On Leading During a Pandemic

Many of the leaders in our church are relatively young. Over the past few days and weeks they, like the rest of us, have found themselves in alien circumstances. Not only are they navigating these unpredictable days personally, but they’re also grappling with what it means to lead others during fearful times. After all, leading during a pandemic is not one of the challenges most of us foresaw when we accepted the call to serve in ministry.

I’ve been thinking about what to say to these leaders. It’s not as though I can draw from my own experience; I’ve never been here before. Even so, I’ve found myself circling back to a few themes while thinking about these faithful women and men, and the weighty responsibility they face in the coming weeks to lead others with wisdom and courage. There’s so much I don’t know how to say right now. But if I were able to invite each of our leaders out for coffee, I’d pull my chair close, lean over the table, and share these simple reflections.

Remember that You’re Human

During times of crises, the temptation is strong to push beyond the God-given limits of our humanity. Rest and play quickly become dispensable as we react to the demands imposed by our circumstances. We might neglect exercise and healthy eating. Others of us might become distracted from our friends and family members. Even though many of us are working from home, the internet allows us to track developments and rumors of developments all the time.

The temptation is especially strong for leaders, isn’t it? We know that others are depending on us to make good decisions: Do we cancel the worship service? How about small groups? How will our children remain connected and discipled in the coming weeks? What are the pressing needs in our community, and how might we help meet them? How will we care for the sick and dying?

The decisions we need to make are important. But answering them does not require us to exceed the boundaries of our personhood. Each time we turn off our devices’s notifications, close the laptop, read a book to our kids, call a friend, honor our weekly day of worship and rest, or any other number of unproductive things—each time we stop attempting to accomplish and accept the importance of rest, we are honoring our humanity. And it’s only leaders who are living within the limits of their humanity who can lead others with the gentleness and compassion our moment demands. Each time we stop attempting to accomplish and accept the importance of rest, we are honoring our humanity. Click To Tweet

Choose to Be Present

Leaders can overestimate the importance of our decisions and minimize the significance of our presence. Again, there are many critical decisions facing us; we seem to awaken to new ones each day. We need good ideas and creative strategies for the challenges facing our churches and the people we serve. But do you know what people need way more than your good ideas right now? They need your presence. Leaders can overestimate the importance of our decisions and minimize the significance of our presence Click To Tweet

A few days into our city’s plan for social distancing I bumped into one of our church’s leaders at the grocery store. (Actually, we called out to each other near the dairy section, making sure to stay appropriately apart.) A few weeks ago, we would have said a quick hello before moving on to our separate grocery lists. But in this case, we lingered, asking about our families and talking about how we were checking in with people from church. It was hard when we finally said goodbye; I wondered about the next time I’d be physically present with this leader and her family.

We need to find creative ways to simply be present with our people. Phone calls, texts, and video chats are far from ideal, but it’s what’s available, and they’re tools worth using. Even when we aren’t required to be on that conference call or that Zoom meeting, our name in the chatbox or face on the screen can be stabilizing reminders of our caring presence.

Imagine the Future

In 1948 C.S. Lewis responded to the question dominating the era: “How are we to live in an atomic age?”1 Lewis responded in part,

If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

Lewis makes the point that as Christians we live with the same priorities no matter the circumstances. Certainly, how we go about those priorities will be different in a time of crisis, but the underlying commitments to loving God and our neighbor remain the same. And so, to Lewis’s excellent list, I’d add that we should keep imagining the future. As Christians, we live with the same priorities no matter the circumstances. Click To Tweet

We are a people with an eschatological hope, a hope that is rooted in a future already secured in the death and resurrection of our Savior. This means that leaders will make space in their days to imagine the future: next week, next month, five years from now. Not that we know what the future will hold—we don’t! But that humble confession shouldn’t keep us from wondering about how the Spirit is moving and working to align ourselves with that movement. No matter the specific circumstances, until our Lord returns, the future will involve proclaiming the gospel, making disciples, seeking justice, nurturing the fellowship of believers, developing godly leaders, and so on. So even now, we can build for that future. And as our circumstances change, and that future begins to open before us, we can invite others to follow us into the next season of faithful discipleship.

Leader, we need you in these unpredictable days. Lead from the God-given limits of your humanity. Lead with your presence. Lead us into God’s good future.

[1] “On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948) in Present Concerns: Journalistic Essays


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