Leading your church biblically and effectively during the coronavirus pandemic
Nobody is ever really entirely, totally, and thoroughly prepared for when a sudden, severe crisis strikes a nation, community, or church. When great fear and panic on a broad level grip the hearts of his people, a pastor has no formal training on which to rely. There is no class in seminary entitled, “Pastoring in a Time of Crisis.” However, as we have seen in recent days, there certainly needs to be some lessons learned and shared on how to pastor your church during a national or local crisis effectively. This need is the same for those leading larger churches as well as normal-sized congregations.
I’ve noticed that several people have posted encouragement for our children and us to keep journals of what we are seeing, hearing, experiencing, and feeling during these frightening and chaotic days. I think that is a great idea. But, even though this is the first pandemic I’ve faced, I was a young pastor when the terrorists flew airliners into the World Trade Center Buildings and the Pentagon, and crashed into a Pennsylvania field on 9/11. I remember well the start of the first Gulf War, and the fear and uncertainty that many of us who were in high school at the time felt. I’ve watched, as you have in the not-so-distant past, as ISIS rose to power, publicly murdering countless Christians for the world to see on social media and the nightly news. I’ve watched as tornadoes and hurricanes have destroyed towns where either my friends live, or I have lived. I’ve lived through and experienced those sorts of days as a pastor.
Today is a different day.
We don’t face an enemy we can fight with guns or tanks. We can’t see it. We know little about it, other than it wants to kill as many as it can. We have seen it do just that in the nations, and now it is present and active in our country and amongst our family, friends, and neighbors.
So, what can we learn from the pages of scripture and past events that can help us pastor our churches during these days when we face an invisible enemy that is causing so much fear, sickness, death, and economic collapse?
Let me offer a simple verse and then a few points of perspective from the example of Joshua.
Moses said to Joshua and the children of Israel as Joshua prepared to lead them in battle against the enemies of God, “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.” (Deut. 31:6)
During days of crisis …
1. Focus on your walk with God.
Times of crisis are draining. They will drain you of physical, emotional, and maybe even most importantly, spiritual strength. So, during days of panic, uncertainty, chaos, and confusion, draw nearer to God than ever before. You’ll need all the strength you can get.
The only One who can give you peace amid the panic, strength in suffering, and confidence in the midst of so much uncertainty is none other than God Himself. Focus on Him. Spend time with Him. Listen to and talk with Him. Pray for daily bread, and God will strengthen you for the task and ministry you have for that day.
2. Make sure you lead by faith, not fear.
We’ve not been given a spirit of fear, but that same spirit sure wants to overcome us. Don’t give in to the fear. Strengthen your faith through your time with God, and then lead out in the power of that faith. Not faith in faith for faith’s sake, but rather, faith in God for His sake. What we are experiencing didn’t catch God off guard. He wasn’t asleep at the wheel. He knows precisely what is happening and why. Trust Him.
Remember, all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purposes. Lead confidently in the assurance of that truth.
3. Stay informed, but don’t be overcome by the information.
You need to be aware of what is going on in the world and your community. You should read about the daily developments, essential updates, and necessary instructions. But, don’t allow the avalanche of information – bad or good – overwhelm you.
You’ve heard about “paralysis by analysis,” and it’s so easy to be paralyzed by all that you’re seeing and hearing. Don’t allow that to happen. Set aside a time or two each day to gather the info you need, assimilate the information, and then lead accordingly. Don’t allow the constant stream of information – much of which is incomplete or incorrect – to keep you from your most important task of leading and loving your church well.
4. Say it again for the folks in the back!
From a leadership standpoint, one of the most important things to remember is that during times of crisis, people are focused so much on what’s taking place around them and in them that you’ll have to be even more diligent and determined in your communication strategy and implementation. Don’t abandon your usual means of communication, but seek new ways in which to communicate with your folks.
Remember these three words, communicate, communicate, communicate. When you have said it so much and so often that you’re sick of it, your staff or leaders are hearing it for the first time. When they join with you and have said it so much and so often that they never want to utter those words again, encourage them to do it one more time because, at that point, your people might hear it for the first time.
5. Focus on the basics of community.
You’ll likely be tempted to focus on the new, techy, cool stuff that you see all over the internet – podcasts and videos and live-streaming and all sorts of social media. There is nothing wrong with doing whatever it takes to keep connected. In fact, there is a lot that is right and good about using every medium available to help with communication and community.
However, don’t forget to go back to the basics. We are social, relational creatures, and in times of crisis, people need each other. Focus on the basics. Invest significant time and energy in your small group ministry. Rely on them to help you and the church staff or leadership stay aware of the needs in your church body. Pick up the phone and call your people. Send handwritten notes letting them know you love them and are praying for them. Focus on what makes your church the church that it is – the fact that you are a family of faith under the Lordship of Jesus.
6. Preach the Bible.
As you read your Bible, you’ll see that the great men and women of faith experienced what we’re experiencing – and worse. Much worse. Yet, many of them remained faithful in the face of terrible devastation and disaster. Look to them for examples of what to do or not do and encouragement to trust God. Then share that with your people.
Don’t look to the church consultants or experts on what message to communicate to your people. Dig into God’s Word, live it in more deeply now than ever before, and then share that fresh word of encouragement and example with your people. There is power in God’s Word. Trust it and share it.
7. Pastor your people.
You’ll find that your people need you now more than ever. They want to hear your voice. They want to draw from your faith. As I shared an online devotional this morning, one of our wonderful Abilene members typed in the comment box: “Pastor, it’s so good to hear your voice!” You’ve been called to shepherd your congregation.
The Bible talks about the connection between sheep and their shepherd. Look to your flock. Lead your flock. Love your flock. If you do that, then when this storm passes, there will be a more profound love and relationship than you had before these worrisome winds began to blow.
These are unprecedented days. There are no real experts. There are no master instructional classes. There are no “how-to” manuals that answer every question. However, there is a God in Heaven who has given us His Word to look to and learn from as we seek to love and lead our people well. Never forget or underestimate the importance of your role as pastor for your people.
Set the example. Set the pace. Lead your people well as you look to the Lord for strength and wisdom.