Leadership in a crisis is hard. Very hard.
In a crisis, the norm for us laughably flawed human beings who are trying to lead entire groups of laughably flawed human beings, is to make a mess of things.
But if you lead anything – from a family to a nation – long enough, you will face a crisis, sooner or later.
We’ve all seen pastors and church leadership teams “go down in flames” in the furnace of a crisis and it’s not pretty.
But this doesn’t have to happen. God wants those who lead for Him to lead well during the easy times (yes, there are a few) as well as during the excruciating ones.
Here then are the first five of ten ways to succeed as a leader in a crisis:
- Get on your knees.
King Hezekiah’s finest hour, as seen in Isaiah 37, was when he took the threatening letter he had received from the Assyrians – those guys who put enemy heads on long poles – brought it into the temple and “spread it out before the LORD.” Have you done this with a letter or two?
We don’t want to hear this on a really bad day, but sometimes the worst crisis is just what we need. David said of His strong Shepherd that sometimes, “…He makes me lie down.” I’ve seen that God will go to great lengths to get us on our backs so we have no choice but to look up. Worship is what we do when we can’t do anything else; worship is what we give to God when we can’t give Him anything else.
Alone with God, with the wolves or the Assyrians at the door, pour out your deepest fears: “I’m going to lose my job!” or “I’ll never be able to be a pastor again!” or “If I don’t cover this up, our ministry is ruined!” or “If the so-and-so’s leave the church, everybody else will follow!”
The only place to begin the journey through and out of your crisis is on your knees.
- Call your coach or mentor.
It’s not that he’s going to fix your problem for you, or even that he’ll fix you. But a good coach or mentor will hear you out, ask a couple of probing, situation-clarifying questions and pray for you. And he’ll continue to pray for you all the way through your crisis-journey.
Just telling him your story will sort some things out in your own mind and a good coach will be patient with this process. As you’re thanking him for his brilliant advice, he’ll be chuckling quietly about the fact that he didn’t actually give you any.
And by the way, if he’s an older pastor, the chances are pretty good that he has experienced something quite similar to your current situation. Most of my best counsel is simply telling others how to not repeat my mistakes.
- Get your team together and get them on their knees.
This is not the time for you to be the heroic, standing alone at the top of the mountain leader. Humble yourself, and call in reinforcements.
And this is a time when your team members really need each other. Indecisive leadership team members need to be prodded to action by decisive ones, and shoot-from-the-hip leaders need to listen to the fears of their indecisive brethren. On this day, young leaders need the wisdom of older leaders and older leaders need the enthusiasm of younger leaders. The God-seeking “spiritualists” on your team need to listen to the ever-so-logical pragmatists and the pragmatists need to listen deeply to the sometimes “spooky” spiritualists.
- Determine to do right and follow God’s leadership.
As a group, turn to Psalm 37 and dig in deeply until you can rise up in God’s strength and “commit your way to the Lord.” The many applications of this Psalm to church leadership teams in crisis are striking. Here’s the bottom line: God will vindicate those who cling to Him and determine to do right, with His help.
You don’t have to stoop to the level of your enemies.
You don’t have to fight verbal fire with verbal fire.
You don’t have to make a bad situation worse with lies and obfuscation (more on this next week).
You don’t have to do foolish things (like King Saul did) out of fear of the people (I Samuel 15:24).
A somewhat similar takeaway from the Book of Acts – the story of the first thirty years of the Church’s amazing, great-commission adventure – would add that God can and will lead meek and humble leaders. The Holy Spirit did not retire at the end of the first century AD.
- Listen to a variety of voices.
I have a pastor friend who calls an entire network of friends when facing a tough decision. This is so wise! And he’s not young either. He’s old enough to know that giving up our pride (some call it our “stinkin’ pride”) is a small price to pay for acquiring wisdom.
You must be careful, of course, about how many voices you listen to from within your congregation. Discretion regarding who hears what is absolutely vital in a crisis.
But there’s no limit to the number of trusted, discrete friends you can contact from outside of your church. Some of these will have never faced the specific crisis you are facing right now, but more than likely, at least one of your friends has been through something eerily similar to your current challenge, for “there’s nothing new under the sun.”
Next week: Five More Ways To Succeed As A Leader In A Crisis