Courageous Leadership: What’s Beyond COVID?

By Tim Bentum  |  December 6th

By now, I think most of us have stopped making predictions about the future. The only thing that we can really be certain of is that we can’t be certain of anything, outside of our faith in a good God who loves us and continues to lead us in the midst of uncertainty. As prominent Biblical scholar N.T. Wright puts it, the best tools we have available to us to foresee an unknown but desired future are ‘like signposts pointing into a fog.’ Because no one can claim to know the mind of God, the title of this article is both inherently provocative and somewhat presumptuous; almost like ‘click-bait’ in a non-social media context. Having said this, have no fear, I’m not here to share any fantastical, eye-roll inducing or purportedly clairvoyant predictions about a ‘post-COVID world’!

What I will offer you is a potentially new framework for how to think about predictions in general, at least to the best of our broken human ability. It is my hope and prayer that this is helpful to you in your life and leadership, because leadership is about seeing the future and constructing a plan to get there. Leadership in today’s world requires huge doses of courage as you move your organization along towards a desired future.

I am reminded of the words of popular pastor and Global Leadership Summit alumnus, Erwin McManus, who recently said something on a podcast that has stuck with me. To paraphrase: ‘in order to predict the future, you only need to learn to read the present’. Stop here for a minute and reflect on this–it is a striking idea.

To extend this thought further, McManus’ point is that we don’t predict the future so much as we create the future by acting and taking steps in faith according to the signs and signals we are being sent around us each day. So how can you as a school leader learn how to read the present to better bring yourself and your school into alignment with God’s plan? Many times a long journey begins with a simple first step.

For starters, here are a few questions designed to better attune you to ‘read the present’ so that you are better equipped to ‘create the future’ in your context, which is something that you are called to do as a leader:

  1. What do you see and hear going on around you? (simple question, but it has been hard for all of us to see the forest for the trees during COVID)
  2. What are the trends that seem to be amplifying and growing in your world?
  3. What is God speaking to you through your study of scripture?
  4. What is God speaking to you through trusted voices around you?
  5. What is God speaking to you through difficult voices around you? (a more complex question)
  6. Where are signs of life and flourishing in your daily experience?
  7. What kinds of things in your leadership are bearing good fruit (Matthew 7:17-18)?
  8. What kinds of things need to stop and require your courageous vision to chart a new path for your own life and/or your school?
  9. What are the things that you need to be doing, that are not getting done, that only you can do?
  10. If/when you sit in silence, where do your thoughts go? Write those down.
  11. What is something you have read recently that keeps coming back to mind?

I could add more questions, but hopefully these get you thinking. The point is that you don’t need to sit in a dark room and think deep thoughts in order to predict the future. Rather, the future is happening all around you, every day, whether or not you understand it, realize it, or recognize it.

This begs the next question, what do you do with the answers to the questions above?

I’d suggest three simple steps, which I have used in my own leadership:

  1. Take a moment to write out two or three themes that have been on your mind. If you never stop to do something like this, it is hard to read the present in order to predict the future.
  2. Pray about what you are writing and thinking. Ask God to cancel out your negative thoughts, and ask for clear direction. Pete Scazzero frames this as ‘praying for indifference’--that is, praying for indifference to your own agenda and asking for God’s direction and guidance in your life.
  3. Speak with your ‘circle’ of trusted mentors, advisors, team members, cheerleaders etc. The Christian life is not meant to be lived alone. Bible scholar Tim Mackie notes that for the first 1500 years of Christianity, Biblical reading was done publicly, in a community, with an expectation of engagement, debate and discussion to discern God’s will both individually and collectively. Some of this has been lost in our individualized, Western version of Christianity.

In summary, how do you ‘predict’ the future? You don’t. You create the future by aligning your life with Christ and walking in His direction, both personally and corporately. As the Bible puts it, in him we ‘live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28). When we align our thoughts and actions with Christ, things don’t necessarily get easier (John 16:33), but the future does get clearer in that our burden becomes lighter (Matthew 11:28-30) in the knowledge that we are walking in His path and with his strength and not our own.

What does a ‘post-COVID’ world look like? I am not sure. I have some thoughts and I love to make predictions about the future, but I have found that these predictions become heavy burdens if they are filled with too much of me and too little of Christ at work in me. More than ever before, Christian schools need leaders who are intentional about aligning their lives with Christ. To be clear, this is something that I, myself, struggle with on a daily basis. It takes courage to face your shortcomings and limitations in the face of an unknown future. However, I have found the outcomes are worth the struggle.

Many blessings to you as you lead in this difficult season. May God bless you richly as we head towards a well-deserved Christmas break!

Tim Bentum is Principal at London Christian High and the Bluewater Cohort Leader at Edvance.