Seven Pastoral Priorities in Times of Crisis

When a crisis hits, leaders feel pulled in all directions. Problems heat up, panic ensues and the need for clear, focused leadership is essential. During these moments, pastors have to clarify what matters most.

While the demands are constant and chaotic, pastors should keep certain priorities front and center during a crisis. Here are seven to keep in view:

1. First Response

When the crisis comes on the scene, the moment of urgency demands a clear first response. Pastors have to pull the team together and create an initial triage strategy.

Your first solution doesn’t need to be a permanent one, but it does need to be a wise first response to the pressing need at hand. Pastors have to be flexible and focused in this moment. Other priorities will take a back seat as the leader identifies the very first steps to take.

2. Proactive Communication

After identifying initial steps, it’s important to communicate proactively, with calmness, clarity and compassion. A calm demeanor is essential in the midst of chaos. Even small things, like body language and tone, can provide assurance to others.

Outline clear steps for moving forward with clarity. Again, this may not be a perfect plan, but people want to know that something is being done to mitigate the crisis.

Finally, maintain a sense of compassion. Offer words of comfort and hope. Come alongside hurting people in the congregation and throughout the community to provide a caring and sincere response.

3. Pastoral Care

Crisis always means people are hurting. Fear, worry and anxiety come crashing in. Lives are often lost or, at the very least, significantly disrupted. During these moments, people need an extra dose of pastoral care.

Two aspects of pastoral care are vital: caring and mobilizing. First, personally care for staff, board members, key leaders and those experiencing the deepest levels of despair. Personally engage in providing pastoral care.

Second, mobilize these leaders to provide pastoral care. The job is simply too big for one person to handle. Equipping and mobilizing staff, key leaders and small group leaders helps ensure as many people as possible are receiving care in the midst of the crisis.

4. Timely Preaching

Preaching is always a pastoral priority, and pastors don’t stop preaching when a crisis arises. However, what we preach may need to change.

When COVID-19 hit, I scrapped our sermon series and started preaching on topics that would meet people in their place of pain. We talked about how to respond to crisis, finding comfort in crisis, and gaining perspective in crisis. Then, after Easter, we launched a series titled, “There Is Hope.”

During a crisis, your words become even more important. Use them wisely.

5. Leading Your Team

Your team is being thrust into a new normal that feels uncomfortable and unfamiliar. Lead them calmly and confidently. Care about team members and their families. Be clear with your communication, and involve them in the problem-solving process.

During a crisis, your words become even more important. Use them wisely.

Team members (staff, board and key leaders) are some of your greatest assets during times of crisis. Your ability to lead them well is critical, freeing them to direct their collective wisdom and energy toward charting a path forward.

6. Financial Discernment

Most crisis moments impact the finances of a church. COVID-19 will be no different and may have significant impact because of the widespread job loss. During these moments, pastors need to practice four financial disciplines: check, cut, connect and communicate.

First, check on your financial status regularly (weekly, at a minimum, and daily in some cases).

Second, cut expenses. If at all possible, delay layoffs. Instead, focus on cutting unnecessary expenses, reducing the amount allocated to certain budget lines, delaying new initiatives, renegotiating contracts, and discontinuing or downsizing budget items that can be temporarily suspended.

Third, connect with givers. This can happen through one-on-one conversations, as well as a group call with those who regularly invest in the vision of the church. You don’t want to create a sense of panic, but transparency will build trust.

Fourth, communicate the needs to your congregation. You might have a relief fund for those who have been impacted, or there may be other ways you can engage people to help those in need. The church should be generous in moments like this, and choosing to respond wisely can make a real difference.

7. Researching What’s Next

During the COVID-19 crisis, I’ve found myself regularly researching how we need to respond to various needs. While your first steps will get you started, your next steps will keep you moving in the right direction.

Set aside several times per week to research ideas and solutions to your most pressing issues. Talk with other leaders and coaches. Watch webinars, listen to podcasts, engage your team in the research process, and spend time seeking the Lord.

If you settle with your first response, you may miss the best response. Plus, there are always important issues bubbling under the surface of the crisis.

You don’t have to do everything, but you do need to find the best thing for your context. This happens when you spend time researching solutions, best practices and innovative approaches to the crisis at hand.

These seven priorities for a pastor are essential in a crisis. Yes, it’s a lot. It can even feel overwhelming.

But pastors have to move everything else to the back burner and elevate the heat on these seven areas. That doesn’t mean pastors have to do them alone, but they do have to be engaged in each strategy to a certain degree.


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