Everything has changed. We are living in a pandemic as COVID-19 continues to spread globally. I have felt heavy over the last week, as I’ve watched entire industries start to shake under the weight of our current reality. I have many friends who are struggling with how they are going to provide for their families. I see untimely events like weddings and baby showers—that should be joyous—canceled or shrouded with doom. I have a friend that is not even sure how to mourn the loss of a family member during this pandemic. I’m even struggling to explain this time in history to my children, as I see the wheels turning in their heads, trying to figure out how dangerous this all really is. In the midst of this, I must confess that I have felt like giving up and not wanting to lead. Life itself has felt disorienting as things change daily and the future becomes increasingly hard to predict and plan for. Though everything around us has changed, two things remain unchanged during this time of crisis. The first is the eternal nature of God’s Kingdom (Psalm 145:3) and the second is our call as believers to be courageous in this Kingdom (Joshua 1:9 John 16:33).
We are called to lead. When you rest in the assurance of Christ’s power over death we are reminded that we are more than conquerors (Romans 8:31-39). It is the Church—the people of God—that are on the frontline, and we do not back down, even from a pandemic. All this to say, I know few others that are as courageous and faithful as urban leaders are. Yet, I know that we struggle in times like these to lead. I want to remind you of who you are and what you are called to. So here is a list of how to lead through a crisis.
1. Don’t panic – In times like these, it is completely normal for fear, uncertainty, and anxiety to creep in. These feelings do not define you, but what you do with it can create change. People are looking to you and the world needs to see a Kingdom reaction—one rooted in the hope of Christ. But you can’t do that alone. Community is so important as a leader. You need peers and mentors that you can go to with worries and for wisdom so that you can lead your people well. We have to be honest about what’s going on in the world and how that affects us, then come to the conclusion that God wins. We all need help with that sometimes to get to that place in a real and authentic way. It is necessary for us to have other leaders that we can reach out to and a place where we can be vulnerable. We should ask ourselves, “How can we lead others to that place in a true way if we haven’t walked through it ourselves? Ditch the bravado or the “whatever” attitude, and do the work that allows you to be rooted in the hope of Christ. Once you are rooted and convinced of Christ’s power over the crisis, the next step is to draw together.
2. Draw together – Get your team together. The first step needs to be done relatively quickly because when a crisis hits, unifying is extremely important and you can’t come in all panicked and unresolved about God’s ability to get you through this. Once you have your team together, check in with everyone to see how they are doing and gauge who is ready to do the work and who needs assurance or reassurance. Everyone will react differently. But it is your job to help them be who they were created to be because a crisis is an opportunity and catalyst for that growth. It is also vital that you ask your team what they think should be done in response amid a crisis situation. Ask everyone involved, “How will this affect what we do? What are the most important things to think about? What information do we need to make good decisions? Who else needs to be communicated with? What are the long-term effects? What are others doing in response?” Gather and receive information and opinions from your team and invite them into the planning process. Utilize their gifts. You are called to lead, not be the savior or hero.
3. Discover opportunities – “Never waste a good crisis,” a board member say this to me when I had to make a tough decision. Great leaders see the opportunities when a crisis arises. It is hard to be creative when you are full of fear and it feels like the weight of the world is resting on your shoulders. When all seems lost and the future looks dim ask yourself, “What if?” Discover with your team how this crisis can change the way you reach your vision and mission. The best art comes from suffering. God is up to something and it is our job to align and discover what it is and help our teams engage in it. It is all a faith adventure. We need leaders who see it that way and are comfortable with change and who are courageously creative.
4. Determine the path – You are solid in your conviction and you have gathered your team and their input. You’ve also discovered opportunities, but now you must plan. Create a plan with your team that has clear next steps. Write those steps down and make sure you communicate these steps to everyone that needs to know them. This step might seem obvious, but I see so many leaders lead in this way, they feel, they act, and then they think about it. What I have outlined for you here is different. Feel first, think, and then act. You will save yourself and those around you a lot of pain if you get those steps in the right order.
5. Decide and Do – Sometimes this can be the hardest part. If you have given yourself and your team enough time to do the work described above, you are ready to implement a courageous, well-thought-out plan that will stabilize, inspire, and continue your work into the future. But here’s the thing, it might not work. But you must decide and do. When you have set a course of action, all you can do is act, learn, and adjust as you move forward. This is leadership. When you get to this point and begin to freak out, go back to step one and center yourself on the person of Christ. You can only do what you can do, but you can do nothing apart from him. (John 15)
If you are a leader in an urban environment, you are some of the most resilient people I know. God has created you for such a time as this. He has got you, you have got this. I leave you with a beautiful quote from the father of one of our favorite speakers Bryan Loritts. His father Dr. Crawford Loritts Jr. said,
“Faith is defined by challenge, courage is defined by mission.
We are in challenging times, yet we are clear on our mission. Be courageous in your leadership as you lead well in this crisis.
Here is the full sermon on courage by Dr. Crawford Loritts Jr.
ABOUT THE FEATURED ART:
Out of a crisis and suffering, Picasso painted one of his most famous pieces, ‘Guernica,’ which was birthed from a place of protest against war. Aside from its profound socio-political subtext, Picasso’s masterpiece teaches us that at this moment, we not only have an opportunity to create beauty in the midst of crisis but an opportunity to lead well while doing so.