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Leading People in Times of Crisis

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Two years ago, my family lived overseas on a long-term ministry assignment in a developing nation.  We loved our work there and had adjusted to the culture in ways that brought us joy and fulfillment.   We were involved in meaningful work that was making a positive difference for the Kingdom of God.

Then came the attacks.

Without notice, people who had been our friends turned against us.  Some of our closest colleagues suddenly made it their mission to ruin our ministry and run us out of town.

We were shocked and hurt.  Emotionally battered and bruised.  We couldn’t understand what was happening and why.  We were in a time of desperate need mentally, emotionally, and professionally.  We needed our leaders to stand with us in solidarity and help us journey through one of the most difficult periods of our lives.

Unfortunately, our leaders left us high and dry.

“Disappointed” doesn’t even begin to describe how we felt during those days.  We felt abandoned, betrayed, alone, and desperately afraid.  We needed our leaders to come through for us, but instead, they failed us in the most woeful way possible.

What exactly did we need from our leaders during our time of family crisis?  What do all our people need as we lead them through the highs and lows of life?  We know already that we as church leaders won’t be able to solve every problem facing those we lead.  However, there are ways in which we can stand beside people in their times of distress that will help them have a safe passage through a difficult phase of life.

1) A listening ear.  People in times of crisis need to cry out in fear, confusion, and desperation.  They need to express what they’re feeling and be allowed to voice irrational worries and doubts as they experience hard times.  As their leader, we can minister to them effectively simply by listening to them and permitting them to share from their heart.  This listening time is not a time for advice or solutions. It’s a time to reserve judgment and a time for open and free processing of their situation.

2) Assurance of our commitment to them.  When we were in our time of severe crisis, we longed to hear from our leaders that they were going to stand with us no matter what happened.  Unfortunately, this never happened.  In fact, our leaders took a step back and disengaged with us during our time of need.  We needed family.  We needed camaraderie.  We needed someone to trust us.   None of that was there.  We must not fail our people in that way.  As church leaders, our people look to us for stability.  They look to us to be a source of strength.  This is a huge expectation that we must fulfill, but leading our people well in times of crisis requires this of us.  We must do our best to bring a sense of calm into their chaos as we protect them from harm to the best of our ability.  They must know that we will not abandon them in their time of need.  They can count on us, and we will not turn against them.

3) Provision of resources. People in seasons of great need require all kinds of help with their physical survival needs.  Many times the strain of emotional trauma they’re experiencing prevents them from having enough physical energy left to provide for themselves.  It is in this way that leaders can step in and ensure their survival.  Leaders must take the initiative to organize others on the team or others in the community to rally around the physical needs of those in crisis.  Whether it is providing meals, volunteering child care, or even providing a safe place to live, leaders do their duty to those they lead by guaranteeing that physical needs get met.  The emotional boost our people receive through this kind of help is remarkable. Leaders can also provide for emotional resources like counselors or mental health professionals to give the expert care they need. By providing for the physical needs, they are free to focus on healing and restoring a sense of normal to their lives. In all these things, taking the initiative is key.  Those in crisis should not be expected to reach out for help.  As leaders we can identify the needs, and then step in with grace, authority, and compassion to truly care for our people.

4) Perspective.  After you’ve listened to your people and when they are ready, leaders can serve their people by offering them some much-needed perspective in their time of severe need.  Helping them to see the bigger picture of life, the Lord’s hand in their situation, and the short timeline of their peril can many times be the catalyst they need toward greater health and wellness.  You can help them see how God is working in their situation and how they can rely on Him and His goodness to take them through to the other side.  Most times, people in crisis cannot see the end and cannot fathom how life might ever get better.  As leaders, it is our duty to help them envision a future where God remains in control and where they will once again be able to thrive.

Leaders have such an important role during times of crisis.  We must not fail our people.  Our service to them in their toughest of times will be a ministry that makes an eternal impact and helps them to realize God’s good potential for them and for those in their family.

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