I’ve found lately that there is no shortage of insight or recommendations for pastors in the midst of the coronavirus scare. I certainly don’t want to add anything to your inbox – much less your to-do list! More importantly, I’m navigating the same uncharted waters you are. Even so, there are a few things we’ve learned in this crisis and previous ones that might be helpful to you.
While we haven’t walked through a pandemic, two years ago, our entire community was turned upside-down for several months during Hurricane Harvey, and we were compelled to make a lot of the same decisions on the fly that you’re having to make right now. In a matter of a few days, we had to completely re-think our programming, outreach, and budgetary focuses for the entire church. Our church parking lot was converted into a massive feeding center serving over 20,000 meals a day in cooperation with the Red Cross, and we were navigating a communication network of area churches that involved over 160,000 people. There is no doubt this challenge will be different in the responses it calls for, but there are principles that certainly carry over, and I hope some of what we discovered can help you in your labors.
With all of that said, here are a few reflections to you, pastor-to-pastor. I’ll break them down into brief topics so that you can focus on what you need the most at the moment – but I want to begin with one of your most important roles as a leader: decision making.
Pastor, make a decision. Sometimes in the midst of crisis, the most important thing to do is make a decision. There is uncertainty almost everywhere we turn right now – and that doesn’t mean you can offer certainty about what will happen tomorrow. What you CAN offer them is CLARITY! Help them simplify the areas where things need to be changed and executed and why. For Kingsland, we identified three general areas where decisions needed to be made immediately:
1. Your decisions related to Spiritual Shepherding:
What are you preaching on right now? There are three ways to go in this case, and only two are acceptable, in my opinion. First, you can set aside your preaching plan and specifically address what is on everyone’s minds. Second, you can continue preaching through the texts or topics you had already planned and apply them to the current situation. Or third, you can continue as planned and ignore the current crisis in your sermons. As you might have guessed, I think you’re making a huge mistake with “option three.” Jesus constantly used the situations and settings around him to enhance his teaching. Shepherding your people means knowing their hearts, needs, concerns, and priorities.
Yes, they need to know the whole Counsel of the Word of God, and we will preach all of it at Kingsland. But right now, I can cement some deep doctrinal truths in their hearts that they not only need desperately right now, but will be essential in the days to come. So on March 15, I preached Matthew 14 (“The Opportunities of Storms”). On March 22, I preached on Acts 4:23-31 (“Praying in the Midst of Crisis”). This coming Sunday, I’m preaching on what to do in financial crisis, from 2 Kings 4. Whatever God leads you to do, take the temperature of your people. Are the worried? Angry? Grieving? Discouraged? All of these are possibilities in the days ahead. We can’t afford to be tone deaf.
Speaking of spiritual shepherding, we have empowered our ministry leaders to think creatively about the specific needs in their areas. They know enough in principle of what we’re trying to do, they’ve been given a “programmatic plan” (see below) of the parameters of our work, and then they’ve been set free to do it. It’s allowed us to produce an incredible amount of content for people in need. More importantly, our people feel connected through both technology and old-fashioned phone calls and visits. You may not have an army of staff members, but I’ll be you have a group of leaders right now who would love to know specifically how they can help. Don’t wait until you have a “to-do” list to hand them. Give them a big-picture problem to solve and some broad parameters to use in the solution.
2. Your decisions related to Logistical Planning:
Like you, we needed to “pivot” in how we executed our church mission in real time. We had to set a plan for online programming, staff duties, schedules, and new needs related to the pandemic. We needed to create contingencies for the upcoming church budget, which begins a new budget year for us April 1. In each area of your ministry, lay out a clear plan so everyone knows what’s coming. Yes, leave flexibility for the inevitable adjustments that will need to happen as things change, but that’s no excuse to not have a plan.
At Kingsland, we have communicated to our leaders almost daily about our plans for the coming week and beyond – with contingencies in place for scenarios that we can anticipate. For example, we’re planning “drive-in” worship on big screens in our parking lot for Easter Sunday, but we have contingency plans to roll those screens out in front of apartment complexes if the people in the community are no longer to be out in their cars. Every aspect of your ministry needs a plan and at least one contingency plan as well.
3. Your decisions related to Community Engagement:
Every crisis is an opportunity to express the love of Christ to our neighbors, and this one is no different. In the first ten days of this pandemic, Kingsland has opened a “drive-thru” food pantry in a low income area, provided meals to families from small businesses who needed support, resourced a medical clinic for uninsured and under-insured people, helped to deliver food and resources to the needy through an area ministry to the poor, and several other projects. Don’t think you’ve missed out on making an impact if you haven’t had the opportunity to get started on mission yet. Unfortunately, I think this challenge is just beginning, and the significant needs are still out in front of us. Your church may not be able to do a lot of things, but find one need that your people can meet and meet it. What do your local healthcare professionals need? What about nursing home needs? How can you bless first responders? What can your church do to help those who will be job hunting in 60 days?
Pastor, I’m praying for you. What we’re facing is different from anything any of us have faced, but I know that God has placed you where you are for such a time. I’m praying specifically that God would give us supernatural wisdom and insight as we make swift, clear, and biblical decisions – even at the fast pace we’re all having to move in this crisis. He is able to give you all you need, and to empower you to shepherd your people!
Ryan Rush, Senior Pastor, Kingsland Baptist Church