By Doug Talley
My good friend AL Ells’ latest book is titled The Resilient Leader and was released recently. (Published by David C. Cook) It is excellent and is a must read. I highly encourage you to get a copy. I would group it with the top 10 books any pastor needs on her or his shelf. Over the next 6 -10 months I am going to periodically share a few of its insights.
Pastors have a lot of experience with crisis. We sometimes feel like our job title is really “Crisis Manager.” Many of those crises are in the church we lead, though some of them are in our personal lives and/or the lives of members of our families. I never had a class in seminary on managing a crisis or putting out fires, but I’ve certainly found myself in the middle of more than I can count.
A number of these crises strike persons in our churches, and we are called for support. Some of them are church crises caused by persons in the church. Ugh! These are incredibly stressful and disconcerting. We feel like each one of them will destroy the church and leave us feeling like a failure. Some crises strike the world we live in and, therefore, affect the people in our churches and us: natural disasters, pivotal social injustice occurrences, financial crises and recessions, political turmoil, and pandemics, just to name a few.
I think we can safely label 2020 the Year of Crisis. So many MAJOR crises have happened this year on a local, national and international scale that our lives have been impacted in multiple and overlapping ways. I hate to tell you, but we are going to be in this crisis mode at least until next summer and maybe through the end of next year. I’m not being pessimistic. Just facing the brutal facts. (See Stockdale Paradox)
These large scale crises complicate every area of our lives and exhaust us. You’ve noticed that many people are edgy, anxious, uncertain, angry, polarized, and frightened. Which means when we experience any additional crisis in our lives, we don’t have the energy to deal with it. Yet, we must.
Ells says that the first step in responding to a crisis is to “resist our natural tendencies and not allow our emotions to control our action. Fear and anger make for poor strategy when it comes to resolving conflict.” I would add that “fear and anger make for poor strategy when it comes to” coping with and managing a crisis. I’ve tried them, and they usually make things a lot worse.
Then what do we do? Ells references Romans 8:28 as he reminds us of a substitute response: “Instead, we must respond in wisdom and grace, trusting that God is at work in the crisis.”
I’ve not heard one media outlet suggest this response during the last eight months. Instead, the media tends to stir the pot and feed feelings of fear and uncertainty. And anxiety increases.
God can take anything that happens, anything that the enemy throws at us, anything that the fallen world can generate and use it to strengthen us, grow us, knock off our rough edges, teach us and mature us. I’d much prefer God use good things to foster our development. However, I must admit we’ve probably learned a lot more through the crises of life than from the good times – at least I have.
Since I’m nearing 65 and have more years behind me than in front of me, allow me to muse for a moment. I do not want to relive the first 8-10 years of my pastoral ministry. It was my first pastorate (OK, I’ve only had one.), and the church was in a rapid decline from major internal turmoil that happened a couple of years before I got there. I was so inexperienced but like a lot of young 20somethings, I thought I knew a lot. As I look back on that decade, it feels like it was one storm after another. If anything could go wrong, it did.
But here is what I learned: Even when the storm rages, God is still God and still faithful. He comes to our aid as we struggle. He holds us up when we can’t stand. (Remember the old prose titled Footprints?) He gives peace when circumstances are producing chaos. He gives wisdom when we have no clue what to do. He never abandons us. And He sprinkles blessings over, in, and around the crises. He makes us resilient.
Though I would never want to repeat that first decade of ministry, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. God taught me so much about myself, others, circumstances, storms, and Himself. In some ways that first decade of ministry is fueling the rest of my life. It reminds me during times like we are currently in that God is still sovereign, that He has this (meaning the current pandemic and all the chaos and craziness that goes along with it and anything else that happens), that He loves me and isn’t about to stop, that I can lean on Him and even climb up in His arms, and that He gives me His Holy Spirit to fill me and empower me. Those promises are yours, too!
One day, God and I will sit down for a long talk (Actually, He will be sitting. I’ll probably be on my knees.) about my life, and He will connect the dots I’m clueless about and show me how powerfully He was at work when I was struggling the most.
Crises often brings heartache. A lot of people have certainly experienced tragedy, loss of a loved one, financial agony, and significant health complications. The storm is still raging and causing pain. In the midst of the storm and even when it is at its worst, God is present, active and reigning. I am thankful for that.
Blessings can be harder to count during a major life storm. Yet, there is still much to be thankful for. Don’t let your crisis rob you of gratitude. Smack it in the face by giving thanks. Not necessarily for the crisis itself, but for the God whose hand sustains during the crisis and beyond.