Learning to Manage A Crisis

National 911 Pentegon Memorial[3]Tuesday guest blogger Keith Haney, a long-time friend and colleague, posted about how not to lead through a crisis. This is the response to his post, addressing how to lead through a crisis.

Last week I visited with a pastor about how a tragedy in his church thirty years ago still influences his congregation. The conversation brought to mind other churches I have served or worked with during a crisis:

A congregation whose facilities were reduced to glowing embers by fire.
A church with members who were shocked and angry over moral failure by trusted leaders.
A congregation caught in the economic collapse of a community when the largest employer suddenly relocated.
A church grieving the sudden deaths of a family with young children.
A congregation caught in the vortex of a natural disaster.

It is my conviction that, if a church is well led the first day of a crisis, the congregation is more likely to successfully navigate the crisis. There are two vital steps to dealing with the crisis the initial 24 hours:

Do whatever it takes to calm yourself in the eye of the storm.
A crisis triggers the “fight or flight” response. Some leaders want to immediately dive into damage control. Others desire to quickly retreat a safe distance from the turmoil. Do neither. Instead, stop and gather yourself. Ask God for clarity and guidance. Take deep, cleansing breaths for three or four minutes. Quiet your thoughts. Act once you start to calm down, think through what you know about the crisis.

You want to become a “non-anxious presence” as a leader. The greater the anxiety in leaders, the greater the anxiety in an organization. While it is vital to reach this calm state the initial 24 hours, being the non-anxious presence benefits the congregation throughout the crisis.

Gather a team to deal with the crisis.
Even if your leadership style is very individualistic, create a team to lead through the crisis. Whether you realize it or not, you are emotionally affected by the crisis. Team members help one another see personal blind spots. A team can piece together a clearer picture of the crisis than individuals. On a whole, a team collaborating on solutions is more effective than an individual coming up with solutions.

During the “9-11” terrorist attacks on the United States I was serving a church in a military town. We didn’t know for certain which members or former members were in the Pentagon that day. We didn’t know where some members were being deployed in defense of our country. As I write this post I can see the face of each member of the team we pulled together to deal with the crisis as a church. There is absolutely no doubt we served our congregation and community better as a team than we could have individually.

While the team may cover a number of topics its initial meeting, the following three must be addressed:

The team prays.

Just as individual leaders are tempted to immediately act during a crisis, so the team usually wants to act. The first “act” is prayer. The first step is to acknowledge that your combined experience and skill is insufficient to meet the task at hand. Ask God to provide what is needed.

The team names the crisis.
The initial shock of a crisis is often surreal for church members. Naming the crisis helps members accept the reality of the situation. As members reach acceptance, they start participating in crisis management. A crisis such as a natural disaster is relatively easy to name. The public fall from grace of a staff member is more difficult. Nevertheless, within the guidelines of Scripture and legal statutes, leaders must name a crisis.

The team determines the initial steps.
The team should not try to create a plan to manage the entire crisis at the first meeting. It should determine the initial steps. These steps should address the greatest concern of members and the greatest need of the congregation. It is important for team members to leave with specific tasks with deadlines. If possible, send two members to implement steps of plans together. Ensure communication is one of the action steps.

What other vital actions can leaders of churches take the initial 24 hours of a crisis? Share your thoughts via social media or send me an email.
Rev. Dr. Kevin Wilson, Ohio District Executive Director of Mission





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