NASHVILLE. Kevin York, Justin Gray, and I had the unenviable task of informing hundreds of good people that their church community, Bethel Franklin, is closing and merging with Bethel Brentwood. Hard to remember a tougher two weeks of ministry.
The reasons for the church closure/merger are many and they are complicated. That is not what this blog is about.
As we talked to the people, their reactions ranged from anger to indifference. Some were shocked; others saw it coming. Some wanted to fix the financial and facility problems; others only wanted to fix blame. There were lots of tears. Tears of disappointment and tears of thankfulness.
Some of the Bethel Franklin people will transfer to Bethel Brentwood, others to Bethel Murfreesboro. Some will find non-Bethel churches. Some are not sure what to do. I am praying God will help everyone find a life-giving church community.
Every Thursday morning before office hours, I meet with a small group of young leaders who are considering a careers in church planting. We talk about leadership and we pray for each other. Last week I asked them what leadership lessons they learned as we led Bethel Franklin through the crisis of closing/merging. Here’s a summary of our discussion.
1. COMMUNICATION. When leading during change and crisis, leaders must over communicate. For us that meant countless early morning and late night face-to-face meetings with church members. We wanted everyone to already know what was happening before we made a public announcement from the stage Sunday morning. This required us to clear our schedules and be available to tell the same story and answer the same questions over and over and over and over. This type of over communicating is time consuming and emotionally draining, but it is the only way to lead during change.
2. HONESTY. Transparency and painful honesty about leadership mistakes and miscalculations will do more to restore leadership credibility than self-defense, spin, and hype. There is a time for a leader to cast vision and a time to admit mistakes. Everyone occasionally makes decisions that are well-meaning but misguided. Since leaders make more decisions than others, they make more mistakes than people who make no decisions. When a leader humbly and candidly admits mistakes and miscalculations, people tend to be forgiving. When leaders make excuses and ignore reality, trust vanishes like a vapor. When leading through change and pain, honesty really is the best policy.
3. PERSPECTIVE. A big part of spiritual leadership is helping people embrace a providential perspective regarding change and especially regarding the pain that often accompanies change. All week I tried to get people to see that their local church community is an important part of life, but it is not the center of life. There is a big difference in church-centered lives and Christ-centered lives. We want the latter. I tried to get people to see that even though the church services are ending, they are still married to the same person, and still have the same amazing kids. They still have a good job and good friends. But starting in a few weeks, they will simply worship at a different address with a larger group of people. God’s calling has not changed. It is the job of the leaders to paint a providential perspective during times of change.
4. PATIENCE. I expected some people to react in instant anger when I told them Bethel Franklin was over. Some did. Some did not. I also suspected that many of those same people would calm down and be more rational and understanding in a few days. Most did. A few did not. Leaders must exercise patience and allow the Holy Spirit to do whatever He wants in the hearts of His people.
I hope you never have to be the bearer of bad news to good people, but if you do, I hope you remember these four crisis leadership lessons.