The Grit to Lead in a Crisis (Part 3 of 3)
We’re in the middle of this generation’s Civil Rights Movement, a worldwide pandemic, and an economic downturn. As ministry leaders, we’ve NEVER led through anything like this. How do we lead in a crisis such as this one?
By Guest Writer Joey Furjanic
Lead Pastor, The Block Church
Several nights ago, bombs were exploding, guns were firing, helicopters were chopping, and sirens were screaming as rioters and looters were ravaging my city neighborhood and its shopping corridor.
I’ve lived in Philly since November of 2013 and started our church in September of 2014, and while choppers and sirens are fairly normal, the sounds of a war zone all night long are not.
Around 2 a.m, I told my wife to grab our son and sleep in the guest room that was farthest from a window and I was texting a few out-of-town friends to pray. My biggest concern was a fire catching our connected row homes and older people not being able to get out. Thankfully, those few nights of intensity finally ceased and my dog stopped pacing the house all night long.
It had me thinking, 2020 has pushed all of us, especially our church leadership, to the very edge. And yet, we are still here, and now I feel like our best days of ministry, leadership, church, and humanity are still ahead.
How is that possible? Well, we’ve been forced to grow some serious grit in this season, that’s how. And in order to be the best leaders for our ministries, we must continue to grow.
A Gritty Journey
My wife and I moved to Philadelphia to plant The Block Church what seems like a lifetime ago. We were in our late 20s and so full of vigor to see God doing something supernatural. Our tagline for the church is Reviving Our City, One Block at a Time, with a mission to establish as many neighborhood-driven churches (locations, communities, campuses, whatever you want to call it) in as many places as possible.
To date, we have six of these and one house church. Thankfully, every step of the journey has been glorious and beautiful, but it has also been extremely difficult and demanding. As a church, we have no property of our own, are at the mercy of landlords, rarely have any parking, and never have enough space because we outgrow each venue.
Furthermore, Philadelphia is the poorest large city in the nation and our original location is situated next to the poorest zip code in the city and that zip is riddled with the nastiest drug crisis I’ve ever seen. We’re constantly bombarded with crisis, we are extremely diverse but the racial chasm is enormous, we are understaffed, and there are very few urban models for multi-site to learn from.
Now, I know it sounds like I’m complaining, and doomsday is ahead, but I just want you to have some context as to how good God has been! We’ve seen THOUSANDS saved and had the honor of baptizing a hundred new believers each year, on average. We’ve also been able to give away hundreds of thousands of dollars, and address social issues like race, inequality, and justice. Still, it’s been gritty and in no way “sexy.” We’re a work in progress, but God is on the move.
Get ALL-IN or Get OUT
The start of 2020 was undeniably incredible for our ministry. With the economy strong, our team felt like we were poised to purchase our first building and add much-needed staff. In February, we were coming off our Team Conference where we hosted hundreds of volunteers to pour into them and encourage them. The next week, we had our single largest weekend attendance ever outside of Easter, after which we baptized 74 people in one day. And then the first Friday in March, we hosted a city-wide worship night at a local arena. We were humming.
And in a moment, church was canceled, people’s jobs were cut, panic ensured, and toilet paper was gone.
I gathered our staff and elders on March 16th and shared some version of: “In my Spirit, I feel like we are about to enter the craziest and most challenging season in our ministry’s lifetime. I’m here for it, but if you are doing this for a job alone or if you aren’t ALL-IN on our mission to bring revival in this city, I need you to leave. We all need to be ready for this ride, because it’s going to be bumpy as h***.”
I honestly tried to weed out anyone who didn’t really want to be there, because in the back of my mind (especially in an election year), I felt there was more coming in this season than just COVID-19. Which brings us up to speed on current events—
We are in the middle of this generation’s (most needed) Civil Rights Movement on the heels of a worldwide health and economic crisis.
We’ve NEVER led through anything quite like this. We’ve never led through two massive moments in history while not being able to gather or fully gather with our people without restrictions. It’s unprecedented.
The first question we need to ask is: Are we, ourselves, all in? Fully surrendered and committed to addressing the challenges we face for the cause of Christ?
Here is the second question we need to ask: What does this moment mean for us as leaders and how should we respond?
Anytime there’s a crisis or life-altering moment taking place, we have to recognize that as leaders, whatever we do or don’t do will be magnified. Choosing passivity isn’t just ill-advised; it’s harmful.
Crisis heightens the pain of wounds that already exist and creates new pain that didn’t exist before. We have to recognize that. We must act. And if we don’t, we lose the influence we had in the lives of our people; our relational equity tanks run empty.
Yet, in a moment like this, we have to be extremely calculated and prayerful as to how we act. We live in a world of extremes and most of the time, no matter what we do, we’re going to catch flak. We have to be okay with that, expecting it, so that we don’t allow fear or people-pleasing to dictate our moves.
But allow me to lay out a few guiding principles our leadership has used in this season to walk our congregation through COVID-19 and the current events surrounding George Floyd’s (and others’) death.
First and foremost, we’re at our best when we have our rest—and lead pastors, that goes for you, too! Through the grind of this season, we’ve been intentional to make our staff and volunteers take time to rest. We paid for chiropractor appointments, for example, and have told certain team members to drop projects until they were emotionally healthy enough to focus on them without resentment. In fact, I even had to send one of my staff members out of state to be with another pastor for counsel. Forcing the issue of rest shows you’re not just concerned about making it through, but excelling after the intensity of the moment dies down.
Next, we have tried to communicate more often, more clearly, and even more boldly. People are looking for leadership. Sending mixed messages about next steps, who is in charge, where we stand on issues, or even what steps we’re asking them to take could be a recipe for disaster. The best thing we can do is be decisive and communicate those steps clearly, timely, and firmly.
Finally, it’s important to remember that each crisis or pivotal moment has secrets worth unlocking—opportunities to grow as leaders, as believers, and as humans. These move us from being good at what we do, to becoming great for whom we do it—Jesus and the people He has given us to steward.
Five Leadership Secrets Worth Unlocking:
1. Each Crisis or Moment is a Chapter in the Story of Your Destiny.
There’s an old English proverb that reads, “Cometh the hour, cometh the man.” God could have put anyone here in this moment, but He put you here instead. He could have dropped in David, Elisha, Abraham, Paul, or Peter. Yet, He chose and trusted you with His people in this moment. This may be the climax of your story thus far. Own it as such and be willing for God to do in you what He wants to do through you.
2. Each Crisis or Moment Presents Countless Opportunities to Learn.One of the greatest opportunities of this moment is the chance we have to listen closely to other perspectives and experiences. We need not shy away from difficult conversations, loving correction, and youthful understanding.Click To Tweet
The older I get, the more important young leaders are to my ministry. They have the pulse of the moment and that is valuable. I pray for wisdom and to be filled with the Holy Spirit, but I recognize that I don’t understand every angle, every racial experience, or every culturally acceptable term. We need each other and the opportunity for collaboration is of highest importance.
3. Each Crisis or Moment Enhances Innovation.
As we’ve watched our cities burn, schools close, and relationships get pressed, it’s forced us to think about all the ways we have to make a difference if a “new normal” sets sail. We think it has. As Carey Nieuwhof keeps writing, adaptability and flexibility is a leader’s secret weapon. We’ve got to be extremely versatile and flexible in this moment. Our preconceived notions and emotions cannot take precedent over our new realities.
For us personally, we understand that our response to racial brokenness and what is seemingly a lack of justice for our black brothers and sisters is not only obedience to Christ, but necessary for survival as a ministry. We dove in immediately and started developing initiatives to address injustice that, God willing, will impact generations for the duration of our ministry. Leaders, it’s time to innovate!
4. Each Crisis Separates the Leaders from the Followers.
Eventually, people are going to drift toward places where leadership is compassionate, aware, and responsive. Immediately after George Floyd’s death, we knew our black community was hurting and in need of a supportive response from us. Then when protesting escalated to rioting and then looting, we knew we had to be even more proactive and willing to go deeper.
In addition to writing statements online and having conversations for all to experience, we invited only the black community in our church to safely share their different feelings and emotions with our leaders. We heard some things we can do to support them and steps that needed taking.
So here we are, taking them. Not perfectly, but not passively either. Moments like Covid-19 or the Civil Rights movement taking place is when followers slip to the back of the line and leaders look behind them to bring people to the next best place—sometimes slowly and carefully, but always lovingly.
5. Each Crisis or Moment Illuminates Who is With You and Who is Just Around You.
I’ve always been a part of multi-cultural ministries. I’ve never really known it another way and haven’t wanted to, frankly. However, with the divide so deep in our nation and with people hurting so deeply during this time, I started wondering if it will be as easy to experience diversity the way we’ve had it.
But God started dealing with me. I sensed God’s Spirit reminding me that He doesn’t just desire diversity, He desires UNITY, and unity is something that must be paid for.
While you and I were enemies of God and disconnected from His love, He—in His radical, unprecedented kindness and grace—sent Jesus to pay the price for our unity with the Father. It’s pretty surreal and this is how we know GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD.
Here’s the thing: you and I have to pay the price for the vision the Father has for His children, and that’s unity. We need to be on the right side of history when it comes to this and doing so doesn’t always please everyone. Saying certain phrases or taking certain steps usually upsets those who are simply around you. Sometimes you’ll see people walk away from your ministry and that’s hard. Yet, it may also be necessary.
The reality is in seasons like this, you may have to make difficult decisions almost every day in a rapidly changing environment. But as long as you make these decisions in a calculated, prayerful way, where you’ve heard from others, where you’ve wrestled with God, and where you’ve done your best, you have to then trust the outcome.
The Way Out or the Way Through?
In conclusion, I’m reminded of 2 Samuel 24. David is in trouble and the people of God are under a great plague. For all of this to be reconciled, David has to go make a sacrifice and approaches Araunah to buy his threshing floor so he can build an altar there. Upon arrival, Araunah attempts to give David everything (including the threshing floor and oxen) for free, but David responds like this:
But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on buying it, for I will not present burnt offerings to the Lord my God that have cost me nothing.” So David paid him fifty pieces of silver for the threshing floor and the oxen. David built an altar there to the Lord and sacrificed burnt offerings and peace offerings. And the Lord answered his prayer for the land, and the plague on Israel was stopped.
It kind of reminded me of this moment we are in right now. So much uncertainty, so much ambiguity, and so much discomfort. Too many of us want a way out, but God wants to give us a way through and that way is to pay the price.
We need to pay the full price of leadership pain and allow God to do all He needs to do in us so that whenever we enter a “new normal,” we are fully equipped to experience our best days of ministry and brightest future for our people.
Leading well won’t be easy, and it will probably get a little gritty, but it will be pleasing to the Lord.
THE BIG IDEA: Crisis moves us from being good at what we do, to becoming great for whom we do it—Jesus and the people He has given us to steward.