A Crisis is a Time for Leadership
by Bruce Barkhauer, Director of the Center for Faith and Giving.
Leaders step up and do the right thing; it is nature of good leadership — and good leadership makes the difference in every organization. This is as true at Amazon headquarters at Denny Triangle in Seattle, as it is at the little white clapboard country church on county road 6 in west-central Indiana. And church – we are being called to lead. The Covid-19 virus is offering challenges that we may never have anticipated. If there was a class in seminary on how to respond to a global pandemic, I must have been absent that day because I sure missed it! The learning curve is going to be steep and we many not always get it right. But we have a crisis brewing and a crisis is a time for leaders to step-up.
Leaders are called on to make tough decisions. You may be wrestling with whether or not to hold public worship, not just this weekend, but for potentially an unforeseen number of weeks. It means weighing the spiritual and personal benefits of being in worship against that which is the in best interest of the common good and physical well-being of the people for whom you are charged to shepherd. Yes, it’s true that Jesus touched the leper when he asked for healing – but you’re not Jesus and the one cleansed still had to follow the process for integration back into the community (show yourself to the priests). Most mainline Protestant churches have a population that fits right into the sweet-spot of this virus – people over 60 years old who have other health risk factors. Love your people enough to make the decision for them that staying home is in their best interest. If you choose, they don’t have to.
Leaders are creative and adaptive. Have you been wanting to try out some new technology to get your worship experience on the web? Now is your chance – and it does not take a huge investment in equipment or software. Bring only the necessary worship leaders together and have virtual church. Your phone and your Facebook account can be enough! Don’t have access to high speed internet at your church? Go old school! I remember when Monday mornings meant the “tape brigade” would invade our church office workroom as a group of dedicated souls loaded cassette tapes into the duplicating machine to copy and then take our services to the shut-ins. The cassette players maybe gone – but once again your cell phone can come to the rescue. Use the memo feature to audio record the service and then upload it and share the link when you have web access. If you really want to step into the way-back machine, print your sermon manuscript and share it via email – or even snail mail! For those whom you know who need a human touch – that cell phone is actually a real telephone! You make the call for what will work best in your context.
Suspending worship is a different decision than suspending the missional services that your community (especially the most vulnerable) may depend on that your church provides. Leadership can discern the difference and consult with professionals about the best way to continue housing, feeding, or otherwise caring for those who cannot do so for themselves. Consult with your local health department and/or visit your state’s website on safety precautions that can minimize the risk to both those receiving the services and those providing them.
There are concerns about what not having community worship will mean to the gathering of financial resources via the offering plate. The staff’s salaries, the bills related to our facilities and cost of performing our mission still need real dollars to operate and the virus doesn’t stop them from coming! Here is where passionate leadership and creativity intersect. If you are not engaged in some sort of electronic giving option, now is the time to start. Electronic withdrawals are easy to arrange for your church. Visit your local bank for information that you can share with your parish. Using an App or a financial transaction vendor will take more time to set up – but this may go on for a while, so you have time to do your do diligence.
If you go to this, or any form of electronic method, be sure your leaders are encouraged to sign up first as a way of modeling behavior and setting an example. When people we respect engage in something we may have been skeptical or uncertain about, it can relieve our apprehension and increase our willingness to give it a try.
Finally, leaders who are passionate and committed step up. We know that for some, absence from church will mean absence from giving – and that won’t be just because there may not be an electronic alternative. There are people who only give when they come. There will also be people who are being hurt by the rapidly changing economic circumstances Covid-19 is creating. Service, leisure, and entertainment sectors will likely see dramatic drop-offs and will certainly see unstable conditions for a while. We should expect to see a drop off in giving for a host of reasons and we should prepare accordingly. Trimming the fat without harming the mission may mean temporarily delaying a non-urgent expenditure. This is fiscal leadership behaving responsibly – as opposed to just starting to cut everything, which is irresponsible.
Leaders – starting with pastors, Elders, and board members need to prayerfully consider increasing their own financial support to help make up the difference. Nothing less than the transformative work of the church is at stake and leaders who know this, who believe this, and who practice generosity, will understand that need and respond accordingly if encouraged to do so. For the next several weeks my wife and I plan to double our regular weekly gift. That may not sustainable for the entire year, but it certainly is doable for a month or six weeks, and then we can reevaluate our situation. I would encourage you to do the same and to challenge your leaders to prayerfully consider this option.
This is what real leaders do – they work within their own capacity to advance the mission because they believe it matters. Then they enlist others to do the same. It’s officially a crisis. It’s your time to lead.