This spring has found COVID-19 disrupting every facet of life. As a family, the Irvings are coming up on our fifth week of gathering with our church small group using Zoom, getting ready for our fifth week of online worship with our church community using Facebook Live, and joining with Christians around the world to celebrate Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday while gathered at home with our family.
Of course, seminaries are not exempt from such new realities. Seminary education in the spring of 2020 has changed dramatically within a matter of weeks. With shelter-in-place orders and social distancing guidelines in place for many, all of us are learning to approach our professional lives in ways difficult to imagine at the beginning of the semester.
Here at Bethel Seminary, our spring commencement service has been canceled and replaced by a shorter, live online commencement celebration in May, followed by a traditional commencement ceremony that is planned in August. All courses planned for face-to-face delivery are now fully online through the remainder of spring term, and perhaps this will be a reality into the summer months as well.
Such dramatic change, and the mobilization work required by communities and organizations, raises the priority of wise and reflective leadership. Although pastors may see their primary calling as pastor-teachers, in times like this, pastors must also be effective leaders. These church leaders must make decisions about how to respond to crisis, how the pastoral care and teaching needs of the church will be managed in new ways, and how the church will respond to and relate with new societal expectations of social distancing.
Of course, the work of leadership is not only important for times of crisis, nor is the importance of this work limited to pastoral leaders. Many Christians must regularly apply the work of leadership in wise and reflective ways that contributes to human flourishing.
The work of leadership matters. It matters for individual leaders and followers. It matters to organizations. It matters to societies. It is, therefore, not only appropriate for pastors and seminarians to reflect on leadership from a Christian perspective; this work must be a part of their stewardship responsibility. It is vital that the work of leadership, alongside other essential vocations, be seen, studied, and applied in light of biblical wisdom and a Christian worldview.
This has been a priority for Bethel Seminary for many years. It also was a major emphasis for our Work with Purpose initiative over the past academic year.
In partnership with Bethel Seminary, Work with Purpose and the Twin Cities network of Made to Flourish, Mark Strauss and I provided two target workshops focused on the theme of our book, Leadership in Christian Perspective. Early in 2020, I provided a third workshop on the same theme in partnership with the Twin Cities Regional Chapter of the Gospel Coalition. All of these workshops focused on helping individuals consider how the work of leadership might be approached from a distinctly Christian position, with the chief aim of responsible stewardship and human flourishing.
Reflecting on the time with Made to Flourish pastors, Mark Strauss shared: “Our time with the pastors was great. They especially resonated with the model of servant leadership as empowerment instead of the exercise of personal power.” Although we initially shared reflections from the book, the most meaningful part of the workshop was the Q&A and discussion time, where pastors were able to wrestle with the application of biblical perspectives on leadership for their churches and the empowerment of their people serving as leaders in the marketplace.
Affirming the value of this topic for pastors and seminarians, Made to Flourish City Network Leader Nathan Miller noted the following of our time together: “The topic of leadership provides a perfect example of how critical integration is for effective ministry. We only navigate the intersection of faith, work, and economics well with healthy, integrated leadership.”
Although leadership is critical in times of crisis, leadership that is both faithful to Christian convictions and effective in its application is vital for all seasons. Along with Bethel Seminary, the Work with Purpose Initiative would encourage other Oikonomia Network schools to further lean into their own integrative work related to leadership training. Current and future Christian leaders need this training both for effective church-based ministry and for effective stewardship care in the marketplace.
Faithful stewardship of our churches and organizations is intimately connected to faithfully stewarding the work of leadership. May God strengthen each of you these days as you navigate this season of global crisis and point people to the hope of the true leader of the Church – Our Chief Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ.