Leading Beyond Fear
by Ed Noot, SCSBC Executive Director ◊
Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favour with God – Luke 1:30
The world is seeing a sharp rise of populism and nationalism. These changes are taking root in North America, Europe and elsewhere. Populism contains diverse aspects, but is commonly based on fear and can be expressed in anger and hate masquerading as bravado. When populist parties and leaders are in power, vulnerable and marginalized people can find themselves at increased risk.
The recent US election demonstrated that there is a direct link between populist politics and schools, as some incidents of bullying, harassment and racism broke after the election – seemingly based on election rhetoric which was frequently broadcast during the weeks preceding the vote. Suddenly racist acts that were unthinkable before became acceptable as deep-seated fears and anger had become legitimized.
As Christian school leaders (board and administration), our leadership messages and behaviour matter because they shape behaviour of youth and our school culture. What messages do our students, staff and parents perceive as they watch the leaders in our schools? Is our governing and leading; development of policy and procedure; response to culture and the media; and, curriculum and program development driven by fear and reaction to perceived threats?
While leaders certainly need to be aware of potential threats, fear can motivate us to judgment and isolation as our primary ways of being. I’ve been a supporter of Christian education my whole life, and remain passionately so today. I do, however, from time to time wonder if Christian schools have led us to isolate our students in unhealthy ways and to create an us/them, saints/sinners type of mentality that resticts us from walking the road of reconciliation and shalom.
SCSBC advocates that school boards pay close attention to their primary function of protecting. As a key part of governance, boards are to protect the mission and vision of the school; guard finances to ensure viability and sustainability; and shield the school from legal risk.
This protection mode needs to be tempered by Jesus’ reminder of the centrality of reconciliation. Leaders need to function within the context of a proactive stance, as is often expressed in our mission statements. Many of our mission statements express a desire to engage, impact and transform culture for Christ. These are bold ambitions that can only be realized by taking our lead from Jesus’ leadership message as centered on reconciliation. He often avoided the halls of power to deliver this message of hope to the least of these. John 3:16 reads, “for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son …” As such, John 3:16 gives a global, wholistic focus to God’s love through Jesus. How do our schools demonstrate this love of Jesus for the world and how do our schools demonstrate his passion for the marginalized?
Paul, in 2 Corinthians, characterizes Christ’s work as an act of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:18- 20 would form an interesting mandate for leadership in our Christian schools. Reconciliation with God, with fellow humans (both inside and outside of our community) and with the world itself will give our leadership a proactive stance based on a positive imperative. This stance will allow us to have an impact: perhaps through a transforming influence (as articulated in Richard Niebuhr’s classic typology, Christ and Culture, New York: Harper, 1951.); or via a faithful presence (as articulated by James Hunter in To Change the World, Oxford University Press Inc., 2010.).
If we can root our leadership in reconciliation, we’ll avoid the pitfalls of fear and anger that populism presents. While being aware of potential threats our primary leadership stance will be proactive and missional, seeking to advance reconciliation and shalom through the community of learners in our Christian school.
2 Corinthians 5:18-20 New International Version
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.