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  • Writer's pictureDarrell Stetler II

8 Lessons Learned in Crisis by a Small Church Pastor

Hey there!

Don't know if you saw my last email, but it's been a CRAZY spring. Sorry it's been so long between emails, but here's what's been going on in OKC. :) We did a full remodel of our worship center after someone threw a large rock through a window and then set a shirt on fire, and pushed it through the hole.

They finally caught the pair (who have set 11 fires in our community *since our church(!)*, including 4 fires in churches! (Read all the way to the end for how we got the media to cover our Grand Re-opening.)

It's been a hard season, honestly. NewStart Discipleship has been almost totally on hold. I'm about to get started again, but I want to take a moment to reflect.

So here are a couple pictures, then some lessons I've learned through this crisis:

Pastors Should Take Time to Reflect on Leadership Lessons Learned

John Maxwell says, "Experience is not the best teacher. Evaluated experience is the best teacher."

I'm always interested in what I learn during hard times. Near the end of one, I usually try to sit down and reflect on what I've learned and write about it. Frequently, I'll sit down during my quiet time with a blank document in front of me, and say, "Lord, thank you for your faithfulness. Give me insight into what you're teaching me during this time."

Here's what I've learned during this season:

1. Be patient. It will always take longer than you think.

In our first board meeting after the fire, some thought we might be able to get back into the church building to worship in 1 week. It was 2 months instead. That's about right... 8 times longer than you hope.

In crisis, one of your main roles will be to help people be patient about recovery.

But you've got to stay patient as well. You can't help others be at peace during crisis if you're not at peace. So do what you must to keep your own heart in a place of trust & gladness.

2. Have great insurance.

We use GuideOne insurance. They've been good to work with on this (and the last crisis a few years ago when a truck drove into our parsonage living room.) Don't go without it. I've heard of some churches going without insurance. If you're a church that is trying to do something meaningful in your community, you'll face opposition, and something will go wrong. Sometimes it's malice (like an arsonist), sometimes it's just crazy (like the 14 year old that accidentally crashed a truck into our parsonage 10 years ago). But it will happen eventually.

I'm a huge optimist, but the Scripture is clear: Preparing for the worst is part of wisdom.

Proverbs 22:3, "The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it." (ESV)

And just in case you didn't get it the first time, God placed it in Proverbs twice. Proverbs 27:12, "The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty." (NIV)

3. Crisis can go either way, bringing out unity or division.

Crisis doesn't fix what your church is, but it will prove what it is. If the folks in your church are more willing to hold onto resentment than they are to pull together, it will show up.

4. Ask people to help and lift the load.

5. Don't waste a crisis. It's a fantastic time to help people pull together and discover what they can accomplish. So:

  • ask people to serve

  • ask people to rise to a common mission

  • give people something meaningful to do

We added a new family during this time that OFFERED to help on social media, so I asked. And sure enough, they came and volunteered, and have been here every Sunday since. :)

6. Find the uniqueness of the story, then tell it as often as you can.

Stories are powerful. They shock, they interest, they make things unique, and they help us create meaning.

When this happened, I told the story until I was sick of it. (Now I'm telling you.) But stories stick and stories sell, and I want people to remember our church and be willing to check it out.

Seth Godin, in his marketing book "Purple Cow" talks about the importance of telling stories that are unique. No one thinks a cow in a field along the road is remarkable (worth making a remark about.) But if the cow was PURPLE... you'd say something about that. You'd probably take a pic, share it on social, laugh with a friend.

Same with churches. What's going on at your church that's unique? What makes you NOT like other places? What would make you a "purple cow?"

7. Listen to ideas from others during crisis.

I was talking to some church folks, telling them we were going to be out 2 more Sundays waiting on our new church seating to arrive. Linda, a dear (but quiet) lady in our church, casually mentioned to me that she thought we should do a "Bring Your Own Chair" Sunday.

So we tried it. We put out about 100 folding chairs for guests, and told everyone to bring their own chair. People brought canvas camping chairs, beanbag chairs, folding chairs. It was "beautiful chaos."

I'm just really thankful that Linda said something. It was a great idea!

Remember: Frequently, someone other than you has the best idea.

8. Reach out to the media as a partner.

I reached out on Twitter to our local TV station, a couple reporters that I follow in OKC, and the editor of the religion section of The Oklahoman, our local newspaper. One of the channels (KOCO 5) got back in touch, and asked if they could come and do an interview. We got it scheduled. Here's the story they did:

Then, they asked if they could do a follow up by coming by on Sunday. Here's the story:

We've had some brand new people come because they heard of us for the first time through these stories.

So here's a couple things I realized:

  • Media aren't always your enemies. It's not all fake news. :)

  • Sometimes, they're pretty desperate for a feel-good story to mix in with the doom and gloom.

  • When you're doing something creative, that's a great time to reach out and ask.

  • What's the worst that could happen?

So what leadership lessons have you learned in times of crisis?

P.S. I've been NOT doing my1 hour long free training, and I'm bringing it back TOMORROW. If you've been waiting, this is your time. :) CLICK HERE TO REGISTER.

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