Leading Beyond Fear
by Ed Noot, SCSBC Executive Director ◊
In 2016, SCSBC published a LINK article entitled Leading Beyond Fear with a particular focus on the rising populism of the day. The relevance of our leadership comportment in a seemingly hostile culture has not diminished so this topic merits more reflection.
The literature on governance for not-for-profit organizations consistently affirms a primary role of the board as protecting the mission and vision of the school and, accordingly, SCSBC encourages school boards to scan the horizon for potential threats and to take steps to mitigate these threats.
The concept of protecting from threats can lead to boards taking defensive postures and acting out of a defensive mindset. Our language and thought patterns can become somewhat militaristic and conjure images of building protective barriers that we can safely hide behind – to preserve what we have and prevent us from losing something (property, resources, policy, freedom, etc.) to an attack or external threat. Acting out of fear can lead to a protectionist stance.
The biblical narrative provides instances of protectionist thinking. Moses resisted his call to leadership to protect a life that was secure for him and the Pharisees created an elaborate system of laws, rules and procedures to protect their view of orthodoxy and their political power.
Western history also offers compelling examples, like the Inquisition as part of the Catholic response to the protestant reformation; or the response of U.S. plantation owners and southern politicians to the pending abolition of slavery; or the Canadian Chinese head tax, issued after the completion of the railway.
There are times, however, when a protectionist, defensive posture does not represent a faithful response in our Christian school context. At times the situation may require a thoughtful, creative, courageous and proactive approach.
While the Psalms are full of expressions of anguish at the enemies surrounding us, the Bible also reminds us time and again to ‘be not afraid’. When God’s people encounter his presence in a burning bush, or via an angel or in a dream the encounter begins with a reminder to be not afraid. After this reminder, the Lord sometimes asks his people to engage in courageous behaviour, which may have been viewed with suspicion, or even scorn, by those around them. Think of Moses leaving Midian and heading to Egypt to confront Pharaoh (haha – confronting Pharaoh? That’s a good one!), or Joseph quietly marrying Mary even though she was pregnant at the time (what is he thinking?).
God equips and sustains those he calls to leadership. Of many biblical examples (Moses, Gideon, Deborah, Mary, Paul, Peter etc.) perhaps the most compelling is that of Joshua. Joshua has been called to lead Israel to take possession of the promised land. His task will be fraught with challenges and difficulties; both external and internal. God commissions him with a powerful and encouraging directive in Joshua 1: 5-9:
No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.
Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.
“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”
God has called Joshua to leadership and commissions him with a powerful and commanding mandate to be strong and courageous. He does not offer Joshua some ‘friendly advice’ or give him ‘a suggested way of being’ but rather he invokes a command; be strong and courageous. He reminds Joshua to not act out of fear, but out of strength and courage. God makes this bold command to Joshua because Joshua is fulfilling a promise that God made. The people of Israel are not Joshua’s people, they are God’s own people and God will have his way, using leaders like Joshua to achieve his promises.
When I was a young Christian school principal feeling the weight of leadership responsibility a mentor reminded me that the school was not mine, but it was God’s, and that God would have way in his school and that as a leader I was his instrument. This reminder helped ease the tension and moved me from a place of fearful, anxious leadership to a place of strong and courageous leadership – in God’s strength. I recognize that God will lead through me, or perhaps in spite of me, but God will be true to his promises and he will have his way.
The opening verses of Isaiah 43 remind us of God’s sovereign power in our life:
But now, this is what the LORD says—
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name;
you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.”
May the God who called us to leadership in Christian education sustain and empower us to stand on his promises and lead his schools with strength and courage.