by Israel Steinmetz
Visionary Leadership in a Global Crisis
These are troubling times. As I’m writing, the World Health Organization is reporting over 16,000,000 global cases of COVID-19 and over 650,000 deaths. The Center for Disease Control reports that 4,000,000 of those cases and nearly 150,000 of those deaths are here in the United States. I know several people who’ve died from COVID-19 and I live in one of the counties where cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are spiking.
A financial crisis is on the heals of the health pandemic, with volatile unemployment numbers, financial stimulus from a debt-ridden government, historic economic contractions and a host of businesses closing. An entire nation is trying to balance lives and livelihoods and no simple solution is available.
Protests and Riots
Protests and riots against racial injustice and police brutality continue to roil cities around the world in the wake of three needless killings of black people in the US this past spring. I’ve marched in one of the protests with over 5,000 other peaceful protesters, and then watched the news in heartbreak as later that same night others engaged in rioting just a few blocks from where our march had peacefully ended.
Political partisanship seems at an all-time high in the US where devoted Republicans and Democrats often seem incapable of speaking peaceably to one another, despite their shared commitment to govern in unity, and even with a shared commitment to Christ. With the pandemic raising questions about how to proceed, the 2020 presidential election seems fraught with more division and potential for disaster than any election in recent memory.
In the midst of everything are the daily stories that capture the attention and plague the mind: wars, famines, natural disasters, crime, broken families, division, hatred, the list goes on. With so much chaos and heartbreak in our world today, people are searching for answers, explanations, even someone to blame. And while any one crisis or issue may have a simple enough explanation, can we really believe that it’s all just random and arbitrary? These fears and anxieties lead to the question at the center of this article:
What’s really going on in the United States right now?
Visionary Leadership in the Church
If you read the news, hang out on social media, or listen to certain preachers, you’ve heard this question floating around lately in various forms. The implication of the question is that behind everything going on right now there is a hidden agenda, a malicious plan, perhaps even a widespread conspiracy at work. We may think we know what’s happening in our nation, but the real story is behind the scenes.
The question is being floated on cable news, speculated about in countless articles and sermons, and debated on social media and YouTube. Whatever the source or the way the question is asked, the implied answer is the same. There is a dark, secretive, dangerous thing going on in the background of American society, and “true Americans” better wake up before it’s too late.
Many of those saying these things are specifically aiming them at Christians. The conspiracy they claim is destroying America is specifically a threat to the Church in America. The targets of the conspiracy are good, God-fearing, patriotic Americans who uphold the Bible and the Constitution.
But are the rumors and fears and conspiracy theories true? Is the “real enemy” a secretive group of powerful people, a political party, or an atheistic philosophy or ideology? Is the “real solution” to rout out the “enemies of America” from power in order to restore this country to its “Christian foundations”? Is that what’s really going on in the United States right now?
Seeing the Big Picture
Artios Christian College is committed to equipping Christian leaders for a vibrant 21st century church. A key task of leadership is being able to see the big picture, imagine a better future, cast a vision of hope, and rally people around a way of shared being and doing that leads into that brighter vision of tomorrow. Leaders bear the weight of properly identifying the problems, proactively forming solutions, and reminding those who follow of what is at stake and what is possible. As Christian leaders, we must be clear and Christ-centered as we give a diagnosis of what is wrong in our world and a prognosis for how it can be made right.
So, what is really going on in the United States right now? Can Scripture provide answers for those who follow Christ and lead others in following him?
What’s really going on in the US is what is really going on in the entire world, and what has really been going on in every nation and civilization in history. What’s going on is that God’s very good creation is being destroyed by sin and death. Sin is more than a choice we make to do something wrong; it is a taskmaster that enslaves us and destroys the image of God in our humanity like a cancer. And the result of sin is death. Spiritual death. Physical death. Relational death. Cosmic death. We see it in wars and famines and plagues and diseases and natural disasters and everything that is contrary to God’s vision of a good and perfect world.
And this sin and death, this evil, is not simply an impersonal reality we’re dealing with. There is a master deceiver, an archenemy, a puppet-master pulling strings in the background. But it’s no human politician, celebrity, philosopher, academic, or religious leader. It’s the Devil, the nemesis of God’s people, the dark spiritual force behind the sin and death and evil in the world. And this Devil has at his disposal a host of dark spiritual forces, demons, and evil spirits that work to speed up the flywheel of sin and death on planet earth, plunging it ever closer to hell.
This story, dark and dismal as it seems, is the story of Scripture. But it’s only part of the story. The other part is that the God who created all things has not abandoned them to sin and death and the Devil. Rather, he has gone to the greatest personal lengths to provide redemption, restoration, reconciliation—and all toward the ultimate goal of re-creation.
And that re-creation begins now in the lives of those who are redeemed from sin and death, restored from their brokenness, reconciled to God in Christ. This is God’s plan and mission in the world—to advance his kingdom throughout the world through the ministry and message of his redeemed people. Waging peace and serving in love, God’s people represent his kingdom on earth through the Church to bear witness to an entirely different way of life. A way of life that is led and empowered by the Spirit, centered on true love for God and each other, and committed to the forgiveness, compassion, justice, righteousness, peace, joy, and wholeness that are only possible in Jesus Christ and his Spirit-indwelt Church in the world.
Redemption, Reconciliation, and Restoration
One day, Christ himself will return to complete the work he began at his first coming, and to bring the process of redemption, reconciliation, and restoration to its completion in a perfect new creation. He’s coming back for a people who have pledged their allegiance to him, who have faithfully walked in his footsteps, who’ve rejected the power and promise of this dying world and its temporal governments and power structures in order to be ambassadors for an otherworldly kingdom.
That’s a familiar story to Christians, but it’s one we need to keep telling, especially as leaders. We need to keep telling the truth about who we are and what God has called us to do. Because the stories we’re being told by the world around us would compromise our allegiance, confuse our focus, shift our priorities, and steal our identity.
Visionary Leadership and Hope
There is no salvation for us or the world through a political candidate, platform or party, a national identity, or worldly philosophy or identity. Nor are any of those things the root of what is broken in our hearts and our world. Every human, regardless of color, age, gender, nationality, party, belief, sexual orientation, socio-economic class, morality or immorality is subject to the same curse of sin and death and the Devil. And every human has the same access to the same Savior, the same hope, the same entry into new, abundant, and eternal life.
As Christian leaders, may we continue to tell the true story of what is broken in our world and how it can be fixed. There is an answer to “What is really going on in the United States right now?” But the ultimate answer isn’t found in a party platform, a presidential candidate, a self-styled “prophecy expert,” or a conspiracy theory. The answer to the question—and the solution to the problem—is found in Scripture alone, and is understood and applied by the Spirit at work in the Church alone, through Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone.