In times of crisis, there are two things every leader must keep in mind. It doesn’t matter the number of people you’re leading – whether it’s your family, a small congregation, a staff, or a large congregation.
These two things are also essential for self-leadership.
What are these two things?
First, you must face the brutal facts of your current reality. Second, you must maintain hope that you’ll make it in the end. These two things provide a springboard for five considerations for Christian leaders navigating the current crisis.
Admiral James Stockdale, a prisoner of war for seven years in Vietnam, endured torture and solitary confinement. When asked how he survived, he responded, “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be.”
Popularized as the Stockdale Paradox in Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great, it reminds us in order to make it through difficult circumstances we have to simultaneously do two things:
- Confront the most brutal facts of our current reality.
- Never lose hope that we will prevail in the end.
Scroll to the bottom of the page to watch a video or listen to a conversation Tim and I have about the Stockdale Paradox. Or, keep reading!
“Brutal Facts” and Hope
Consider for a moment these brutal facts:
- You’re living in a pandemic.
- You can’t worship in person for at least another month
- Over 1.2 million people have contracted COVID-19 globally
- 67, 260 people have died
- The highest number of confirmed cases in the United States are in New York, New Jersey, Michigan, and California.
Those are a few of the “brutal facts.”
How about hope?
Here is the hope I continue to hold onto: We are the body of Christ.
For over 2000 years, faithful people have endured persecution, pandemics, wars, and much more. Still, our faith in Jesus continues. I believe we will get through. I trust our resilience is growing exponentially with each passing day. Finally, while much of our daily life is disrupted, Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
With these “brutal facts” and hope anchored in the love of God you know in Jesus, there are at least five areas to consider as a leader. This is not an exhaustive list. Some of these things you’ve likely already cared for. They’re included here as a jumping-off point.
If you don’t have the facts about your current leadership circumstance, the potential to focus on fear, fatalism or unrealistic optimism increases exponentially.
Use these five considerations to gather the information you need, have conversations, and confront your “brutal facts” while maintaining hope.
First, remind yourself of the foundation of the church. The foundation is the mission, or purpose, of the church. Whether you articulate the purpose as “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” or in another way, remind yourself of the church’s purpose.
With that in mind, ask yourself if you have what you need to lead people to live into the purpose right now. Likely, your immediate answer is “no”. Consider, however, the following. Don’t get bogged down in how it is happening. Simply ask yourself if the following basic functions of the Christian community are happening:
- Pastoral Care
Are the basic functions of the body of Christ happening? If yes, great. Keep going and stay encouraged as you continue to learn new ways of being the body of Christ. If no, what do you need to make it happen? If you’re stuck, reach out to a colleague and have a conversation about how they’re navigating this time.
Now, ask yourself: What does this new reality make possible? Talk to God about what this new reality makes possible.
2) Services and Supplies
There are services you rely on to keep the physical church building functioning, the body of Christ active, and the community connected to Christ and one another. As you consider the basic functions I named above, what services do you rely on every week or every month? Who cares for these items?
One church I served had a meal ministry, where eggs were delivered for Sunday breakfast every Saturday morning. Another had boxes of paper delivered every month. And another had a piano tuning service scheduled each quarter.
As you consider the services and supplies utilized, is there anything you need to pause, pivot, or plan in a different way? This will help you consider cost savings and also identify essential services.
If you can’t quickly identify service providers from accounts payable, it may be time to do an inventory. Consider everything from utilities to computer programs. Here are a few things you might consider:
- Computer Programs
- Worship planning center (or similar program)
- Quickbooks or a financial software program
- Zoom, YouTube, Social Media accounts
- Physical Services
- Garbage pickup
- Mail services
- Cleaning services
- Supplies – Delivery and Standing Orders
- Paper delivery
- Cleaning supplies
- Communion elements
- Food distribution
- Nursery supplies
- Giving/pew envelopes and attendance pads
- Discipleship and Pastoral Care Supplies
- Prayer shawls
- Children’s bulletins
- Sunday School and small group curriculum
Once you have the facts, ask yourself, what does this make possible? You may be thinking, “NOTHING – it doesn’t make anything possible. That’s the challenge!” Give it a day. Live with that question and see if your answer changes after talking with God and a close colleague.
3 ) Leadership and Processes
You may be the pastor, a lay leader, member of a ministry team, or faithful participant in the church. To navigate this season, leaders need to have clarity and consistency. Yes, you’re likely doing some things in new ways. That’s why having leaders work together is essential. Together, you can identify new processes, if needed while making sure current processes continue. Something as simple as checking the mail is important.
Further, as you encounter needs, communicate with the congregation clearly and consistently. The congregation can’t read minds. But, they have many skills. You might be surprised who has the skills to help.
As you consider your leadership structure, whether it is staff or chairpersons, a few things to keep in mind include:
- Is your team (paid and unpaid) working remotely and do they have what they need? Have you asked?
- Are you cross-training leaders? Is there a backup for everything that needs to happen? Who are you training to do what you do if you should get sick?
- Do you have a realistic picture of the financials?
- Do you have a plan for what happens when savings hit certain levels?
- Have you implemented online giving?
- Are you providing clarity to the church about basic financial needs?
- Have you explored the Care Act?
- What other aspects of leadership and processes need to be considered?
Again, what does this new reality make possible?
4) Congregation and Community
As you think about the congregation and your local community, it’s likely you know someone who is serving on the front line of this pandemic. Now more than ever, recognizing the spiritual, physical, and emotional needs of people in the congregation and the local community is essential. If you’re already serving the community through a feeding ministry or care program, keep going!
If you’re uncertain how the church can respond, it’s time to ask. Talk to city/community leaders, first responders, and teachers. One month ago, who would have thought quilting groups would be so needed in our communities? Yes, we love our quilters. But, suddenly, their sewing machines have a new, life-saving purpose. As the need for cloth masks grows, a tangible way churches are helping is through their quilting groups.
Questions to Consider
Once you have identified needs, consider these questions as well:
- What is the perception of the church right now?
- Is the church essential? Optional? Off the radar? Important?
- How are you serving the congregation and community in their time of need?
- Again, do you know the needs of your local community?
- If you’re worshiping online, how are you welcoming new people? Are you?
- What new communication needs to happen and what needs to stop?
- Remember to overcommunicate in this time. Attention spans are dwindling and the rapid pace of changing protocols necessitates consistent, clear communication.
- In every communication piece, including in your Sunday message, have you made sure it’s not “tone deaf”? While everything you do right now does not have to revolve around the pandemic, it does need to acknowledge what people are experiencing and feeling. If your communication is tone-deaf, you’ll be tuned out and turned off.
Again, consider, what this new reality makes possible. If you haven’t picked up on it by now, asking this question is what will propel you towards a future with hope. Don’t gloss over it.
The first four groups were things you have the ability to lead people to change, adapt, pause, or pivot. There are things happening around you that are also out of your control.
You do not have control of these things, yet often these are places where worry and fear take root. Sometimes, it’s also where worry and fear get out of control. Your role in helping hold the tension between the brutal facts and hope-filled future is this: don’t get consumed with what you can’t control.
The following items are things out of your control. Being aware is not an invitation to be consumed by fear or worry. As a leader, it is wise to acknowledge the circumstances out of your control.
- Consider the stock market and interest rates
- How will fluctuations impact giving and confidence?
- In Ohio and in many states there is a “Stay At Home” Order in place
- How does suspending in-person worship, social distancing, limiting the number of people in stores, etc. impact the congregation?
- Do you have everything you need? Does your community? Something as simple as an internet connection going down can change a lot right now.
- Social media
- What are you communicating, how often, and by whom?
- Again, communicate clearly so as to not spread misinformation.
Here’s your final opportunity to look forward with hope. Ask yourself, “What does this new reality make possible?”
Your Next Step
While this may be a long list, it’s far from an exhaustive list. What brutal facts are you facing and how are you facing the future with hope? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
God is with you as you navigate these uncharted waters. Confronting the brutal facts and having the hope that you’ll prevail in the end may feel like a paradox. But, it’s the paradox that will help you stay grounded in current reality while following Jesus every day.
As you ask questions and uncover whether you need to pause, pivot, plan, or proceed, know that Tim and I are here to assist you in navigating this season of ministry.