Navigating the Coronavirus Storm - by Lester Zimmerman

I remember the time I was riding a snowmobile in the middle of a blowing snowstorm. Back in the day, we didn’t use helmets and so my glasses would freeze up with snow. It felt a little scary at times when I wasn’t sure where I was at and things seemed foggy. There were some very real dangers I had to stay alert to. I remember as I came up over a bank, I stood up to get a better view and at that moment the wire of an electric fence snapped over my windshield and slashed my coat, chest high.  A little higher and I wouldn’t be here.  

Navigating a storm on a snowmobile, boat, or Coronavirus pandemic have some similarities. We need to keep our vision clear so we can guide our people along a safe path. Our own fears and apprehensions can fog up our glasses. When the wind is blowing, we need each other to help navigate the storm. I need others to help me with my perspective. Some days I feel the government and people around me are overreacting and other days I feel the weight of what could be if we don’t cooperate and take it seriously.  There are lots of voices, so it’s important who we are listening to. There are extremists shouting on both ends of the spectrum. Let’s find a path in the middle for those following us.  There are some real dangers connected to this virus. So like Paul says, “Don’t lose your head”.

But you, keep your head in all situations, 2 Timothy 4:5  (NIV)

I came across a blog by Don Wambolt which I thought is a worthwhile read.

3 Basics to Lead Your Church Through the COVID-19 Crisis
Don Wambolt

With the talk of COVID-19 dominating the world's conversation, we are all making short-term decisions. These "in the moment for the moment" decisions are tactical rather than strategic. They feel reactionary because, well, they are. For some strategic thinkers, this can be a welcome change. But for others, it might seem a little paralyzing. For the second audience, we want to encourage you with a couple of basic thoughts as you lead your congregation through this tumultuous time.

1. Encourage Faith and Wisdom

Life is often about balancing tension. There's no more significant example than the one Jesus gave us in the Garden of Gethsemene. We can encourage our church members to keep our eyes fixed and steady on Jesus.

As followers of Jesus, we learn to balance the tension of faith and wisdom. We are taught to live by each of these fundamentals. One aspect of faith is trusting in what God has said about himself, and it changes everything. Wisdom is about making informed decisions and choices about current circumstances based on what we know and what we've learned from past experiences.

In this tension, encourage your members to use sound judgment. Authentically honor those in authority over us, as well as our neighbor. We have to humbly admit that our faith doesn't afford us with all knowledge. What I mean is, just because we have faith in Jesus doesn't negate the wisdom of or the need to follow what our medical experts and government officials are recommending. As a church leader, encourage your members to honor and follow the direction our leaders are instructing us to follow.

Most of all, remind them that while this may be an "unknown" for us, it is not for God, and he will see us through.

2. Strike a Tone

As human beings, we either under react or overreact, and you are leading people from each persuasion! The bottom line is, we need each other. As a church leader, define a tone that bridges this tension. Establish a consistent tone when you communicate that balances the calm amid a storm with intention and clear direction.

Communicate honestly but with hope. Think about the sheep and shepherd metaphor. Congregants follow the shepherd – their pastor's instruction most times. You know how it always goes, no matter your choices and direction. It's like asking the audience how many are too hot, too cold, and just right. A minority will be on either end with the majority sitting in the middle, going with whatever you decide. I'm not sure which segment I would rather have, but for this article, we'll say the middle group!

Strike an honest and transparent tone with that middle in mind while empathizing with those on either extreme. While speaking about segments, be mindful of the children in your audience. Owners of small businesses are carrying a unique set of concerns. And your elderly have a dynamic they are dealing with at this time. Think about ways to either communicate with them distinctly or within the context of the whole.

3. Communicate Often

The very nature of the church is community. Social distancing is a foreign concept that is anti-church. So, how do you manage this tension? Well, you could ignore everything that leaders and health officials are telling us, but that might not be a wise choice. It's time to get creative. As God said to Moses, he says to us: "What is in your hand?" What tools do you have, and how could you use them in an innovative way? Here are a couple of suggestions to continue "gathering together:"

  1. Start a watch party on your church's Facebook page. Watch parties might be a great way to engage the kids or other segments of your audience with informative or entertaining content.
  2. Schedule Facebook Live Events. These could be "ask the pastor" sessions or a fireside chat format.  You could schedule them daily or weekly.
  3. Facebook Groups:  If your church doesn't use Facebook groups, this could be a great time to launch them.
  4. Video conference calls with your leaders.  Use platforms like Zoom, FaceTime, or Skype to set up video chats with groups of people.  These's value in seeing each other as you discuss things on their minds and the minds of the people they lead.
  5. Be clear on ways the family can serve one another. Are there ways congregants can communicate needs and meet needs? Your church management system may be able to support something like this.