Your Church & COVID-19

Leading through Volatility and Uncertainty

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How do we lead well during this time of volatility and uncertainty? 

Rick pointed to the acronym “VUCA” as one way of understanding our current context:

  • Volatility // This element has to do with the instability of the unexpected. For us today, this includes the shifting financial markets, the constantly changing numbers of the COVID-19 crisis, and so many other unexpected twists to our reality.
  • Uncertainty // Things are unclear and unpredictable, and we don’t know what to think about tomorrow. The uncertainty of the future can be daunting. 
  • Complexity // There are so many different variables that are at play right now and that presents a level of complexity. “C” also represents unprecedented “Change,” such as the immense changes in our lives over the last couple of weeks, to how we are doing church differently with the shift to online alternatives, etc.
  • Ambiguity // There is a sense of uneasiness and a lack of clarity about where we’re headed because it vague and unclear. 

The common denominator that runs across each of the elements of VUCA is the unknown, and this describes many of our situations in leadership today. It’s important for us to recognize the reality of that because the unknown is what creates fear. In fact, Rick argued that, “The fear of the unknown is actually our greatest fear.”

In this time of the unknown, leaders need to take a secure stance that is both stable and agile. We achieve that through two things: trust and stewardship. Trust and stewardship anchor us in the facing the unknown, so let’s dig into what that means for you as a leader today. 

Trust

Rick stated that, “the antidote to the unknown is that which is known.” Trust lies in what is known. That means anchoring our trust in a God who is knowable, who is known, and who is outside our circumstances.

We do that by returning to questions such as what is God like? What is His character and nature? What are His attributes? Looking to scripture for anchor points about God is a useful tool that allows us to grasp those knowable qualities:

  • Psalm 20:7 // “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God”
  • Psalm 37:3 & 5 // “Trust in the LORD and do good… Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will act”
  • Psalm 71:1 // “In You, O LORD, I put my trust” 
  • Isaiah 12:2 // “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid”

It is important for us as leaders to come back to what is knowable for ourselves, but this also gives us a tool for interacting with our people. There are days and weeks ahead where we will need to help our people wrestle with their fears about the unknown (and maybe we will need to wrestle with a few of our own). 

It can be easy for the unknown to become the focus, which in turn creates further anxieties and panic. Rather, let’s be proactive and call the unknown what it is, but then follow up by returning to the truth about who God is. We should think about what is outside of and transcends our circumstances. For us, that is a God who not only brings peace to us, but asks us to share that peace with others. 

Like it says in Matthew 5, we are light and have a reason for peace, calm, and hope. We have the trust to anchor ourselves, but then what’s the output and outflow of that to churches, families, and communities? What can your church be doing in the coming weeks to serve your community sacrificially?

Stewardship

The reality is that we are in the middle of crisis and unprecedented change. So, how do we go about meeting the practical realities of this moment?

As ministries and churches, we are resource-dependent. The three most important resources we have are our people, finances, and opportunities, and these are areas that we need to steward well. 

Our people

Our people includes those in our churches, our pastoral teams, volunteers, even the broader communities. 

With stewardship of people comes the element of ensuring their safety. What do you need to do to steward the safety of your people? Right now, it’s physically unsafe for us to come together in groups, so how can we connect our people in a safe way? It can also be helpful to think in phases for this aspect of stewardship. What are the immediate changes we need to make to ensure our people’s safety? What does it look like in a month or two months from now? 

The second element of stewarding our people is communication. How are we communicating with them? Are we anticipating their questions? Are we giving them up to date information? 

It’s okay if you don’t have all the answers, but it’s also important to assure your people that you’ll figure it out and get back to them. The simple principle here is to anticipate and to answer

Our finances

The second area of stewardship is finances. Rick recommended having (to the best of your ability) three to six months of contingency funds. Situations like today is the reason that’s necessary. If you don’t have that level of funds, don’t look back in criticism. Moving forward, try to have those resources in place so that you can weather storms. 

The financial stewardship of creating a contingency plan includes two aspects of counting the cost:

  • What do we have? // This involves looking in the storehouses and anticipating what may come in financial resources wise.
  • How much do we spend? // What’s the daily, weekly, and monthly burn rate? How much do you spend on a regular basis?  

Counting the cost helps create what’s knowable; you know how much you have and you know how much you anticipate spending. It’s also important to be clear with your people where things are at financially for your church. It can be difficult, especially for your staff, to serve in an environment of fear and the unknown. Keep the reality of your financial situation up to date and inform your team.

Our opportunities

Crisis means change, and change can be an incredible opportunity. Most often in crisis, we usually want to move into protective mode. That’s normal and natural, but this moment can be an opportunity for us to consider doing things differently and maybe more effectively. Rick said that, “Today’s problems are actually tomorrow’s innovations.”

The first thing to do with opportunity is to ask, what are what are the needs and problems that we are facing? Or, in considering the way things were before, what wasn’t working that well? Usually innovation comes out of recognizing a problem and creating a solution to that problem. 

What are some ways that we can see this moment and crisis as an opportunity? If we take a step back to look and listen, we’ll see ways that we can pivot to opportunity. Establish a calm in your own areas (people, finances, and facilities), and then try to find out where the frustration points and problems are so that we can begin to identify some solutions. 

Question and Answer

How has Arrow Leadership shifted the way it’s working with people?
Arrow Leadership decided to postpone in-person training until the fall as part of the effort to help flatten the curve. Arrow Leadership also pivoted to serve the broader body of Christ by developing COVID-19 toolkits for different leadership contexts (available at arrowleadership.org) and by making coaching available to churches and ministries to help guide them through crisis (available for a limited time on a first come, first served basis). Email [email protected] if you are interested in receiving coaching. 

What do you think about this shift to digital in how we are doing church?

When the global church went online, greater access to church in more ways than ever before in the history of the church became a reality. There are wonderful opportunities because of this digital connection. So, how do we capitalize on that connection for kingdom purposes? 

However, we are in a moment, not a new future. Personal connection will remain important when the world moves to a new normal on the other side of this crisis. Right now though, we have a chance to communicate a message of hope to people like never before. 

There are people in my congregation that are saying, “We should keep meeting together in person.” How would you respond to that?

Romans 13 talks about respect of governmental authority. One way we show respect to the Lord is by respecting the authorities over us, and our authorities have told us about the dangers of meeting in groups. We don’t always know who has this virus, but we do know that it is transmitted person to person. If we know that we would be putting people at risk by bringing them together, then because we love our people, it’s best that we don’t meet. 

We have to make decisions based on what we do know and on the priorities of safety and stewarding our people well. Right now that means taking care of our people by obeying the authorities.  

From a leadership perspective, how should we be thinking about the management of staff and caring for our teams in this season? 

Oftentimes caring for our staff and teams in difficult times means having hard conversations. Jesus’ act of washing His disciples’ feet in John 13 was not just an act of service but also one of love and commitment. 

That is how we need to frame these hard conversations with our staff and teams. We need approach from a position of love, commitment, and advocacy, not from a place of fear. As a church, you do have to abide by the employment laws of your locale, but engage in a way that is reflective of Jesus’ love, commitment, and service. 

Track with Rick and Arrow Leadership

arrowleadership.org 

[email protected]


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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.