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Leading During the Crisis of a Perfect Storm By Michael J. Mantel


 Our Crisis – His Response

I lead a team that is used to crises. At Living Water International, we train for the unexpected, plan for natural disasters, and pray our way through predicaments. But nothing in my 30 years of ministry prepared me for the perfect storm that happened in 2017.

It began with the death of my father, then deepened by the news that my wife, Natalie, had cancer. From the outside I might have looked calm, but on the inside a dark storm was brewing. Over the coming months the storm was compounded by a global recession, the crash of the oil market that impacted many of our largest donors, and natural disasters, all of which threatened a major financial crisis for our ministry.

Collectively, these crises stretched me to what felt like a breaking point, and month after month God seemed to respond to my prayers with silence.

I cried out to God for help, and what happened next was Hurricane Harvey—the costliest storm in Americas’ history, right in our hometown of Houston. Our financial crisis deepened, as did my feelings of spiritual isolation.

Leading through fear

How can leaders, especially leaders of Christian organizations, lead when life is too much? When our fears outweigh our faith?

I won’t pretend to have the answers, but I do know what happened next in my own story.

As the weight on my shoulders grew heavier, I began to rise earlier for prayer. Then, one morning, I reread a story about Jesus’s disciples in what must have been a very dark time for them after the crucifixion of their Lord. They’d been searching for a way forward for 40 days when Jesus appeared and told them the Holy Spirit would give them power to be his witnesses.

I counted on my calendar, and it had been 40 days since Hurricane Harvey. Jesus appeared to his disciples 40 days after Easter! Coincidence? Not for me. I took that little glimmer of light to be a miracle, and the events that followed re-shaped my understanding of how God is at work through our families, our communities, and through a global 21st century Church with new possibilities to live into the ancient vision of a unified, global Body of Christ.

I collected those insights into a book called, Thirsting for Living Water: Finding Adventure and Purpose in God’s Redemption Story, published this month by InterVarsity Press. I hope you’ll check it out, because it is filled with reflections on emerging from dark and uncertain times as individuals, as church communities, and as participants in the story of redemption God is telling though all of creation.

But I won’t make you wait for the book to tell you the most important thing I learned.

When in doubt, tell a story

Here’s what I learned: when in doubt, tell a story. When in fear, tell a story. When exhausted, tell a story. Specifically, tell stories of God’s faithfulness. Tell your own stories, tell your church’s stories, your organization’s stories, tell the old Bible stories.

In my line of work, we like to say water has a “multiplier effect.” What we mean is that water is the foundation of human physical flourishing. When a community has clean water, along with sanitation and hygiene, kids get to stay in school. They stop dying of diarrhea and other water-borne illnesses. Families can invest in agriculture and small businesses. According to the UN, for every $1 invested in clean water, it brings $4.30 in economic benefits to a community.

Water has a multiplier effect for physical flourishing. Stories do the same thing for our faith. Stories enable our spiritual flourishing. Telling a story of God’s faithfulness buoys your faith, restores your soul, and attracts and emboldens others. Stories are sticky in a way that facts and figures are not. They fill us in a deeply spiritual way, nurturing our growth and discipleship. They are a multiplier of our faith.

I hope my book sparks a movement of story tellers confronting our fear, doubt, uncertainty, and exhaustion with the incredible reminders of how God has moved in the past. As we tell these stories, I feel certain God will show us how he is moving again, now.

We’d love to hear your stories of God’s faithfulness. Share them here.


Michael J. Mantel is president and CEO of Living Water International, a faith-based global humanitarian organization. He previously spent seventeen years working for World Vision and nine years in business

Michael  holds a PhD in organization development from Benedictine University. He lives in Houston with his wife, Natalie, and they have four daughters.

Christian Leadership Alliance is excited that Dr. Mantel will also take the mainstage for the Men’s Breakfast at the Outcomes Conference April 26-28, 2022 in Louisville, Kentucky!  Early Registration is Now through October 31.




What is Christian Leadership Alliance?

Christian Leadership Alliance equips and unites leaders to transform the world for Christ. We are the leaders of Christ-centered organizations who are dedicated to faithful stewardship for greater kingdom impact.

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