Leading in Anxious Times

Leading in Anxious Times

It’s a sleepless night. I can’t remember another one. Short nights, yes. But one entirely without sleep? No. At least not since those notorious all-nighters during college to cram for a test.

Am I anxious? Probably. My father’s letter is breaking sound barriers. Our family fabric is threatening to fray. Our denominations (MC USA and MC Canada) are feeling fragile and in danger of serious fracturing. Political paralysis and polarization pervade the nation. And it’s dreadfully cold in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan where global warming has yet to arrive.

My job as president of AMBS, a bi-national seminary, brings me to these windswept northern plains. Earlier this week, it was Winnipeg and the MEDA (Mennonite Economic Development Association) annual meeting where the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship moves courageously to meet the challenge of anxious times by “creating business solutions to poverty.”

A week earlier, AMBS, in partnership with Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite Church Canada Witness, convened business, mission, and faculty leaders to imagine how to provide learning opportunities for multi-vocational leaders with entrepreneurial skills that are grounded in a holistic, Anabaptist missiology. The generative conversation seemed especially vigorous precisely because we live in anxious times.

The times are a’changing, and so very fast, that we’re in serious danger of losing our balance. Losing our bearings. Losing sleep. Whole industries, including theological schools all across North America, are needing to reinvent ourselves; to reinvigorate our mission. The market landscape is shifting unbelievably. As someone said: “Everything is forced to keep up or shut down.”

As an educator by training, I know how important it is to the vitality of our faith communities that we attend to both continuity and change; continuity with the deep wisdom of our faith tradition and the possibility for innovative, adaptive change. Rootedness in the rich soil of God’s vision in the Scriptures and readiness to risk new growth.

A burning question for me in these anxious times is how to draw life-giving water from the well-spring of God’s Jubilee vision. As leaders, unless we are lovingly alive with Jesus mission to preach good news, release captives, open eyes, and free the oppressed our work will lose its transformative vitality. We will lose our way, disoriented by rapidly shifting sands.

Jesus, the early Christians, and the Anabaptists lived in times of great anxiety and conflict. They model for us how staying rooted in the rich tradition of the Scriptures empowered them to become innovative leaders of revitalization. They broke with the settled consensus of their time because they glimpsed God’s surging, joy-filled Jubilee vision for healing and hope.

My work on Anabaptist Ways of Knowing highlighted philosopher and scientist Michael Polanyi’s “Society of Explorers.” Polanyi contended that a great tradition provides the grounds both for its being maintained and for adaptive innovation. Exploration, he said, requires both authoritative, traditional frameworks that provide accountability and an openness to original, innovative insights from individual explorers.

The Anabaptists rediscovered the deep wellspring of their Christian tradition. They rediscovered the stories of Jesus and the early church. The ancient Scriptural tradition, with the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, provided them with the link to their community’s origins. Their devotion to Jesus liberated them to preach good news to the poor and release to captives. Their individual and collective renewal movement dramatically showed that a great tradition provides the grounds both for continuity and for revitalization.

I come from a family of entrepreneurs in business, mission and education. My parents, ever since I can remember, wanted to capture the imagination of their children with their love for the Bible. Mother and Dad engaged in small business ventures to help support education that awakens people to the world creating biblical vision of God’s good will for new contexts and generations.
I am grateful for the sturdy rootedness in the loamy, rich soil of the Bible they and many good teachers since have provided for me and countless others.

To be a leader with integrity and wisdom in anxious times requires deep knowledge of God’s mercy-filled vision for this messed up marvel that is our world, found in the Scriptures.

To be a leader who is resilient, courageous and just in anxious times requires an understanding of the transformative power of God’s Jubilee vision that no one will “hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”

To be a leader with bold imagination who is prepared to chart new paths in anxious times will require a non-anxious ability to speak the truth in love, graciously and transparently.

Perhaps now I can sleep, remembering that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble…. Be still, and know that I am God!”

This post was requested by The Mennonite for their Leadership column, published in the Nov. 24 issue.