Christian leadership in times of crisis

2020 Autumn Lectures

As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. And I said, “O LORD God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments’
Nehemiah 1:4-5 (ESV)

The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged governments around the world. What does the Christian faith have to say about leadership in such times of crisis? The response of the institutional church has been largely managerial and has failed to provide spiritual leadership to the nation. Our lectures this year will provide insight and analysis of scriptural teaching, the historical response and then finally an assessment of where we have gone wrong in dealing with the pandemic.

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1. Biblical teaching on leadership in times of crisis

The teaching of Scripture is the proper starting point for any discussion of Christian leadership under crisis. Nehemiah is despatched back to the ruins of Jerusalem, with a final group of the exiles, with the city and the nation of Israel in crisis. Threatened by those around them, the rebuilding project ground to a halt. How did Nehemiah provide leadership to the disheartened exiles? What lessons can we learn for today?

2. Leadership under crisis in Christian history

What did the Reformers teach about the appropriate response to plague and pandemic? Martin Luther wrote a treatise on the matter which we will consider. Thomas Cranmer fled from Cambridge in the face of a plague! In the nineteenth century there were several visitations of cholera in which thousands of people died. Bonhoeffer demonstrated true spiritual leadership from his prison cell.

3. A failure of spiritual leadership

Many have reported increased spiritual interest in the person of Jesus Christ during this pandemic. This has often been true in these times of crisis. Individual church ministers have often been heroic. However, the response of the church as an institution has been nothing short of scandalous. Why this failure of spiritual leadership? What led to the suspension of public worship for the first time since Magna Carta? There are, of course, broader questions including the trade-off between health and economics, the proper role of the state and the place of liberty, including religious liberty. We will reflect on all these matters. Recorded 20 October 2020