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

Divided or Diverse? A Call to Shift the National Narrative

Written by: on October 24, 2019

Monday was a significant day for Canadians. Our federal elections revealed a considerable shift in party support across the nation over the last four years and deep differences determined by region. We elected a liberal minority government, maintaining a liberal prime minister, but have two provinces without a single liberal representative. The Bloc Québécois, a party which exists only in Québec, had enough support to hold the third highest number of seats in the House of Commons, and now holds the balance of power within this minority government. The easy, and most popular narrative this week is that we are a nation which is deeply divided.[1]


The cost of accepting this narrative, is that it further nurtures the high societal anxiety that produced these election results. If we accept that the interests in one part of the country are in competition with those in another part, we only nurture fear by implying only one side can ‘win’ in an outcome that can only be ‘win-lose’. Dutch leadership specialist, Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries is the Distinguished Clinical Professor of Leadership Development and Organisational Change at INSEAD, France who brings experience in economics, management, and psychoanalysis to his research and writing.[2] He offers that this “ survival of the fittest mentality is a breeding ground for paranoia and anxiety. The culture of fear makes people resort to social defenses to deal with stress in the workplace–they turn a blind eye to difficult emotions, topics or relations. …[which] prevents them from taking the kinds of constructive action that would eliminate the sources of stress or threat in the first place.”[3] We might note a growing similarity to our southern neighbour, whose own leadership specialist Edwin Friedman described the situation as thus: “its fundamental character has [] been shaped into an illusive and often compulsive search for safety and certainty… The anxiety is so deep within the emotional processes of our nation that it is almost as though a neurosis has become nationalized.”[4]The rise in populism within western cultures suggests this anxiety is manifesting across Europe as well.[5] For the moment, Canada has not succumbed to this extreme (having rejected the newly formed People’s Party of Canada by denying them even a single seat). But as Canadians we would be wise to recognize the risk of allowing fear and insecurity to ferment. Instead we must reclaim narratives of hope.


The church has long been a place where stories are told. For centuries, pre-literate Jewish communities relied on oral tradition to shape identities. Early Christianity picked up the shift to the public reading of the Old Testament books and newly adopted letters and writings of the narrators of the emerging church. Today the practice of reading scripture and preaching carries on this call to shape identity and release the hope Jesus invites us to through story-telling. A recent article identified that English as a major had decreased by 25%, but that more then ever “… stories matter. What people tell each other can have profound implications on markets — and the overall economy.”[6] To be clear, stories don’t just explain the economy, but have the power to determine it. A key role of the church is, and must continue to be, as people who tell the story of hope in contextualised, unifying ways. The church has long recognised the Enemy’s strategy of dividing people from each other. We have failed many times throughout our history, but we continue to repent and learn as we preserve unity as a core value. As a result we have many traditions in how to contend for unity across difference, including meals, service, communal action, concern for the vulnerable. Kets de Vries signals that “Although life is everything but a rose garden, the most effective response to an existential crisis is to build caring relationships, seek out empathic listeners, and embark on meaningful pursuits–however small. We need to treasure the simple pleasures of life: walking in nature, admiring a sunset, reading a book, a good conversation, the company of loved ones, and seeing our children grow up.”[7] Prioritizing such practices in community can help us embody hope, reduce anxiety and reposition us all for meaningful, deep engagement in the problems facing our nation and world across positional lines. Further, such practices create space for the needed self-differentiation to raise up non-anxious leaders[8] both for the church and to send out into the wider community. “Given the perfect storm our world is currently experiencing–unstable leaders at the top, chinks in European unity, environmental fears, wars, and financial meltdowns–we need to develop leaders with character, people who can deal with complex and difficult situations, and are forces for good.”[9] We need leaders who can not only tell the story that ‘diversity is our strength’[10], but who have the strategies to embody this story. May Christ raise up the story-telling leaders we so desperately need to become a force for good, by redeeming our national narrative and leading us to powerful, united, actions.





[1] “’Canada Is More Divided Today,’ Says Political Scientist on Election Results | CBC News,” CBCnews (CBC/Radio Canada, October 22, 2019), https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/election-results-tomblin-reaction-1.5330155.

[2] “Manfred F. R. Kets De Vries – Faculty Profile,” INSEAD, October 23, 2019, https://www.insead.edu/faculty-research/faculty/manfred-f-r-kets-de-vries.

[3] Kets De Vries loc 602.

[4] Edwin H. Friedman, Margaret M. Treadwell, and Edward W. Beal, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix (New York: Church Publishing, 2017), Kindle loc 1147.

[5] William A. Galston, “The Rise of European Populism and the Collapse of the Center-Left,” Brookings (Brookings, March 8, 2018), https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2018/03/08/the-rise-of-european-populism-and-the-collapse-of-the-center-left/.

[6] Heather Long, “The World’s Top Economists Just Made the Case for Why We Still Need English Majors,” The Washington Post (WP Company, October 19, 2019), https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2019/10/19/worlds-top-economists-just-made-case-why-we-still-need-english-majors/.

[7] Kets De Vries, Manfred F. R, Down the Rabbit Hole of Leadership: Leadership Pathology in Everyday Life (S.l.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), Kindle loc 2678.

[8] As defined by Edwin H. Friedman, Margaret M. Treadwell, and Edward W. Beal, A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix (New York: Church Publishing, 2017).

[9] Kets de Vries loc 1345.

[10] “‘Diversity Is Canada’s Strength,’” Prime Minister of Canada, accessed October 24, 2019, https://pm.gc.ca/en/news/speeches/2015/11/26/diversity-canadas-strength.

About the Author

Jenn Burnett

Jenn is lead pastor at The Well church in Kelowna. She longs to see the body of Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit and contending for unity across difference. She also loves rugby, the outdoors, the colour orange and the chaos that goes with raising 4 kids.

5 responses to “Divided or Diverse? A Call to Shift the National Narrative”

  1. Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    Thank you Jenn for reminding us about the power and possibility in sharing our stories. Many of the people I have been interviewing this semester have shared how important sharing our stories is for the life of faith, and you stated this beautifully.

  2. Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Thanks for weaving your Canadian context, our readings, and your research. I have loved our conversations around practices of building community across differences (both within congregations and local communities). I believe the Gospels teach us that often small loving acts can “help us embody hope, reduce anxiety and reposition us all for meaningful, deep engagement in the problems facing our nation and world.” Your quotes of Friedman remind us as leaders we must always be connected but also critically differentiated to allow God to work in our midst. Thank you for these reminders!

  3. Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Jenn, I appreciate you, Digby, Wallace, and John sharing about your contexts. I would not enjoy a cohort that did not have that diversity. You remind us of our global perspective and the need to learn from others. The U.S. fails in that area miserably, me included. Reading about the Canadian elections and blocs was really interesting. Our learning leadership together is critical in this complex age, and yes, story telling is a powerful way for leaders to step out of the herd.

  4. Thank you Jenn, for sharing about the Canadian elections and how the country is divided at this point in time. It’s important reminder of the big need for sober leadership across the crisis ridden globe. The church is supposed to be the light and salt of the earth to give meaning to life in the midst of this crisis, and it’s leaders like us that have to take responsibility to lead boldly. I pray that we will live up to expectations and make an impact in our respective contexts by the grace Of God.

  5. Mary Mims says:

    Thanks Jenn for the great post. You are right that we need leaders with character. We can only pray.

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