Leadership in a pandemic: time for the church to shine

May 1, 2020 by Sally Scherer

Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Bullock believes that moments like this – when a worldwide pandemic is spreading and some people are losing their jobs, their hope and possibly their lives – are designed for the church.

Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Bullock

“If we can’t find a way to be useful and productive and hopeful in the midst of this, I think it’s time to do something else,” said Bullock in a recent Facebook Live interview with the Rev. Dr. Lee Hinson-Hasty, senior director of the Theological Education Fund at the Presbyterian Foundation.

“This is what we’re built for,” he added, referring to the Church. “This is the time when we should really shine because we have something to say and we have something to do. We have an opportunity to point people in a direction that’s hopeful rather than fearful.”

Bullock is the president of University of Dubuque (Iowa). Prior to that role he served as dean of the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary – a seminary of the Presbyterian Church (USA). You can listen to his podcast on leadership on Spotify and read his blog here.

He has faced struggles in his work. For example, after three weeks as the dean of theological seminary, the president of the university announced his retirement.

An acting president – who Bullock described as a retired banker with a perfect Sunday school attendance record from his church in Southern Illinois – was appointed. Rather than ask Bullock to leave, he asked him to build the best seminary he could.

Two years later, the board asked Bullock to think about becoming the college president. Eventually he agreed.

“It was a strong call, but an uncertain situation,” Bullock said.

Rev. Dr. Lee Hinson-Hasty

At the time, the college was struggling. In his first year as president, the college was involved in a lawsuit with its faculty, the aviation program had its first death and there were “all kinds of financial problems on top of a few other things.”

Today, the university and its seminary are thriving. Through this pandemic, Bullock, faculty and staff at the college have stayed focused on the school’s motto: “We’re various gifts and one spirit all serving the church in the world.”

“I believe organizational culture trumps organizational strategy every time,” he said. “We have a strong culture and God has a purpose for us.”

One of Bullock’s favorite books of scripture is Habakkuk. At the end of that narrative is the verse, “Yet I will rejoice.”

“That’s how we are designed as faithful Christian people,” he said. “That’s part of the witness of the church in this time.”

Sally Scherer is a writer and communications consultant based in Lexington, Kentucky. She is a member of Second Presbyterian Church, where she is an elder and a member of the choir. Send comments on this article to Robyn Davis Sekula, Vice President of Communications and Marketing at the Presbyterian Foundation, at robyn.sekula@presbyterianfoundation.org.