It is always the job of a leader to look further down the road than followers. Others may live primarily in the here and now, or perhaps with only the immediate future in mind. But leaders must use the three words “what comes next” not just as a question, but as a reassuring statement: “This is what comes next…”
That does not mean the leader must be a future teller. But it does mean that leaders must be planners. Anyone can react, declare problems, and ask questions. Leaders must plan, and offer wise direction. Anyone can see a little way down the road. The leader must anticipate or scout what lies around the bends and over the hills.
This is especially true during times of uncertainty, crisis, or danger. And that is where we find ourselves during the current Coronavirus pandemic. For pastors and church leaders, this crisis reveals that anyone can keep doing whatever we’ve been doing every week. Leaders must plan and adapt, so that the church can be led to survive and thrive during the crisis, and also to be ready for potentially new realities, after the crisis has passed.
How do we plan for something like a pandemic, that we’ve never experienced before? While this crisis may be unique, both in nature and proportion, there are proven, even biblical steps in crisis management and planning that broadly apply. Several of these have been created by Christian leaders with experience and training in this area.
For example, one tool describes crisis management in seven stages: Shock, Denial, Frustration, Depression, Experiment, Decision, and Integration. Those words alone help me as a leader understand what I am experiencing, and also anticipate what may be next.
Another tool describes four phases: Pause and Pivot, Prepare and Plan, Engage and Execute, Recover and Reemerge. I like this model because it doesn’t just tell us what to expect, it tells us what to do.
A third tool is designed specifically for crisis management and planning in a church setting. It urges pastors and church leaders to: Get Organized, Create a Health Team, Develop a Communication Strategy, Focus on Community Outreach, Strengthen Preparedness Through Collaboration, and Adapt to Changing Needs.
And yet another tool suggests drawing a grid, where the vertical axis is an 8 to 10-week period divided into three primary phases: Adjust (2 weeks), Invest (4-6 weeks), and Engage (2 weeks). The horizontal axis challenges the church leader to focus planning on four primary needs during each crisis phase: Community, Cause, Communication, and Cash. I like this tool because it helps me think about the primary needs to which I might assign my strongest and most trustworthy leaders.
These are just four example planning tools in brief overview, but they and others are available for free download at IBSA.org/church-helps. Many of these principles will also be taught during the free webinars IBSA is providing at 11 a.m. each Tuesday and Thursday for the foreseeable future. These webinars are focused on meeting the most pressing needs of pastors and church leaders during this time. You can also call IBSA at (217) 391-3124 and connect personally with one of our staff members who can help.
To paraphrase Ed Stetzer, who helped author one of the above resources, pastors today shouldn’t merely be asking how to livestream worship services, or facilitate online giving, or continue serving their congregation long distance. We should be asking, “How do we join Jesus on mission in this crisis?” Answers to that overarching question can be found in creative, Spirit-led planning, the kind that leaders do when they look a little further down the road to discover what comes next.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond at IllinoisBaptist@IBSA.org.