Resources for leading amid tragedy and crisis

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Every tragedy -- large or small, public or private -- is different, but they all pose challenges for leadership. Here are resources from the Faith & Leadership archives on leading in times of tragedy and crisis.

Tragedy comes in many forms. The death of a child. A hurricane that kills hundreds. A string of mass shootings, now numbingly familiar … Newtown, Charleston, Orlando. At the center of each is human suffering and grief that can shake a family, a congregation, a nation, the world.

For those who lead churches and church-related institutions, such moments call upon the deepest skills of ministry and leadership. The following is a collection of articles and sermons from Faith & Leadership on leading in times of tragedy and crisis.

Leading in the midst of tragedy and crisis

Public tragedy

Craig T. Kocher: Leading institutions through public tragedy
An institution’s response to a crisis should reflect the core virtues that shape the community’s ongoing life and sense of purpose, writes the former chaplain at the University of Richmond.

Dominique D. Gilliard: Reclaiming the power of lament
In an age of nonstop media that exposes us as never before to the world’s pain and brokenness, lamentation is an essential and even revolutionary act, one that the church needs desperately to reclaim, writes a young pastor.

William H. Lamar IV: Let us go to the other side
Faith and fear have always been intertwined in the Christian imagination, and our continued failure to reckon with this can only lead to continued violence, the pastor of Metropolitan AME Church says in this sermon.

William H. Lamar IV: Reject the myth of redemptive violence
In the aftermath of the mass killing in Charleston, South Carolina, church leaders must begin having real conversations about the truth of America’s history and its mistaken belief in the myth of redemptive violence, the pastor of Metropolitan AME Church says in this interview.

Natasha Jamison Gadson: After Charleston, what is the new normal for pastors, churches and Christian leaders?
The Charleston shooting presents more than just security challenges to church leaders, writes an AME minister. This moment demands honest language and an insistence that black bodies are the image of God.

Melissa Wiginton: Grace after the shooting
Everyone feels the tragedy, but few actually know the people who were hurt, writes the vice president for Education Beyond the Walls at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary

Mark Ralls: Tucson as privation of the good
Christians surrender the vocabulary of evil at our peril, writes a UMC pastor.

Allison Backous Troy: How can we respond to campus shootings?
What is offered in the Gospels, and in the life of the church, is an invitation for our hearts to be healed -- an invitation that each of us can extend to others, writes a graduate of Seattle Pacific University.

Michael B. Brown: Raging winds and rising waters
Even after Hurricane Sandy left everyone feeling bruised and battered, the pastor of Marble Collegiate Church, New York City, reassured his congregation in this sermon that Christ is always with us in the storm.

Michael Jinkins: Remembering 9/11
Remembrance connects us to our past, but in a way that guides our future, writes the president of Louisville Seminary.

Bearing witness to the pain of violence
When a faith-based organization realized its tactics were not accomplishing its goal of stopping violence, members tried a new approach: simply being with people who were suffering.

Marcia Owen: Affirming the dignity of our neighbors
Justice and healing from violence are best approached by simply being with those who are suffering, says a United Methodist layperson who directs a faith-based organization.

Richard Newman: Seizing the moment
AME founder Richard Allen saw in the 1793 yellow fever epidemic an opportunity to help his fellow citizens and to advocate for equality, writes Rochester Institute of Technology history professor Richard Newman.

Tragedy and grief within a congregation

Kevin Adams: Ancient words in a new light
Faced with a grieving family, the Rev. Kevin Adams struggled for words. But a yearlong, congregationwide study of the Psalms helped prepare him for the moment.

Carol Howard Merritt: Serene Jones and Calvin’s ‘Anatomy of the soul
A lecture by Serene Jones reminded us we don’t have to look far to find trauma -- or grace, writes a minister, author and teacher.

 

Leading amid difference

Jessica Bratt: Beyond civility
I am disheartened by the vitriol in current social and political discourse, writes a Ph.D. candidate at Vanderbilt University. But let’s not pretend that civility will fix it.

Rhonda Mawhood Lee: Lessons in hospitality, from the Golden Temple of the Sikhs
At a time of increasing religious violence, an Episcopal priest recalls a long-ago visit to the Sikh Golden Temple in northern India, where radical hospitality forever shaped her vision of Christian community.

Melissa Wiginton: Crossing the aisle at Q
Try talking about something other than the worrisome future of the church, writes the vice president for Education Beyond the Walls at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

Rick Love: The key to peacemaking is drinking lots of coffee and tea
Christians should be proactive in reaching out to break down barriers between Christians and Muslims -- and often that means sharing food and drink, says the president of Peace Catalyst International.

Leanne Van Dyk: Welcome one another
At her inauguration as president of Columbia Theological Seminary, Van Dyk said the admonition to welcome one another in Romans 15 must spur us on to deeper faithfulness to the costly and difficult work of welcome.

 

Reconciliation and forgiveness

L. Gregory Jones: Reconciling leadership from Nickel Mines
Five years after five children were killed and more wounded in a schoolhouse shooting, an Amish community shows how the tradition of forgiveness can enable a new future, writes the executive vice president and provost at Baylor University.

L. Gregory Jones and Célestin Musekura: The dance of forgiveness
Forgiveness is at the heart of the gospel, but learning how to embody it is not easy. In their new book, “Forgiving As We’ve Been Forgiven,” theologians L. Gregory Jones and Célestin Musekura provide a guide for the practice of forgiveness.

Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela: Forgiveness is possible
Even after the worst atrocities, forgiveness is possible, says a South African psychologist and researcher. At its core lies empathy, the turning point where people encounter and recognize each other as human beings.

Maggy Barankitse: On forgiveness
In a short excerpt from a longer interview, the founder and president of Maison Shalom in Burundi explains the importance of forgiveness.

 

Crisis communications

Anne Curley: Do the right thing
In the midst of church scandal or other crisis, leaders need to remember: people expect the truth, says communication expert Anne Curley.

 

Theodicy, suffering and pastoral ministry

Lisa Nichols Hickman: The ministry of ‘Why?’
Two scriptural resources for fielding the hardest, most important question, writes a pastor.

Ellen F. Davis: Radical trust
What kind of God would submit Abraham to the “test” of sacrificing his son, Isaac? There are just two possible answers, and both are difficult, the professor of Bible and practical theology writes.

Richard Lischer: The view from the ditch
In this sermon, the Duke Divinity professor says that from the perspective of the man in the ditch, the story of the good Samaritan asks something more profound than whether you’re willing to help: Are you ready to be rescued?

Samuel Wells: Inheriting the mantle
As new leaders in the church, divinity graduates have an opportunity to see in the church “the wonder of God’s miracles, the glory of God’s goodness, the joy of God’s humor,” writes the vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, London, in this sermon.

 

Additional leadership resources

Samuel Wells: Improvising leadership
Theatrical improvisation is an apt analogy for the Christian life and leadership, says the vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, London, in an interview. Both are about trust, faithfulness and imagination.

L. Gregory Jones: Lincoln’s leadership in the crucible
Abraham Lincoln’s handling of the Fort Sumter crisis in his first days as president seems miraculous until you consider that his character was formed over time to think and act in a particular way, writes the executive vice president and provost at Baylor University.

Nathan Kirkpatrick: The crash of Air France flight 447
The 2009 tragedy is a case study in leadership, teamwork and communication, writes the managing director of Alban at Duke Divinity School.

Stephanie M. Crumpton: Sometimes it’s not enough to say you’re sorry
When Christian leaders learn to hold grace and accountability in creative tension, the foundation is laid for responses that are truly transformative, writes a seminary professor.