Crisis Management: How to keep our people during a crisis

“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matthew 10:16).

We can’t say the Lord didn’t warn us. Although, clearly, some did not get the word.

In Matthew 10:16-42 our Lord is preparing His people for their future ministry with its pressures, persecutions, betrayals, and conflicts.  He tells us how things will be, what to expect, and what actions we should take when bad things occur.  To our shame, our people are rarely taught this, and thus are blindsided when turmoil erupts in a congregation.

And so, when the enemy attacks the church, God’s people panic and flee like chickens in the barnyard when a hostile dog arrives.

We all pay a big price for our failure to prepare the people.

It’s a familiar story, one which I heard again today.  When the pastor resigned suddenly due to his own foolish behavior, many in the congregation panicked and went into a tailspin.  The leadership wants to carry on the program, but people are leaving the church in droves.  What to do? Can anything be done at this late hour to keep members from jumping ship?

The best time to act is two years ago. (“Oh, thanks a lot, wise one.  You’re a big help!”)

Seriously.

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What really strong people do in critical times

“When I am weak, then am I strong.”  –2 Corinthians 12:10

Jackie called me the other day.  He and I were classmates in high school but we’ve not seen each other in forty years or more.  We soon picked up the conversation like we were together last week.

He said, “Joe, my wife died ten days ago.  I am having a hard time dealing with it.  I know you’ve been through this when your wife died.  Can you talk to me?”

Wow.  Such a courageous thing he did, to reach out and ask for help.  I do not have words to say how much I admire him for this. (We talked for 30 minutes and prayed together.  Then, I sent him the book on grief my wife Bertha and I wrote last year about the deaths of our spouses of 52 years.  I’ve prayed for Jackie ever since.)

Asking someone for help takes courage and strength.  I’m well aware it feels otherwise, like we’re at the end of our rope and cannot think of anything to do.  But only the truly strong person will ask for help.  Most people will suffer in silence and pay the consequences.

Only. The. Strong. Will.  Ask.  For.  Help.

It’s another one of those truths which people call counter-intuitive.  That is, it might appear to be a sign of weakness, but it’s something only the truly strong can do.  Like yielding to the bully on the highway.  A weaker person would give vent to his anger and try to teach that guy a lesson. But the strong person knows no one can teach that guy anything, it’s not worth risking one’s own life to do, and his goal is to arrive at his destination safely. So, he controls his anger and goes forward safely.

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They criticized the pastor. So, being a great champion for God, he resigned.

“Christ also suffered for us…when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him who judges righteously….” (I Peter 2:21-25).

Quotes on enduring criticism abound.  Go online and pull up a chair.  Here are a few we found in a few minutes….

–The final proof of greatness lies in being able to endure criticism without resentment.(Elbert Hubbard)    -You can’t let praise or criticism get to you.  It’s a sign of weakness to get caught up in either one. (John Wooden)   –A critic is a legless man who teaches running. (Channing Pollock)    –You are a glorious shining sword and criticism is the whetstone.  Do not run from the whetstone or you will become dull and useless. Stay sharp.  (Duane Alan Hahn)

Pastor and church leaders:  You do not want to live and work where there is an absence of criticism.

You think you do. But you don’t.  Only in the harshest of dictatorships is there no criticism.  But in a free society–like ours–criticism abounds.  If the society is indeed free, much of the criticism is fair, just, and well deserved.  Likewise, much of it will be unfair, unjust and unmerited. A leader who survives has to develop discernment in order to know what to ignore and what to treasure and learn from.

A friend texted:  “Joe, write something about criticism!  Some good pastors are resigning because not everyone in the church likes them!”

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Let the pastor create aphorisms…briefly. Memorably.

“No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.”  –Anonymous

You may not be what you think you are.  But what you think, you are.”  –Someone very clever.

What is a weed?  A plant whose virtues are yet to be discovered.” –Emerson

“A weed is any plant that is out of place.” –Jerry Clower

An aphorism is a short pithy and memorable statement of some truth or lesson.  It may or may not be funny, clever, witty, or cute.  But it encapsulates a truth and someone thought it worth remembering.

Adrian Rogers loved a great aphorism and used many.  This legendary pastor of Memphis’ Bellevue Baptist Church received as much acclaim for his preaching ability as it’s possible for this denomination to bestow.  If you were in his audience, you felt the need to grab a pen and jot down some of his great lines.  To my knowledge, he never claimed credit for creating them but rarely did he give credit.  I’ve heard him say many times, “I got this from someone who got it from someone who got it from God!”

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What to do when preparing to teach a Bible study at church

Somewhere I read that G. Campbell Morgan, the great British pastor and expositor, would read through a book of the Bible at least forty times before teaching it. Any less and he felt unprepared. 

We pastors often set aside a few days on the church calendar for an intensive Bible study on a particular theme or book of Scriptures.  Our denomination–the Southern Baptist Convention–has for many years promoted a “January Bible Study” or “Mid-winter Bible Study.” This time–January, 2019–it will be Revelation 2-3, “The Letters to the 7 Churches of Asia Minor.”

I’ll be teaching this for several days at a church near Birmingham, Alabama, and hopefully another place or two.  But months in advance, I’ve been working on it, trying to learn all I can in order to feel competent to teach it.  Never mind that I’ve taught through Revelation several times and preached sermons on these seven churches in the past.  None of that means much at the moment.  The challenge is not to dig out old notes and rehash ancient messages, but to listen anew for what the Holy Spirit is saying through His always-up-to-date Word.  The Word does not change, but its application to our daily lives is as fresh as it’s possible to get.

Furthermore, I’ve changed. I’m not the same person as decades ago when I pastored churches. So, I open the Scriptures and tackle this delightful project with excitement about what the Father has in store.

So, it’ll be interesting to see how this Bible study develops.

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Young people, young Christians, young pastors: “Read! Read! Read some more!”

“Write this down,” said God to Moses and various prophets, as recorded in Holy Scripture.  If He wanted His story written, God surely intended it to be read.

I’m a reader.  I’m sure my mind exaggerates, but as a preteen, I recall feeling that I had read all the books in the Winston County Library in Double Springs, AL.  Furthermore, in those days, public libraries had bookmobiles–trucks equipped with small libraries, which made the rounds of the rural countryside.  It was a great arrangement.

Both my sons are avid readers; my daughter not so much. The reason:  We read constantly to our boys when they were little, but our daughter came to us from Korea when she was five. Sadly we missed those most influential years.

The sharpest people you know are readers; the dullest never crack a book.  My parents both read constantly. There was never a time in my growing up years when we did not take the newspaper, and sometimes more than one. In 2007, when God took our Dad the family had to cancel a half dozen subscriptions to magazines he was taking.  He was nearly 96.

At the moment, my bedside table holds books on Herbert Hoover, Leadership in Turbulent Times, The Battle of Britain, and the history of the Natchez Trace.  Six months ago, the list would have been composed of all westerns, and a week or two later several crime or mystery novels.  In my “office” (which looks a lot like our breakfast room!) to the left of the laptop are three study books on Revelation.  We are running over with books around here.  And I love it.

In her book, Leadership In Turbulent Times, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin tells how several presidents came to develop their gifts for influencing others and leading the nation.  Early on, with Abraham Lincoln, there was a love for books. She writes:

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Put yourself in the pastor’s place; what would you do?

I want to say a word about the pastor’s difficult situation. The hope is someone may decide to cut him a little slack when he does something you disagree with or does not come through the way you were counting on.  

You have no idea what tough calls pastors have to make.

As an example, take the Judge Brett Kavanaugh situation. This controversial appointment for the Supreme Court is sucking all the air out of newsrooms these days and dividing the nation. Few people are neutral.

Recognizing that this piece will still be on our website long after this crisis has been resolved and fades into history, I need to give a little background.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh was nominated by President Trump to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court.  Kavanaugh is a staunch conservative, we’re told, and his rulings over the years on the bench seem to bear that out.  He appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee, endured a few days of their grilling, and seemed to be set for confirmation, albeit from a nearly evenly divided Senate.  Then, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a university professor, came forward saying that when she was 15 and Kavanaugh two years older, he sexually assaulted her at a party when he was drunk. He denied the charge.

So, on Thursday, September 27, 2018, Ford and Kavanaugh each appeared before the Judiciary Committee to answer questions.  She was “100 percent sure” that Kavanaugh was her attacker.  He was just as adamant that he was not.

And that’s where the matter stands as I write.  The American people seem torn as to who is telling the truth and what it means.

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The new pastor is a bachelor. Oh my.

“I could wish everyone were like me.” — Paul  (I Corinthians 7:7)

That the Apostle Paul was either a lifelong single or widowed seems to be the consensus of scholars.

There’s an old joke about a committee telling a young pastoral candidate why they would not consider him. “You’re not married.”  He responded, “The Apostle Paul was not married.”  A member of the team said, “Yes, but he couldn’t stay out of jail long enough to take care of a wife!”

It’s not that pastor search committees are against singleness. Every member of the search team either is now or has been single at some point.  It’s rather that they believe marriage has a good effect on a man, and they prefer a pastor who has the balance in his life which only a loving, faithful, dedicated female can provide.

Also–let’s admit the obvious here–they’re deathly afraid of what might happen if the preacher starts dating someone in the congregation!  Horrors.

Jimmy, a single pastor, tells me churches fear the notion of calling such a person as their shepherd for various reasons:

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Turning sarcasm into “sic ’em!”

“Jesus said, ‘No doubt you will quote this proverb to me, “Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” No prophet is welcome in his own hometown'” (Luke 4:24). 

John Fogerty’s group Creedence Clearwater Revival is unforgettable to anyone who has owned a radio in the last 50 years.  Two years ago, in an interview with Dan Rather, Fogerty was remembering a key moment in the 1960s.

The group was one of many bands to perform at a particular event.  As the final group to warm up, and thus the first band to appear on stage, suddenly CCR found they had been unplugged.  John Fogerty yelled to the sound man to plug them back up, that they weren’t through.  The technician did so reluctantly, then added, “You not going anywhere anyway, man.”  Fogerty said, “Okay.  Give me one year.  I’ll show you.”

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Start writing, pastor: The three most important steps are also the hardest!

Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Write this for a memorial in a book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua…'” (Exodus 17:14).

Pastors say, “When I retire, I’m going to write a book.”

It’s like a mantra.  What are you going to do in your retirement, pastor?  “Write a book.”

And he thinks he will.  A book of his best sermons.  A book of his most memorable stories.  A book recounting the headaches, heartaches, and blessings from all the churches he has served.

That’s the plan.

Most never will write that book.  And the big reason is inertia.  It’s so hard to make ourselves do something we’ve never done before.

So, the best advice is: Get started now.

Step one: Do it.  This is the hardest.   

Make yourself take the first baby steps. Open your computer.

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