Leaders are made for times like these.
Yes, we all wish leadership were easier. We wish people were more cooperative, circumstances less challenging, consequences not so dire. In a word, what we wish for is a world in which leadership really isn’t needed.
It’s when things get hard that leadership matters.
- When people are enslaved and children are being slaughtered (Israel in Egypt)
- When people are homeless and threatened by starvation (the Exodus)
- When the Philistines are attacking and murdering (the Judges)
- When faith has grown cold and idolatry is rampant (the prophets)
- When churches and the core gospel are threatened (Paul)
These are hard times in which we live. People are dying. We must endure social isolation and lock-down. Fear, anxiety, and uncertainty rule the day. Our “normal” world has been turned upside down. And churches? Well, the last thing churches can do is conduct business as usual.
We live in a COVID-19 world. We didn’t ask for it. We don’t want it. But it’s the world we have … the world we must live in. And, for churches, it’s a world that begs for effective leadership. Congregations cannot navigate this new world rudderless and adrift, with no one at the helm. In times like these, leaders need to step up and speak up.
Here are a few thoughts to encourage leaders during difficult times. We hope you find these Top Ten Leadership Recommendations helpful, inspiring, and empowering.
- Remember God has called you to leadership in his church. Those he has called, he has also gifted and equipped. He will not ask of you more than he has equipped you to provide. Your congregation will founder without clear, directive, motivational leadership—especially in difficult times like these. Step into your role with confidence that God will make you competent (2Co 3:4-6). Who knows … it might be for “such a time as this” that he has positioned you for leadership.
- As leaders, commit to reading Ephesians 4:11-16 on a daily basis.
Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Meditate over this passage. Pray through it. Affirm with your fellow leaders your responsibility to build up the church, focus on unity, and mature members. Even in these difficult times. Especially in these difficult times.
- Keep the main thing the main thing. When facing something like Corona Virus, it is easy to be distracted and allow the church’s focus to wander. But the church’s basic mandate to “love God, love each other, and love our neighbors” does not change with circumstances. Corona Virus cannot become our focus and obsession. The kingdom of God is our obsession and must remain so—even in a Corona Virus world. Good leaders will encourage their congregations stay focused on Kingdom mission and help them frame difficulties (like Corona Virus) as opportunities for the church to be the church.
- Recognize that your past leadership style will be the greatest impediment to future leadership effectiveness. What has worked before (maybe even worked well) will actually prevent you from leading effectively in the future. A new boldness, directiveness, agility, and focus will be required of church leaders in the present challenging times. A new set of followship expections will have to be adopted. Don’t think that business-as-usual will be sufficient for this new world. A new world requires new leadership assumptions, attitudes, and skills. Are you up to the task? (See more below.)
- Become more risk-tolerant. In safer and more predictable times, it is probably wise for church leaders to be a bit risk-averse. But not now. Not in these conditions. Churches that are not agile, creative, flexible and bold will die. (You will witness hundreds of congregations fail over the next few months.) Leaders who focus on avoiding mistakes will dither and delay and discuss-to-death. In the meantime, their members will wither on the vine. The worst decision leaders can make in this environment is NO decision. Better to decide wrong than to decide nothing. We can recover from mistakes (remember, that is what the gospel is all about!). What we will not survive is timidity, hesitance, uncertainty, and an addiction to safety.
- Effective leaders will set new expectations for their members given the current environment. Your members don’t know how to be the church in this changed world. It is up to church leaders to show them the way. Old rules, prior customs, personal preferences must yield to the new circumstances in which we find ourselves. All the “issues” have changed. Wrangling over modes of baptism may have had some weight in a pre-Covid19 world. Now the issues are connection, unity, support, service, ministry, and a compelling experience of God’s presence and power. (Funny how crisis highlights the issues that should have been issues all along!) [In particular, we encourage you to download this booklet (Followship—https://interimministrypartners.com/followship/) and take what it says seriously. It examines the relationship between church leaders and church members and the challenges presented by a culture where leadership is distrusted, doubted, and disputed. Is an attitude among our members, characterized by the mindset “We will follow you anywhere we want to go,” appropriate in the church? Or does God expect his people to adopt a different perspective? We are making the PDF version of this booklet free-of-charge in hopes of encouraging healthy church leadership in these challenging times.]
- Focus on a coalition of the willing. During times of stress and crisis, leaders must especially guard against being distracted by those who object, complain, and resist. While everyone’s voice, no matter how contrarian, deserves to be heard, you must focus on meeting the needs of the many rather than placating the anxieties of the few. Deal as gently as possible with difficult people but invest your energies in people who are willing to follow and partner with you in leading others. If necessary, be bold enough to follow biblical counsel for dealing with the antagonists among you (Titus 3:10). The spiritual health and vitality of many sincere believers depends on your ability to stay focused on those who are willing to move in positive directions.
- Broaden your leadership base. You may think this is a bad time to raise up new leaders. WRONG! This is the best time to do so. Recognize the leaders who are already blessing your congregation, charge them to lead boldly and well, and then turn them loose. Staff, deacons, ministry leaders, thought leaders. Who are the leaders in your congregation and how can you enable and empower them? Your primary task as a church leader is not to make decisions or manage the church but to raise up and empower a new layer of leadership in your congregation. Don’t become the bottleneck that limits what the church can accomplish to what you can get your arms around. Lead through other leaders. Delegate. Trust others to accomplish more than you can accomplish yourself.
- Manage these times by getting personal. As leaders, the temptation will be to manage by announcements: the congregation as a whole, classes, etc.. The opportunity here is to “get small.” Personal contact and interaction. One-on-one. Or in very small groupings. It is touch we need, not information.
- Prayer is the single greatest priority of the people of God today. Pray. Pray personally. Call your congregation to prayer. Send a new prayer out via email and text every day. Create a virtual space for prayer—where prayers can be posted, commented on, added to. Pray for each other and send your prayers to one another. Pray for God’s intervention and power. Pray for us to be God’s true people. Pray not for deliverance but for faithfulness.