Leadership and Racial Injustice: 4 Guiding Thoughts

The number one question and conversation I’ve been engaged in with leaders across the country is literally, “How do we lead in times like these?”

There are far more questions than answers.

Leadership principles remain true and clear, but context and culture are moving rapidly and are blurred at best.

The good news is that great passion runs deep in leaders. We want to make a difference. 

There is a great emphasis today on saying the right words in the right way.

That is a good, noble, and right thing. It’s incredibly important.

But as I think, pray and talk with leaders, I wonder if that isn’t rivaled with the idea of doing the right things at the right time.

There is an old saying, “Actions speak louder than words.”

You and I know both words and actions are important.

As leaders, how do we blend the right combination of saying the right words in the right way and doing the right things at the right time to solve real problems?

Racism is wrong.

Taking a stand against racism is right.

But is there only one way to make a difference?

Or can each person have the freedom to find a way to do their part?

God seems to favor words and actions that build bridges rather than create division.

4 Guiding Principles:

1) Extend freedom for how others choose to take action.

A good starting place is to extend grace and freedom to each other to lead in the way we can personally do the most good and be most helpful in realizing change.

Here’s what I mean.

If you and I sat down over coffee and you tell me what you believe you are called to do, perhaps march in a protest, or speak on a podcast, or post on social media, I’m going to champion your action.

I’m not going to critique you.

I’m going to cheer you on.

There is much more power for progress and change when we can agree on the big picture and support each other’s approach.

Last week I was part of a very candid, beautiful, intense, and enlightening conversation with a group of African American followers of Jesus where we as church leaders listened.

As I listened, my heart became more sensitized.

I don’t pretend to fully understand because I have not had to walk in the shoes of people who have been wronged simply because of the color of their skin.  

But I understand more, and I can certainly continue to listen with a compassionate heart for change.

As each person spoke and delivered honest reality, their stories painted a picture that deserved my attention.

One African American man spoke, and it seemed like the Holy Spirit had something specifically for me. Garry said, “Relationship Resolves Racism.”

That resonated deeply with me, and I believe God is saying to me, “I’ll use you to build bridges and open doors through relationships.”

I don’t yet know the fullness of what that might entail, but I have direction for action and freedom to pursue it.

2) Refrain from judging and criticizing.  

No leader will always get leading in complex circumstances right or do it perfectly.

And candidly, as a leader, I bet you face more than one problem to solve. Be encouraged by this, if you are involved in some way, in any way, that is good!

Someone may do something big, another person something small. One person may be loud and another quiet. Still, another may act more in the moment and the other more planned and deliberate.

There is room for everyone to do their part, each in their own way.

Criticism and division do not help. If there are enough people all rowing in the same direction, we’ll get there.

Notice, I said, “enough people.”

Not everyone can or will take part. That’s just honest reality.

Use your time and energy wisely. It’s not productive or helpful to focus on those who are not involved; instead, join in the larger picture of those who choose to do something.

As leaders, you and I can’t completely avoid criticism, but we can do two things:

  1. Determine what is worth being criticized for.
  2. Avoid criticizing others.

3) Stay in tune with what is happening in the moment.

I’d like to combine two thoughts here that may sound slightly contradictory but hang with me.

First, think and lead with the long view in mind. Huge problems are never solved in a few weeks with one grand effort.

Major systemic issues such as racism require massive long-term effort from resilient leaders who are willing to accept the advances and setbacks that come with the process of change.

This should not be seen as an excuse to be casual and go slow, but rather to be intentional and move forward.

Many small wins bring victory.

Second, with that said, there are moments in time when a window of opportunity arises to gain great momentum all at once.

If you/we miss the moment, that is a great loss. But how “momentum in the moment” is gained often determines how much progress is made over the long haul.

We are in that moment.

To underplay, it loses the opportunity, to overplay it puts credibility at risk.

So how do you, as a leader, know how to lead? (…back to the opening question.)

That brings us to the last point.

4) Lead from your foundational beliefs.  

When pressure rises and a dozen issues clamor for your time and energy, it’s important to lean into your bedrock biblical beliefs and allow them to guide you in your decision-making.

Scripture shapes your values, values direct your actions, and actions determine your outcomes.

No matter how smart you are or how much experience you have, when cultural realities change this rapidly, it’s easy to veer slightly off track in your thinking.

That’s true for all of us.

When a leader’s foundational baseline of thinking is compromised, even a little, it can veer way off track over time. It happens slowly, almost imperceptibly.

For example, it has been suggested that this is not the time to emphasize the gospel because it is too general, and the issues of the day must take center stage.

The gospel is the center stage of the church, no matter what the issues of the day are.

That’s not an excuse for being tone-deaf, disconnected, or oblivious to the real needs of the day. Still, the moment Jesus is no longer at the center of our attention, we’ll never find real solutions to serious problems that last for eternity.

Start with God’s word and lead boldly, as He directs you, to help solve real problems, including racism.

The following is an example of a values-shaping scripture for me:

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” 

Micah 6:8

8 thoughts on “Leadership and Racial Injustice: 4 Guiding Thoughts”

  1. Thank you Dan for this timely word!

    When pressure rises and a dozen issues clamor for your time and energy, it’s important to lean into your bedrock biblical beliefs and allow them to guide you in your decision-making. This is challenging, I must say. But every day the Lord is showing me the wisdom in this one action.

    As always, I appreciate your desire to pour into leaders. We are eternally grateful for your leadership.


    1. Thanks Eve, and it is most challenging for sure! But if we don’t keep after that it’s so easy to veer off track. Keep leading, you are making a difference!


    Im interested in the todays topic about leardership.
    How and what strtegies you will use when some a not their to do the job?
    What leadership style you will use to overcome your heart when people you play with is not their any more.

    1. Thank you for your comment and questions, although I’m not sure I fully understand what you are asking.

      Can you restate your questions?

      If I take a stab at one of the questions, when someone doesn’t do their job? (if that is your question.) Of course there is so much about context that would impact the answer, such as paid or volunteer etc. But here’s where you start.
      1. Make sure the right person is in the right job.
      2. Is your relationship based on trust?
      3. Make the expectations clea.r
      4. Train, develop and coach… THEN you can determine your question of doing/not doing the job. If you have done all three, and it’s not working, AND they know you care about them, you may need to have the tougher conversation about the job not being right for them.

  3. Dan, thank you for your words of wisdom, I deeply appreciate your thoughts — especially the principle of giving others freedom to respond to the direction of the Holy Spirit as he is leading them to confront racism and injustice. I am personally studying the Scriptures afresh to discover what the Bible teaches about justice. I feel like my eyes are being opened to things I have never seen before. Matthew 12:18–21 says Jesus is the Lord‘s chosen servant, and quotes Isaiah 42. This passage is deeply challenging me about an emphasis of Jesus‘ ministry that I have never really considered until this moment. It says Jesus “will proclaim justice to the nations… till he leads justice to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope.” Until now I have never considered Jesus as the leader of justice for all peoples.”

    – Gary Barber

    1. Hey Gary,

      You are most welcome and I’m so glad this post is helpful to you!

      So cool that you are doing a deep dive into scripture to see what God wants to say to you and how He might want to guide your leadership in this matter. Keep digging in!



    Thank you Dan for your post. I am an African and Nigerian but first and foremost a Christian so a Citizen of Heaven and frankly I do not see myself first as a Black man but as a human being. Then with Christianity, I see myself as God sees me – righteous, healed, rich, blessed and absolutely flawless among other things.

    First and foremost, I think the term African American is completely flawed because I do not hear Asian or European or Middle Eastern American etc. So that narrative must change. Everyone born in or naturalized in a country are CITIZENS with equal status. Moreover, many Americans are all immigrants, so why the segregationist name because of the color of skin.

    Secondly, the Church can do a lot like you said in this time by providing leadership as Jesus did – did not discriminate against anyone that is why Jews and Gentiles have been made into one family and the way He did that was AGAPE – love that is patient and kind, does not keep a record of wrongs but rejoices only at the truth etc.

    Thirdly, everything rises and falls with leadership – if leadership in America or somewhere else tolerate and subtly accept or promote racism by not presenting an all inclusive diverse race of Americans/citizens of their country etc then we waste our time. The evil of racism must thus be confronted publicly in speech and action and those who perpetuate it must be sanctioned appropriately.

    My 2 pence and God bless you.

    1. I so appreciate your thoughts and comments, and the spirit in which you wrote them. Thank you.

      In regards to your first point, I would love more input in how to address racial diversity in conversation and in writing. I agree with you citizens and Christians… but sometimes for clarity we need to acknowledge who we are talking with or writing about. Each time I ask someone, I am offered a different answer. I would genuinely love to know the best way.

      Second, lead like Jesus did. Yes!

      Third point, I trust that we can all step up to do our part, and as I wrote giving one another freedom to advocate for change in the way or ways each of us determine we can make the biggest difference.

      Thanks again,

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