We are living history right now, friends. Nobody taught us anything in college or seminary about how to lead anything or anyone in a time of global pandemic. It is taking everything to keep all the ducks lined up without losing our minds.
Two weeks ago, as the first cases of COVID-19 began to surge in the US and first recommendations, and then regulations to practice social distancing began was a watershed moment for the church and its leaders. As movements were restricted and "non-essential" businesses and gatherings were curtailed, we realized that church, this thing we give heart and soul for, and more, couldn't go on the way it always has. At least for the foreseeable future.
What happened then was incredible: churches that had never considered using technology for broadcast began to use Facebook Live and ZOOM, YouTube and other livestreaming apps, and began thinking of ministries in whole different ways. That part was incredibly exciting--church people and pastors coming into the 21st century! Willingly! An amazing leap forward as pastors began livestreaming worship, and creating daily Facebook devotionals, and adding ZOOM bible studies to their calendars! All while managing families and the expectations of parishioners and trying to keep themselves safe and healthy.
I wondered how long it would take.
Within a week and a half, colleagues were mentioning stress and seeking advice from social media groups and friends about how to manage it all. Some were breaking down, some were finding themselves stuck in old bad coping habits or developing new ones. Some were ready to quit. A few were energized. All were deeply concerned about their congregations and the people they love within them. They wanted to do the absolute best they could in an anxious time.
And so they got busy.
All were trying to keep up a pace they had set out of the gate, as it were, and most had set a sprint. I'm afraid this is a longer season. The stress and fear and exhaustion I am hearing is bearing that out.
Busyness is, of course, a classic response to anxiety. It's a form of panic; creating things we (think we) can manage, in the face of something huge we cannot. When I get stuck in that pattern, I usually don't recognize I've done it again, until my anxiety subsides and the crisis is mostly behind me.
What I have learned over these years is that an enormous component of leadership is looking at the long view, then setting a pace to match those future needs as well as the immediate ones. It is vital to look beyond the crisis to the recovery and what needs and goals there might be when the "new normal" begins.
It is possible to set reasonable boundaries around time and work, even in times of crisis. Every time I have given in to panic, I have lost my ability to lead well.
My prayer is with all the leaders trying to find the best way. Trying to decide what their congregations need, while meeting what their families need. Trying to learn new technologies. Trying to help hope happen around them. And trying not to lose their bearings.
Michelle Bogue-Trost is a devoted follower of Jesus, a pastor, preacher, leader, teacher, and mentor, committed to the health of individuals and congregations.