Leading the Church in Times of Crisis

The church plunged into a time of crisis in the year 2020 when we faced the COVID-19 pandemic nationwide. We were instructed to stop all church activities as the Malaysian government imposed MCO (Movement Control Order) as a measure to control the spread of the virus. This was unprecedented and we felt helpless in the face of uncertainty as to how to lead the church and minister to the needs of the congregation.

The Challenge…
In respond to the crisis, we took charge of the situation by first surveying the on-going developments in the community, members health, how other churches were doing and the latest government policies with regard to COVID-19. It was important to understand and grasp the overall picture as we took courage to plan our next step of action. Joshua 1:9 remind us that God is with us and we are to take courage in facing challenges and crisis. With this assurance, we recognize the need to stay focus and set priorities in our next course of action. With all activities being stopped, we need to provide basic ministries to the members. On our priority list is the weekly Sunday Service, pastoral care for those with needs, prayer coverings for members and leaders, and fellowships among members. Alternative methods and approach like using digital or online platforms and social media were considered. Advises and helps were sought from those more savvy with the new developments.

As the church explore and plan solutions to the challenges experienced during the crisis, it was important that the leadership team understand and work closely together. Clear communication and instruction were given to team leaders to prevent misunderstanding. Everyone in the team must know the priorities, the new approach and be on the same page to lead members in the church developments. Since social media was chosen as an alternative platform to run the weekly Sunday Service, members were taught on the usage of YouTube and Facebook to view live and delayed telecast of the worship and messages. Cell meetings were organized through Zoom and Google Meet platforms to ensure continued care and fellowship among members. Even children and youth meetings were held through social media channels to facilitate continued equipping of the people during the crisis.

Provide Leadership…
It is important that leadership be provided to the church during time of crisis to help members walk through the times of uncertainty and struggles. However, leaders are not to lord over members as stated in 1 Peter 5:3. We need to explain properly to members the priorities and focus of the church during the times of crisis and to seek their understanding and support. Positive respond from members are important to preserve the unity and team spirit of God’s family. Staying united with consultation and support are instrumental to keep the church going through difficult time. The leadership team must stay united so as to convey positive attitude to the church at large. The members must be confident that their leaders can lead them through and out of the crisis. Regular updates were provided to ensure the leaders know the latest developments and be able to provide leadership as the crisis worsens and the ‘fear’ impact was overwhelming. Leading the team to look to God was critical and Philippians 4:5-7 was assuring as members were comforted in the midst of the struggles.

Throughout the crisis, leaders must be sensitive to the needs of members and be responsive to their complains. Though visitation to members’ home were not allowed under the government regulation, the team modified the approach. As entry to house was not permitted, the visitation team (not more than 3) stood outside the gate, spend a few minutes to listen to members and finally prayed for them. The approach provides the personal touch during visitation but abide by the SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) set by the government. The church has to adopt a new ‘normal’ by innovating and fine tuning our ways. We may need to change the way we do things, but we keep the personal touch and stay sensible in our approach, being practical and effective. Suggestions from members and leaders were taken into account and we kept a listening ear to ensure that we do not miss out God’s prompting in our hearts. 

During a crisis, we can often be overwhelmed by issues and problems. John 3:16 reminds us that Jesus came to give his life for the people (world). People must always be our priority in the church, even during the crisis. For the church, activities and programs are important but people are the prime reason why we exist. To ensure that we don’t loose members who are not able to attend Sunday Services because of the COVID pandemic, leaders are mobilized to connect and contact them and to visit when possible. Members need to know that the church care and are in constant prayer for them. This must be made known to members that they recognize their significance to the church and that they are our priority. Whenever we plan any programs, the needs of members are prioritized and taken into account. This is to prevent members from feeling being left out and unimportant to the church. We put in every effort to keep every member in our prayer just as in Luke 15:1-7, we watch over our sheep so as not to loose anyone.

Plan with New Perspective
Very often, the crisis will affect and disrupt our church plan. The church plan for 2020 was whitewashed as the pandemic brought great confusion and uncertainty to the people. Health of members were our priority and we have no choice but to cancel all our mission trips and seminars. Government regulations do not allow the gathering of people and all traveling were stopped. Though caught in the predicament, God led us to plan and refocus with a new perspective on ministry. Online Service, Bible Seminar, Prayer Meeting, Cell Group, Children and Youth Meetings were launched. Community Mission was initiated to replace Foreign Mission since traveling was not feasible. Neighborhood evangelism was encouraged, meeting needs of the local residents and those in the church vicinity was managed by community teams. At this juncture, we are still exploring new ways to touch lives and new approach in ministries. New leaders were trained to reach out with new perspectives and new focus. Where doors were shut, new doors open as we seek God, submitting to walk His ways not ours (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Truly, we need to trust God and obey as we seek Him in our journey through the crisis. It’s not us alone, but we also need to shepherd the church, providing leadership and directions where the future is bleak and uncertain. We praise God for His wisdom and assurance that as we allow Him to lead, there was peace and progress in our crisis management strategies. Just as Romans 8:28 assure us that ‘all things work for the good of those who love and fear God’, we experienced the guiding hands of God opening gateway of blessings in our midst. As we look at the ‘big picture’, we realize that God’s family must be mobilized together in moving forward through the crisis. Our plans and programs cover adults, young adults, youths and children, bringing the family to face and overcome the crisis together. Every innovative approach involves everyone in the family as we move together in the new phase of ministry. When we plan online children program, we encourage participation of parents and siblings as a team. The online prayer meeting encouraged each family to pray together with other church families. The willingness to explore and experience new dimension in ministries, open opportunities for the church to taste the excitement of growing family units.

The crisis is not over as the pandemic is moving into the third wave in many parts of the world. The church must be prepared to journey through the crisis in the coming months. With Jesus as our Lord, we must not be weary as God will continue to renew us (Isaiah 40:31). We must allow His joy to cover us and not lean on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6). Rejoice in the midst of crisis because God is our strength. Receive His love and rest in His comfort as we await the victory that Jesus has won.

Rev Chan Theam Lai