be inculcated. But whether it’s the need for humility or the need for encouragement, I think you go up to the pastor and say, “I recognize that what you’re going through is deeply complex, and I’m now asking you to be Jesus for the church. I’m asking you to be an undershepherd. And I want to come alongside you and tackle this thing together.” [Don’t] view the pastor as the problem; the pastor has a problem that you share with that person. That’s a profound lesson, actually, with a lot of the issues that we’re encountering in our society. If you view people as the problem versus viewing people as having a problem that you can share and labor with them, that’s a profound adjustment of perspective. I would say most pastors actually would welcome a congregant saying, “I know this must be really difficult for you. I know that you must have made decisions that you probably wonder [whether they] are right or wrong and you don’t even know. Can we pray together? Can I talk with you? Can we labor together?” I think that would be very well-received by many, many pastors.
Cherie Harder: We’ll take one more question, and this also comes from someone who is asking the question anonymously. They write, “Russell mentioned the importance of knowing yourself as a leader. Could he speak more about knowing yourself, having emotional intelligence and vulnerability as a leader, and how that could benefit both the leader and those they lead?”
Russell Moore: I think there’s a tendency to look to other people and to say, This is the way that so-and-so leads, and so therefore, that’s what it means to be a leader. I don’t think that’s the picture in Scripture. You have God raising up people who are remarkably different in terms of how they’re carrying out the mission. So I think you have to know, What are the things that are life-giving to me, and what are the things that are a struggle and a burden for me? Not in order to say, I’m going to do the one and not the other, but to say, I’m going to do the one so that I can do the other. One of the things for me that was a great struggle was having a day and a week split up into these constant little things in [such] a way that I couldn’t give deep attention to any one thing. That was one of the reasons why this time during the pandemic, in spite of the awfulness of it in the global sense – God has used it in my life greatly. It’s forced me to be back in the way that I’m the most productive and the happiest – because I don’t have any choice but to do it this way. For other people, it’s the exact reverse. I think you have to build your life around, What are my strengths? What are my particular points of vulnerability? And then also – Shirley mentioned social media earlier. I think that social media can be really, really destructive in terms of leaders particularly. Not that you [shouldn’t] use it, but it can chip away at attention in ways that one doesn’t even recognize or know. Also, you can’t lead if you are always in a state of watching out for what is the next thing that’s about to happen. Media generally right now, but social media particularly, feeds off of that sense. Something is always about to happen. There are pseudo-controversies about everything taking place all the time. Over time, your attention can go to the point that you don’t even know anymore what’s important and what’s not important. So you have to know about yourself. I think all the time about a friend of mine who was a recovering alcoholic. There would be certain restaurants where I would say, “Do you want to meet there?” and he would say, “No, I can’t go there,” because he knew where the bar was located in reference to the rest of the restaurant. He said, “If I’m there, I am not sure if I’m going to be able to handle that.” I’ve thought about that probably once a day over the years. There are lots of things like that in my own life where I would say, Somebody else might be able to do that and handle it perfectly well; I can’t right now because of the way that I’m made and my particular set of vulnerabilities. So I think [it’s about] knowing that – and, as I think Walter mentioned and Shirley did too, having friends who are able to speak into your life and who are able to say “That’s just not you” is really important. Get to the point where you give up on everybody else’s expectations of you. If God’s called you to do whatever it is that you’re doing, that means He’s called you with your gifts and not somebody else’s. You have to to make peace with that and learn to love that.
Walter Kim: We each have a place. We each have a role. The very nature of the body of Christ – the fact that Christ came down embodied, this incarnational model of ministry – demonstrates it’s deeply important that we understand that we actually have a particular expression of faith and that we each play a role. We’re not a hand, we’re not a foot; but we’re an eye, we’re the finger, and so forth. Having that deep knowledge is absolutely critical. It’s theologically how God has created us to be inter-nested with one another, interdependent, and each contributing in these unique ways. Frankly, one way or the other, you as a leader are going to inflict yourself upon others – [even] knowingly, graciously, with that self-knowledge to contain that which is sinful and augment that which is righteous about who God has created you to be. That’s really part of the job of leadership: recognizing that you embody something in particular, and you have no choice about that. That’s how God has designed you. Your choice is whether or not you do that well, knowingly, consciously, graciously.
Shirley Hoogstra: Here’s a phrase that quickly sums that up: “Be yourself; everyone else is taken.”
Cherie Harder: Thank you again to each of our speakers. As I promised, we will give each of you the last word in summing up.
Russell Moore: Walter mentioned Eugene Peterson a few minutes ago, and I can’t help but think of what Eugene Peterson said about exoskeletons. He said crabs and certain insects have a hard shell around them. But human beings are born in the most vulnerable situation possible and live our lives that way, and that’s God’s design. So I would just say to those of you in leadership, don’t fear your vulnerability. We’re the people of the cross. We’re the people of Christ and Him crucified, which means that God’s power is made known in weakness. So if you’re the sort of person who is thinking to yourself, I’m not feeling up to this, I’ve got imposter syndrome, and I feel as though I can’t handle this, that may well be a very good indication that you’re exactly who God is going to use. So turn that vulnerability and that weakness over to Him in order to be conformed to the image of our Lord.
Justin Giboney: Thank you for having me, Cherie; I certainly enjoyed this conversation. I would say, take some time to think about the people you are leading – to think about their aspirations, to think about why they may have chosen you to be a leader. I know for myself, I gain a lot of encouragement just by speaking to some of the folks who I know look to me for leadership, whether it’s an elderly sister at my church who just looks at me and says, “Keep going, we’re proud of you,” or others. Don’t just think that they can get something from you. You can get something from them. Keep in mind that they put you there for a reason and that they deserve courageous leadership. Remember that courage isn’t always what you can say to the other side and how tough you can talk to them. Sometimes it’s about accountability internally and making sure that you stand up to those in your tribe who need to be corrected. So I would just say, definitely keep a focus and sometimes think about those folks that you’re leading and their aspirations, and I think you can gain strength from them.
Walter Kim: A dear friend and colleague has written a song called “Your Labor is Not in Vain.” It is probably the song that I have sung the most for the last two years as I’ve thought about leadership. It’s based on First Corinthians 15:58, and I just want to read that verse. “Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, 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.”
Shirley Hoogstra: One of my favorite books on leadership is called “Leadership on the Line,” written by Heifetz and Linsky. They propose in that book that you lead because you love people and you want their lives to be better. As a leader, if you want to lead out of love, you have to be in a relationship with God where He reminds you daily that you are loved dearly, and that His tender mercies and His grace will provide for you so you can lead in love.
Cherie Harder: Russell, Justin, Shirley, and Walter, thank you so much for your wisdom, your insights, and your time. This was really rich, and we are grateful. Particular thanks to the CCCU, our co-hosts with us, The Trinity Forum, in this venture; and to our sponsor, Katherine Haley. Thank you to all of the viewers who joined us today. Have a great weekend.