Tag Archives: Covid

Leading Well Through the Covid-19 “Dance”

As we begin to settle into our new Covid-19 normal, the leadership challenge has evolved. When we entered two months ago the leadership paradigm was an emergency one, defined by decisive action and fast pivots. As we transition into a longer-term Covid-19 reality and consider different stages of re-engaging public gatherings of different sizes, we need to readjust our leadership paradigm.

In pandemic response methodologies there are two phases: the “hammer” and the “dance.”  The “hammer” is the lockdown phase designed to stop the virus, restrict transmission and “flatten the curve.” It consists of stopping all public gatherings, ramping up testing and commencing mass contact tracing.  Once the “hammer” phase is proven effective, the “dance” phase begins. It consists of watching the numbers and continually adjusting public policy and restrictions until a vaccine or effective treatment is widely available.

As the church responds and adapts to the “dance,” there will be much debate and no shortage of opinions on how and when to release gathering restrictions and protocols.  There will be some who will say we need to get back to normal, while others will be extremely cautious.  The truth, of course, is somewhere in the middle and we need wisdom to navigate the middle well. 

Although I don’t want to get into how and when is the right time to transition back to public gatherings (this is different in each jurisdiction, size of church, context, etc.), there are some important leadership principles to keep in mind as you process these important decisions with your leadership team(s) and congregation.

Gather information, seek counsel and ask God for wisdom

During the emergency leadership of the “hammer,” you didn’t need any collaboration in your leadership.  It was necessarily fast as the goal was primarily public safety.  However, as we begin the “dance,” the leadership posture needs to shift towards collaboration including gathering information from trusted sources, seeking counsel from others (Proverbs 15:22) and humbly asking for God’s wisdom (James 1:5).

Embrace truth

In the information age, information is not at a shortage.  Discerning between opinion and fact is hard work.  It is easier to just listen to someone else’s opinion as opposed to reading government and health authority documents yourself and seeking skilled advice from health care professionals.  This is the season to seek and embrace truth, recognizing our own propensity to confirmation bias that accepts the information that “feels” right.

Create a plan

Unlike emergency situations where decisive action is key, this is a situation where careful planning is paramount.  As we enter the “dance,” there will be a continual tightening and loosing of restrictions over the next several months with varying degrees of public health protocols to follow.  As a result, have a clear plan for what your response to the different possibilities will look like.  Having a plan lessens the temptation for knee jerk decisions and increases communication, clarity and trust with your leaders, volunteers and congregants.

What is permissible is not always wise

It is important to note that as the government and health authorities begin to allow for businesses to open and groups to meet, what is permissible is not always wise.  In other words, because you are able doesn’t mean you should.  This phase is not a rush to the start but a carefully planned re-entry that makes sense and promotes public health and safety.  Public Health officials are giving reopening guidelines to reduce risk, but the risk still exists, and it is on us, as leaders, to do our own risk assessments within these guidelines.

The danger at the start was going too slow; the danger now is going too fast

Just as there are numerous stories of organizations and leaders that regret moving too slow at the start of the pandemic, there will be those who will also regret moving too fast on the re-entry. If the danger at the start of the pandemic was going too slow, the danger now Is going too fast.

Face it: leadership is hard

The life of Moses has many leadership lessons.  Many would point to his courage in confronting Pharaoh, but I think it lies later in his life.  I believe the greatest challenge for Moses was leading the Israelites in the desert.  The desert is a difficult place to lead.  It doesn’t take long for people to grumble and complain, eventually longing for Egypt again (Exodus 16).

In this Covid-19 season, this is our danger too.  It was relatively easy to lead people to flatten the curve (the “hammer”), but it isn’t long before people long to go back and, like the Israelites, grumble and complain that it is taking too long.  The leadership challenge now is to lead our people through the long “dance” ahead and safely through the desert.

Be of good courage

This all may seem overwhelming but be of good courage!  The leadership road is long and treacherous, but you are not alone.  You led well through the “hammer” stage of the pandemic, now it’s time to change your leadership paradigm and lead in the “dance” stage.  Join a caravan (or, to employ the later dance metaphor, a conga line) of other leaders and embrace the promise that God is with you and leading the way!

It’s Time to Step Back

COVID 19 – Phase Two Continued

Part Two: Pastors, It’s Time to Step Back

In our current Covid-19 reality, the church made a fast and relatively effective transition to an exclusively online presence.  Bravo!  This is something to celebrate.

After the next several months of this new (temporary) normal, it is fair to say we will not be going back to the way things were but it also fair to say that we will not be staying where we are either.  In the wake of Covid-19, a new ministry paradigm is being conceived.  And, like all babies in the womb, the best picture that we can hope for, at this point, looks like a hazy ultrasound.

As we navigate the present with this hazy view of the future, I want to make three observations and exhortations for us in this season – all with the same refrain: “It’s time to step back!”

Step Back to Look Ahead

With all the changes, pivots, Zoom meetings, video recordings, tech manuals, etc., I think leaders are overwhelmed and exhausted.  Like all times I have been exhausted and overwhelmed, I’ve rarely made a good decision.  In these times, I know that I am prone to either keep the status quo (as ineffective as that might be) or compulsively make a bad decision (with inevitable regret). Therefore, I think it is wise for leaders to slow down, catch their breath, pray intently and purposely step back to discern the best way forward.

Pastors, it’s time to step back.

Step Back to Make Room

I want to make an observation of our collective experience in moving the church to an exclusively online presence: We did it relatively fast and efficiently, but we, largely, did it as clergy.  At Westlife, we made the assessment a couple of weeks ago that our services had become a bit of a clergy show and that is a problem. 

I get it, we needed to make a fast change, the medical risk was high and situation unknown.  I get that it was important to make the shift but now that we are settling in for a long haul of this reality, I encourage you to make an honest assessment.  How many laypeople are on your stage this Sunday and how many lay people are currently leading ministries in your church?

As we settle into this exclusive online presence, for the time being, I believe we need to embrace the mantra, “Step back and make room!”  It is time for clergy to equip the saints for works of ministry. (Ephesians 4:12) We need to graciously exit stage left and allow laypeople back to lead from the front stage. 

Pastors, it’s time to step back.

Step Back to Lead Together

As we settle into our Covid-19 world, many churches are making needed staff changes, layoffs, leadership restructuring, etc., I want to implore all leaders to step back and make room for different voices.  This is an all hands-on deck season and we need all generations to lead together.  Let’s make room at the table for each other and lead together.

Senior leaders, as we innovate and align the church for this new season, it is vital to step back and make sure you allow younger voices on the stage as you make decisions.  I am not suggesting that you are irrelevant or that you should step aside.  We need you!  I am just asking you to step back and recruit in.  Make sure you have young leaders around you who are decision-makers in influential positions.  If you are an older leader, as you restructure your team, keep and promote younger leaders and listen to them.  Do things they are suggesting that you may even question (assume your biases may be wrong).  Give them the creative license and freedom to innovate.

Younger leaders, speak up and lead.  We need you!  We don’t just need younger voices; we need younger leaders.  As you are given opportunities, press into them, give your opinions (respectfully of course) and lead up!  The church needs you and your time is now!  As you do, I would also encourage you to step back in humility, make room for and listen to the older voices who can give perspective, wisdom and seasoned advice for times like these.

Mid-season leaders, you are the bridge that is desperately needed in this season.  We need the Gen Xers now more than ever (although everyone forgets you exist – you are like the middle child of generations, often forgotten but key and important in keeping the leadership continuum alive and healthy in this season).  This is also your time to step up, bridge the gap and move the church forward.  We need you to simultaneously honour older leaders and elevate younger leaders, helping to transition the church in this challenging season for a fruitful future.  As you step up, you also need to step back and make room for both younger and older voices in the conversation, silencing the middle-child’s tendency to be overly skeptical and cynical.  The church needs you to lead and mid-season leaders play a vital role as we move into the future together.

The opportunity for the church is vast and we need all leaders to step back, providing space to lead together into the future.

Pastors, it’s time to step back.

COVID-19 Phase Two, Part One: We Need Less Content and More Community

Covid-19 has changed everything.  Some of these changes will be temporary and some will be permanent, we just have no idea which is which.  In previous posts, I have been sharing about different phases in the church’s response to Covid-19 and I want to share, over the next few posts, several important (and undervalued) focuses for the church in her response during our extended stay in Phase Two (our new online, temporary-ish, socially-distanced normal).

Covid-19 hit at a unique time in history.  It struck while we were already in a tsunami of content.  Between books, videos, vlogs, YouTube channels, movies, tv-series, streaming services, podcasts, and now online church services, there are more options than ever clamouring for people’s attention. 

Additionally, it struck in the midst of a universally recognized disciple-making crisis.  In my opinion, one of the many reasons for this crisis is our obsession with content as the perceived answer to making disciples, as if to suggest that more sermons, Bible studies, podcasts, preaching videos and books will solve the crisis at hand.

I say all of this to point out the rather large polka-dotted elephant in the ZOOM breakout room.  As we shifted to online ministry, we all did what we do best, even if we all recognize it as part of the problem.  We created more content!

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with content (specifically contextual content), but more content was not the answer to the discipleship crisis in a pre-Covid-19 world, and it definitely won’t be the answer in a post-Covid-19 world.

This is where we need to pivot.

I believe the most fertile place for growth in the church and our disciple-making is in Christ-centered community and, during our collective social [distanced] famine, people are beginning to acknowledge their God-formed need for it. 

In our new world, people have more content than they have time to consume.  And, if you are competing in the content game, people will always find a better product.  However, if you help people engage with Christ-centered community, people will begin to thrive and grow in their relationship with Jesus and each other.

Thus, the greatest opportunity of this season is not online attractional viewers!  That is the low hanging fruit that everyone is celebrating but it will not stay ripe for long.  Inevitability, online consumer-driven curiosity (the initial uptake of online spectators) will wane into complacency if it isn’t paired with true community and engagement.

In the church I serve (westlifechurch.ca) we are intentionally making this pivot.  We do this through our Westlife Groups but however your church fosters community, this is where to focus your energy and attention.  This is time to build your discipleship groups, small groups, 3D relations, mentoring, disciple-making communities, etc.  Whatever methodology you choose, the churches that thrive in (and coming out of) this COVID-19 season will not be those who produce good content but those who foster healthy, growing and Christ-centered communities.

If, as the saying goes, “Content is King,” then “Community is, definitely, Queen.”

Therefore, whatever size your church is, put time, attention and resources in building Christ-centered communities where people can be known and know others, learn together, pray together and grow together.  This is the future and the future is now.