Leading in Divisive Times: 5 Ways to Stay Above the Fray

How do we spiritually shepherd our people at a time when the Body of Christ is so polarized, fragmented, and testy? I’ve been asking myself that question every day for months. If you’re a pastor or ministry leader, you’ve been asking yourself that question as well. 

Do we come out with fists swinging, calling it as we see it? Or do we keep our cards close and pray that the cloud blows over before word leaks out that we actually have an opinion?

As ministry leaders, we tend to admire the guys that stick their necks out. But when the shrapnel starts flying… we wonder if their bravado was really all that helpful, or if it simply poured kerosene on the flames.

I am a pastor. I lead a diverse congregation full of strong-minded people with strident opinions. We have the pro-maskers and the de-maskers, the ‘never-Trumpers’ and ‘forever-Trumpers.’ We have people who think Biden can do no wrong and those who think he’s all wrong. Leading our people well during this season of divisiveness has been a prayer-filled challenge. 

Over the last year, I’ve learned a thing or two about navigating troubled waters. If I have any wisdom to share, it’s this:

  1. Keep pointing your people to Jesus. The #1 question is always this: ‘What would Jesus do?’ Here’s what we know:
  • When insulted, he refused to insult
  • When assaulted, he refused to assault
  • He turned the other cheek and walked the extra mile
  • He felt no need to boast, gloat, flaunt, or fight
  1. Model thoughtful, respectful, compassionate discourse. Show your people what it looks like to make the case for truth without sneering and smearing. They’re not getting good examples from anywhere else.
  1. Be the voice of calm reassurance. Hysteria is in the air. We need to be consistently reminding our people that ‘God’s got this!’
  1. Speak truth and nothing but the truth. Give no place to exaggerations, extrapolations, or propagations of wide-eyed conspiracy theories. Just because you heard something on Fox News or CNN doesn’t mean it’s true.
  1. Don’t allow yourself to get identified too closely with a political party or position. Jesus never allowed his cause and name to be co-opted by the political and ideological parties of his day. He friended all and spoke truth to all.  To this day, his supporters and critics are still trying to figure out which party he most closely aligned himself with:
  • The Pharisees (Conservatives),
  • The Sadducees (Liberal), 
  • The Zealots (Nationalist), or 
  • The Essenes (Isolationist)

Jesus staunchly avoided any ‘earthly allegiance’ that could lead to a distortion of his message, a distraction from his purpose, or a doubt about his character. 

So… what have you learned about leading your flock during this season of dissent and discontent? I’d love to hear your thoughts!