Finding Meaning in Times of Crisis


"Leadership is proven through dark and stormy times. Extraordinary leaders find meaning in times of crisis. Such times are opportunities to become stronger, more confident leaders. These transformative events are not always caused by God, but He uses them to shape us. Dark and stormy times are leadership crucibles that give us opportunity for deep self-reflection about our values, our leadership philosophy, and our purpose.

Here are the skills Jesus modeled when His disciples were facing the storm:

  • Engage people to discover meaning in the storm. Jesus and His disciples were “in the same boat,” as the saying goes. It was a time for them to learn from each other. To the degree that leaders can constructively and sensitively engage others, they can help them find meaning from a crisis. This means listening, comforting, and looking to God together.
  • Discover and use a compelling voice. Jesus spoke compellingly to His disciples. Those who speak with confidence, openness, peace, and wisdom in the midst of a storm, learn and grow from the experience and encourage others to do the same.
  • Act with integrity of purpose. Jesus was not impressed with the power of the storm. Leaders rise above fear, above pain, and lean hard into God and His Word to act with integrity of purpose. Dark and stormy times are not times to use religious clichés (“God knows,” “It’s all in the Lord’s hands,” etc.). Jesus saw meaning in the storm. It was that meaning that guided Him, not the storm itself or the reaction of His disciples to the storm.
  • Cultivate “adaptive capacity.” This is the most crucial skill a leader can possess to lead others through a crisis. It is the ability to grasp context, to see the big picture, to learn from the storm itself, and to step back and gain perspective. Effective leaders learn to adapt - some gain perspective from prayer, others from asking good questions, still others draw on past experiences. Like Jesus, 
strong leaders are not emotionally reactive. Rather than getting lost in subjective personal responses, they increase their capacity to connect with others through difficult circumstances. These leaders remain hardy and hopeful despite disaster and difficulty.

I was pastoring in the United States when the 9/11 terrorist attack took place in New York City. I quickly consulted with a close friend, then called the congregation together for prayer. We agreed that a national time of tragedy was not a time to reason things through intellectually, cast blame on the enemy, look for “sin in the camp,” or simplify such a complex issue as a spiritual attack. I led the congregation to respond from the heart. We responded through prayer and scriptural reflection to acknowledge our feelings. Through that posture of honesty, we looked to God for comfort and to guide our attitudes and actions.

As a result, some members of the congregation decided to reach out to their Muslim neighbors and co-workers to assure them of their love and the love of Jesus. Others visited Muslim schools and community centers to take food accompanied by notes of friend- ship. We also ran an advertisement in the local newspaper to share our love as followers of Jesus with the Muslim community.

God used our responses to touch the hearts of many Muslims, open up deeply meaningful conversations, and be an example of how a city should respond in one of our nation’s darkest and stormiest times.

List a few stormy times you have walked through, or walked others through. Using the four skills Jesus modeled, assess your responses. Spend some time in prayer, asking God to help you remember and use these skills when tough times happen. Also keep in mind the four things we should not do in stormy times.

Four Stormy-time Dos

  1. Engage people to discover meaning in the storm.
  2. Discover and use a compelling voice.
  3. Act with integrity of purpose.
  4. Cultivate adaptive capacity.

Four Stormy-time Don’ts

  1. Reason things through intellectually.
  2. Cast blame on an enemy.
  3. Look for sin in the camp.
  4. Simplify a complex issue by calling it a spiritual attack.

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