Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

What I wish I knew in March, 2020

Written by: on January 22, 2024

I’ve always felt comfortable leading. From early in my life, I could naturally envision a preferred future, could see obstacles to that future, and then rally others around overcoming challenges to accomplishing that vision. I’ve been professionally serving in some form of leadership for over 35 years, and along the way I picked up a master’s degree in leadership and now, of course, I am working on a leadership doctorate.

But as much as I am drawn to serve people through leading, I must admit that leadership can be tiring. I’m not quite to the point where I believe that “leadership would be great if it wasn’t for the people”, but there are days when I get close.

However, most of my life I’ve understood that’s just part of what leadership is. It’s not always fun (though it often is), and if times weren’t difficult, there wouldn’t be a need for a leader to help discern how to get through difficult times.

That confession aside, I’ve generally felt competent to lead; I can pivot and adjust through different requirements of leadership, and I sleep well at night knowing I’ve done my best and that I can pick up tomorrow where I left off today.

That is, I felt all of those things until 2020.

2020 is when everything about leadership changed. Every day I had to deal with a new crisis, or had to face something I’d never experienced, or I had to have answers I wasn’t equipped to get and didn’t know where to turn to find. And when I say every day, I’m not being hyperbolic. Literally every day of 2020 and into 2021 I woke up with the dread of what new challenge might present itself and wondered if I was up for the task.

I’m not kidding when I say there were days when I felt like I knew nothing about leadership, when I couldn’t make a decision to save my (or anyone else’s) life, and when I would have been just fine to quit if God gave me that option.

I’m embarrassed to say that seemingly overnight I transformed from a comfortable, relatively competent leader to someone who (for the first time in my life) didn’t want to face the day.

That is a too-long introduction to get to the point of this blog post, which is this: I wish I would have had a book like Rethinking Leadership: A Critique of Contemporary Theories at the beginning of 2020, because this book provides essential insights to leading in a season like the one where I almost threw in the towel.

Annabel Beerel wrote her book in the middle of the Pandemic with the unique leadership challenges of that season in mind. She noticed that “when Covid-19 struck… few leaders were to be found. Most of them ignored the problem and started pointing fingers at others. China was to blame. The World Health Organization was to blame. The federal Government of the US was to blame. Brexit, you name it, all got thrown into the stew of confusion, denial, bravado, and defensive posturing by those supposedly in charge… then reactivity kicked in.” [1]

These opening words to her book cut me to the heart. I had a lot of fingers pointed at me in that season. And I pointed a few myself.

But that’s not what leadership is. Leadership isn’t reactive but proactive; it’s not accusatory but it takes responsibility. And leaders are perhaps most needed most when an organization, or the world, is on fire. That’s just part of what leadership is. And if we can’t take the heat, perhaps we need to get out of the kitchen.

Beerel tells us why she wrote the book: “While many will try to return to the old ways, they will fail. The past is gone. A new world is emerging that requires a whole other level of consciousness. In short, new leaders are needed. This book is about those new leaders and the new leadership required.”[2]

And through the book she examines leadership philosophy, theory, and practice, with an interdisciplinary approach, viewed through the lens of the new leaders and leadership that will be required. It was helpful to review aspects of leadership that I have already encountered in my studies, but with a framework pointing to applying these amid a crisis.

My most valuable takeaway wasn’t something Beerel wrote but a thought that the book inspired in me: I am a leader; God knew I would be leading at such a time as this, and if I am to fulfill my calling, I can’t put my head in the sand or not get out of bed. Instead, I need to learn as much as I can about leading in uncertain times so I can serve people who need authentic, adaptive, transpersonal, and systemic leadership[3] when their world is falling apart, too.

I can’t say that Rethinking Leadership is going to keep me out of my next leadership crisis, but it’s helpful to know that I own a book that I can reference the next time one comes up.



[1] Annabel Beerel. Rethinking Leadership: A Critique of Contemporary Theories. London and New York: Routledge, 2021.

[2] Ibid., 2

[3] Ibid., 387

About the Author


Tim Clark

I'm on a lifelong journey of discovering the person God has created me to be and aligning that with the purpose God has created me for. I've been pressing hard after Jesus for 40 years, and I currently serve Him as the lead pastor of vision and voice at The Church On The Way in Los Angeles. I live with my wife and 3 kids in Burbank California.

16 responses to “What I wish I knew in March, 2020”

  1. mm Kim Sanford says:

    I’m sure we can all relate to how you describe 2020 as uncharted waters. We were all trying to figure it out as we went along, weren’t we? I’m curious about the interaction of that crazy year (plus) and the timing of starting the doctoral program? Did the unknowns you faced in 2020 have a role in pushing you toward the doctorate or not especially?

    • mm Tim Clark says:

      Kim, the doctorate was 1/2 obedience (I KNEW it was time for me to do it) and 1/2 peer pressure (John and I had already determined to do it together).

      I submitted the program and the time it would take me to my elders BEFORE the pandemic started… I wonder sometimes if they would have said “no” if I’d have asked in the midst of it.

      Regardless, I’m very glad I pressed through the resistance in any case. It’s great to share the program with you and all the others in this cohort!

  2. mm Jonita Fair-Payton says:

    Hi Tim,

    Thank you for this post and for your transparency. I can relate to this, you wrote, “But as much as I am drawn to serve people through leading, I must admit that leadership can be tiring. I’m not quite to the point where I believe that “leadership would be great if it wasn’t for the people”, but there are days when I get close.” I understand, well I overstand, this all too well. I go back and forth daily on asking myself, “is it me or is it them”, then I feel guilty for not taking responsibility as a leader and working towards a solution. I think fatigue and frustration will cause us all to see things through a muddy lense. I am trying to give myself Grace in this season. Remember we deserve Grace also.

    • mm Tim Clark says:

      Jonita, what a super important reminder: We deserve grace also. I certainly need it in these days when I recognize I know less than I thought I did.

      And I “overstand” (great word) the wondering if I don’t get it or “them”. I have to remind myself all too regularly that regardless of who is “at fault” as a leader I get to take responsibility.

  3. Travis Vaughn says:

    Tim, even though I don’t know you very well, I would guess that you led quite well during that time, in part simply because you knew your limitations (or at least what you might have perceived to be your limitations) AND you are/were willing to talk honestly about what you struggled with (even admitting that you didn’t want to “face the day” sometimes during 2020). Knowing how you led during those two years of ’20-’21, based on your observations of the next generation of leaders in your church today, and armed with Beerel’s book dedicated toward “the leaders we need now,” what is ONE thing you would emphasize differently in your impartation of leadership to others now, compared to what you might have done pre-2020?

    • mm Tim Clark says:

      Travis thanks for the kind words… I’m not certain that I did lead all that well during that time, but I sure tried.

      And that is such a great question. I can think of a number of things but ONE thing for now? I lead, and encourage leaders I oversee to lead, with a much greater flexibility and relational equity. After that season we can NEVER KNOW what’s around the corner or what will throw our plans off course, so leadership needs to not be as much about the strategy or plan but about the relational connection and ability to Pivot together to accomplish the vision regardless of the crisis. That’s always been true of course, but the reality of that truth got kicked into me during Covid.

  4. mm John Fehlen says:

    Your takeaway near the end of your blog almost brought me to tears:

    “I am a leader; God knew I would be leading at such a time as this, and if I am to fulfill my calling, I can’t put my head in the sand or not get out of bed. Instead, I need to learn as much as I can about leading in uncertain times so I can serve people who need authentic, adaptive, transpersonal, and systemic leadership when their world is falling apart, too.”

    The reasons for this emotion are many, but it’s mainly because you and I were lock-step, arm-in-arm during the entire period that you wrote about, and we all experienced collectively.

    I got out of bed (and you did too) in large part because of the encouragement (spur one another on to love and good deeds) of each other.

    Thanks friend.

    • mm Tim Clark says:

      John, I often wonder if I didn’t have a friend like you in my life if I’d have the fortitude to press on in the most critical of times. I think the answer is “yes” but barely…. and I think that even in pressing on, life wouldn’t be nearly as rich without the benefit of a brother to walk with to encourage and be encouraged.

      I thank God for your friendship and constantly encourage leaders I know to make a few close friends who can keep them “lashed to the mast” in times of radical uncertainty.

  5. Jenny Dooley says:

    Hi Tim,
    I the same feelings about Beerel’s book. It seemed to speak more clearly to our time and our current leadership crisis rather than to specific leadership styles. She seemed to highlight the lesser known or softer sides of leadership and the internal world of the leader. I can’t say that I had any real leadership responsibilities during the pandemic, but I sat with many leaders in tears wanting to throw in the towel. Pastors who each Sunday faced every possible criticism and challenge their congregations threw at them. You are all heroes! Thank you for sticking it out and giving us hope! What gave you hope during that difficult time?

    • mm Tim Clark says:

      Jenny, much of my hope came from a strong sense of calling and stewardship to a church God loves, from a wife who was in my corner, and from a best friend who was traversing the same terrain at the same time. The most important thing, however, was just getting back to Jesus’ feet day after day after day. Even then I was one of the leaders who would have been in tears wanting to throw in the towel occasionally but God shepherded me through that.

  6. Jennifer Vernam says:

    Tim, I am intrigued by your reflection on the pandemic, and the pressure you felt as a leader. Knowing what you know now, especially with the lessons from Beerel, what would you say to your pre-pandemic self? What advice would you give?

    • mm Tim Clark says:

      Jenn, what a GREAT question. What would I say? “Hold your strategy and plans really really loosely and make sure you have a rock solid grip on your vision… everything will change and you’ll have to quickly pivot to accomplish the vision/mission, you won’t have the same tools, staff, conditions, etc.. so be ready to make adjustments every day if needed to do what you know needs to be done”

  7. Scott Dickie says:

    Thanks Tim…it was quite a season to lead through wasn’t it?! One of your final comments about ‘learning to lead in uncertain times so you can serve people whose world is falling apart’ made me think about Simon Sinek’s video post about his own experience of leading through the pandemic. He comments that as we began to come out of the pandemic, many of his leadership friends, himself included, began to struggle and needed to address burnout/depression themselves. It was like they carried the weight of leading through the crisis, and as it started to go away, they started to struggle. That was, at least in part, some of my own experience (although more of my stress was related to family challenges and not leading the church during the pandemic, but the sum total did start to take a toll on me).

    So…all that to say…I too want to learn all I can about leadership so that I can help others as their world falls apart…but to do it in such a way that I am not on ’empty’ at the end of it. I think that has been the most important leadership lesson for me (that I am still processing and trying to integrate into my life now)…and it’s one that Beerel’s book can help with–particularly her chapter on the psychology of leadership. God’s continued wisdom to you as you lead in new times!

    • mm Tim Clark says:

      Scott, I hadn’t seen that Sinek video I’ll need to watch it. I’m with you on the ’empty’ part…. our reserves went way down to 0 during this time and it took a toll. I think if I’m honest I’m still climbing out of it all and haven’t yet fully grasped what broken parts of me need to be addressed even this far post-pandemic.

      It’s a great and important leadership lesson. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Adam Harris says:

    This was great Tim. Thank you for sharing your honest feelings and thought processes during a crazy time. Trying to make decisions and predictions without knowing what it could lead to with heavy stakes had to be incredibly difficult as the lead pastor of your church. I love your last insight, about leaning into the reality that God called you for ‘such a time as this’. That knowing brings such confidence. I needed a reminder of that myself not too long ago. Great stuff man!

  9. mm Jana Dluehosh says:

    Sometimes I wish that foresight was as easy as hindsight! Especially in a crisis. I lived the pastoral crisis vicariously through my pastoral family in South Dakota, land of “do not tread on me” and watched my older parents suffer from Covid, when the church insisted on coming back. “I won’t come because you are wearing a mask….I won’t come because you are’t wearing a mask.”. Ugh, and knowing the sheer size of your church Tim, I can’t even imagine. What leadership style are you more curious about and hope would guide you if God forbid, we had another crisis?

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