Last week I shared that leadership in a crisis is so hard that it’s normal for us to use this opportunity to make a mess of things.
But if you lead anything – from a family to a church to a nation – you will face a crisis, sooner or later.
My happy contention is that making a mess of things in a crisis doesn’t have to happen. God enables those who lead for Him to lead well during the excruciatingly difficult times as well as during the easy times.
Here are the five ways to successfully lead through a crisis which I shared last week:
- Get on your knees.
- Call your coach or mentor.
- Get your team together and get them on their knees.
- Determine to do right and follow God’s leadership.
- Listen to a variety of voices.
The following are five more ways to successfully lead through a crisis:
- Admit your mistakes early.
This is the fatal mistake which is made by our political leaders constantly. We all make mistakes. The mistakes of leaders are multiplied by the visibility of their positions. (“The bigger they come, the harder they fall.”) Almost all leaders feel that the public, or their followers, demand perfection. No mistakes, sins or flaws will be tolerated.
That’s not far from the truth of course. Followers can be brutal.
Far more leaders would survive their crises if they would simply step out on the stage and tell the truth. We say that we can’t do this because our followers won’t forgive us, but the larger truth is that it is more often our own pride that keeps us from coming clean.
Maybe we should practice in advance, in front of a mirror. Maybe we should include this practice in leadership training sessions: “I was wrong.” “I messed up.” “I made a mistake.” And forget about the all-too-common, “I misspoke.” What in the world does that mean, anyway?
- Be concerned about the example you set, not the image you portray.
It’s Biblical to think about our example (I Timothy 3:2, 4:12-16). It’s not Biblical to think about our image (I Samuel 15:24-30, 18:5-9).
The difference is all about our motives and digging around in our – or other people’s – motives is a tricky business. Only God fully understands our motives (Jeremiah 17:9,10, I Chronicles 28:9, I Corinthians 4:1-5, Hebrews 4:12). Generally speaking, our motives are probably worse than we ever can or want to imagine. Fortunately, God in His grace in Christ loves and forgives and uses us in spite of our questionable motives.
Maybe we can differentiate it like this: When I’m seeking to do right and serve God’s people well, I’m legitimately concerned about my example. Since my example is a significant factor in discipleship, this is an important, concern. Newer Christians are supposed to learn a great deal about how to live by watching older Christians. When I’m thinking about my example, I’m concerned that my followers see my motives clearly.
But thinking about our image comes from a desire to hide or misrepresent our motives. Image-conscious leaders are thinking about themselves, not their followers, and their desire is that their followers do not see their motives clearly.
- Be careful about who speaks and what they say.
Political leaders are often criticized for trying to “control the narrative,” to ensure that the right people are explaining the crisis in the right way.
But if they’re being honest and again, seeking to help and not to deceive their followers, trying to control the narrative is not a bad thing.
When I studied child protection policies for churches, the lawyers and leaders who were experts in this field all emphasized the need to designate one good, careful, spokesperson to represent your church to the press. (It may or may not be the Senior Pastor.) The experts encouraged us to ask our rank-and-file followers to be extremely careful about what they say within the church or to curious outsiders, some of whom would be looking for any opportunity they could get to slander the church.
As long as we’re not being dishonest with any of this, this is the wise and loving thing to do.
Let’s face it; some of us are good at “speaking on our feet.” Others of us are not good at it at all.
If your church is in crisis, the last thing you need is a careless, thoughtless or simply awkward spokesperson, or two, or twelve, or two hundred.
- Practice partial disclosure as you communicate the truth.
I’ve written before about the extremes of “no-disclosure,” “full-disclosure” and the happy medium of “partial disclosure.” The bottom-line truth here is that, in a crisis, we are best off sharing some truth with our followers, but not all of the truth, and sharing whatever we do share, very carefully, and only with those who need to hear it (Matthew 18:15-17).
Sharing nothing only stokes human imaginations. People will “fill in the blanks” with a scandal or scandals which are worse than anything you could have disclosed. Tell them the truth, but explain carefully your good reasons for not revealing the whole truth.
- While expecting some pushback, use your God-given authority for good.
Perhaps the worst thing which church leaders can do in a crisis is to say nothing and do nothing. The hope is always that the problem will go away if we refuse to deal with it. Sadly, that almost never works.
God has given church leaders an abundance of legitimate authority with which to tackle problems and crises and deal with them lovingly and decisively (Matthew 18:15-20, I Corinthians 5 and 6).
Sadly, too many church gatherings are tainted by elephants in the room, unaddressed conflicts, sour relationships and old misconceptions and misunderstandings.
While the well-intentioned, humble, responsible church leadership team is not likely to deal with any crisis perfectly, God gives grace upon grace and His Spirit’s leadership to those leaders who seek to lead and protect His people well.
With God’s wondrous, heaven-sent help, flawed leaders who are disciples of Christ can handle their crises exceptionally well, for God’s glory.