Of Donkeys, Elephants and Other Animals

Anxiety, incivility, trauma, fear, dismay–these are all words I’ve heard in the past few days as the U.S. election draws near. How do U.S. Pastors and church leaders  navigate this moment that is so fraught with anxiety, incivility, and congregational members who are at odds with one another?

The temptation may be to ignore what’s going on, not mention it during the week or at worship, our call as leaders to step into these moments, not to step away from them. As we step Stepping into this moment, we declare that Jesus is King and that there is not one square inch of this world that he does not say, “That belongs to me!” (cf. Abraham Kuyper).

In light of this, here are some ways that leaders can navigate this week (and please, put ways you are engaging this week in the comments section).

  1. Pray
    1. As we face anxiety and discord, one of the crucial parts of prayer is to reach into the Scriptures as our guide. In the New Testament, we find potent prayers in Ephesians and Revelation. The Psalms, Nehemiah, and Daniel give us a prayer guide from the Old Testament. Praying these prayers draw us more deeply into God’s kingdom and his desires.
    2. We can also reach into the church’s history using prayers from the early church, the daily office, etc. All of these prayers keep us focused on the life and ways of the historic church.
  2. Listen
    1. There will be people in our congregations who are deeply dismayed, no matter the outcome of the election. One of the church leader’s callings is to listen, even if we might disagree with the person’s stance.
    2. Listening also means knowing what our congregation is experiencing this week and being prepared to address that reality with individuals and corporately.
  3. Unify
    1. Leaders call their congregations to those things that unify us. In the weeks to come, it is essential to speak what unifies us (e.g., Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, Question and Answer 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism). We must also remind our congregation that we are speaking these words because they unify us. Clarity about unity is critical at this moment.
    2. While our creeds and confessions unify us, each congregation has a vision, mission, and values that unify it in its local setting. Calling people to the church’s vision, mission, and values can be powerful at this moment. For instance, in a church that I served, one of the core values is acceptance. To call people to see that as a community, we value acceptance shapes us.
  4. Discern
    1. People will desire to know that we see them and their concerns this week. During this week and as we step into the Sundays need to show that we see their concerns, hurts, and worries. We want to make sure we don’t treat people as if they are invisible.
    2. Leaders also need to discern what they need in the coming weeks to come to be a non-anxious presence in a very anxious time.
  5. Disciple
    1. No matter the election outcome, we what to help our congregations live as the best possible kingdom citizens. Leaders show members a picture of the kingdom that all can live out in their lives. One of the best places to go for this kind of direction is Jesus’ kingdom manifesto in Matthew 5-7.
    2. A second resource for this kingdom living is the nearly 60 “one another” passages in the New Testament. These passages show how communities of Jesus live with one another — even in divisive times.
    3. Finally, leaders to keep in mind is to be prepared beforehand for conversations and even conflicts. Having several ways of speaking to people in the midst of what’s going on can be extremely helpful.

This season will most likely be difficult (perhaps in your context is already is!). But it is also an opportunity for leaders to care for and disciple their congregations. We don’t imagine that this will be an easy calling this season, but it is necessary to live out this part of our calling.

If you are interested, Vibrant Congregations with the Center for Church Renewal, Healthy Church Discernment Process, and Calvin Seminary are hosting a post-election conversation on Friday at 11:00 a.m. EST. If you’d like to participate, send an email to info@VibrantCongregations.org. We will send you the Zoom link.

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