With the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping across the globe, we have found ourselves very suddenly in a radically different world where the things we have always taken for granted in youth and children’s ministry – pretty much all of which involve meeting together – are no longer viable.
As leaders, we have found ourselves switching to crisis-mode overnight. There is much uncertainly, anxiety, isolation and fear. We do not know how this will end. We do not have the answers. This is a time when leaders must lead.
So, how do we lead through crisis?
Action over reaction
This is a time for clear decisions, not hurried conclusions; decisive action, not panicked reaction. I am not advocating we be slow in responding – indeed, this is a moment where speed takes precedence over perfection – but I am encouraging us to process our decision-making properly rather than leaping at the first resolution we find.
This is especially the case when the decisions we make impact the people we lead, rather than just the behind-the-scenes processes that help us to keep things moving. The real danger of hurried decision-making is that we don’t involve God in the process. Remember, God speaks in the stillness, so we must not allow crisis-management to rob us of the time we require to sit at his feet and listen.
Peace over panic
While people stockpile pasta and toilet roll – actions fuelled by panic – leaders must evidence the peace that “surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7, NKJV) in their words and actions. This is not a moment for rousing speeches and raised voices, which further escalate anxiety. This is a time for kind smiles, gentle words and loving actions. Leaders must engage with the right balance of gravity and humour, sincerity and joy.
Present over perfect
When we have spent years perfecting our programmes and presentations, and the rug is suddenly pulled from under our feet, it can feel distressing if we are unable to replicate the same quality online. The temptation is to give the majority of our energy to perfecting our online presentations, often at the expense of being available to our people. But when all this is said and done, people won’t remember how slick our livestream was, they will remember that we cared; that we were present; that we were available.
Community over content
A quick Google search will reveal unlimited devotional videos, sermon podcasts and Bible courses. But what people are lacking in these days is community. We are, quite literally, isolated. So, prioritise resolutions that enable interaction over consumption; connection over presentation. This is not the moment for everyone to become the next Instagram influencer, this is a moment to serve the group of people that God has entrusted uniquely to us.
Innovation over substitution
Since the coronavirus made meeting together untenable, I have attempted substituting our usual programmes for online alternatives. This is good and effective in the short term, but once you settle into new rhythms of connecting, I want to encourage you to take it one step further. Rather than simply substituting your existing programmes with online alternatives, use this opportunity to innovate entirely new approaches to youth and children’s ministry. This pandemic is undoubtedly a global challenge, but it is also an incredible opportunity for creativity.
Important things, every thing
Do not try to do everything you used to do. Instead, focus your attention on the most important things and do them really well. Better to do a few things well than everything poorly. Identify your priorities, and give the best of your time and attention to doing them well.
Reality over naivety
COVID-19 is a global crisis. It’s a big deal – and in times like these, leaders are always willing to name the season; to confront the brutal facts and act on the implications. Conversely, the trap we can fall into is that in a genuine attempt to encourage our young people and ease their anxiety, we make naïve comments or empty promises that have no guarantee of coming to pass. This is a time to ‘call a spade a spade’; to acknowledge the severity of the situation while leaning heavily into the hope we have in Jesus.
Hope over fear
We believe in a miracle-working God. He is greater than any virus. He is not shaken by this pandemic. He has not been taken by surprise. He still has the authority. He is still good. Friends, we have a “hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11)! We need not be overwhelmed, we need not be anxious, our eternity is secure! This is the time for leaders to hold unswervingly to the “hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23)! Let us lead the way by demonstrating the hope we have in Jesus, and allow that hope to permeate through the people we lead. If you inspire hope in others in these uncertain days, you are a leader.