Ground Zero is a term that marks the point of the most severe damage or destruction resulting from a disaster, earthquake or epidemic. Sometimes a church, through moral failure, neglect of appropriate leadership or the absence of vision, finds themselves in a “ground zero” condition. The damage done so destructive, that recovery seems insurmountable. Even when new leadership comes in with recovery as the immediate vision it is not automatic nor guaranteed. Everything is on the line and it is a complicated endeavour.
The recovery process can be broken down into 6 major areas:
- Legal Requirements
- Financial Requirements & Plans
- Spiritual Basics
- Cultural Transformation
- Leadership Essentials
- Emotional Health and Well Being
The Legal Requirements
Each church is registered with the government as a charity and therefore has to abide by government approved bylaws and constitutions. In an emergency situation, let’s say something happens to the Senior Pastor and he is unable to fulfill his post for one reason or another, the constitution has a process that must be followed on who is responsible for what and how the next leader is chosen and put into place. It also covers the process for removing the senior leader, should it come to that. All of these processes must be followed and documented. The right meetings need to take place, with the right officials at those meetings. This protects the church from any legal backlash. It also assists in avoiding any confusion by making it clear who is responsible for what and how they are responsible. Document everything. It is important that each church board reviews their bylaws and constitution at least annually and abide by them or follow the proper procedure to change the bylaws that are outdated or encumbering.
Start with planning. No one likes to plan for the worst case scenarios, but it is absolutely vital. I think it is important to prepare for the unknown and unforeseen emergencies. This means, the board must have a plan in place to protect itself against an emergency destroying the church. Financially, this might mean setting aside a portion of your monthly income into savings until you have at least 3 months of expenses in your savings account for those emergency situations. I know some might say "we can’t afford that". But the truth is, I don’t think you can afford not to. This type of plan has to start with the board and it starts with a discussion at the board level as to what our emergency back-up plan is.
Spiritually, I think it is important for every church to have a mature team in place that knows how to handle spiritual warfare so they can spiritually go to battle if the need arises. Make no mistake, the devil is active and loves nothing more than to destroy churches, so we must be on guard and ready to do battle at the drop of a hat. And that means prepare for it.
Put into place a mature prayer team. We have done this with an amazing group of people who work behind the scenes praying for all kinds of situations as they arise. What I look for in my prayer warriors is someone who knows how to pray, that can grab onto something in prayer and not let go—kinda like a pitbull—until the answer presents itself. I look for people who are discreet and honour people with a high level of confidentiality and I look for people who aren’t looking for the limelight—those kind of people often make bigger messes of things. I want someone who will, in private, wrestle something to the ground in prayer. In emergencies, our team knows that our first call is to the prayer team to get them on it. Prayer is key in every move we take in the recovery process.
Culture is vital to look at. Like I’ve said many many time, culture trumps vision. That means it will wrestle any vision to the ground and override it. So, it is important for the pastor – the outgoing one and especially the incoming one – along with the board to know, understand, and implement the desired culture. I would say to all churches, that if you are looking for a new pastor, it is vital to first understand what your culture is and then find someone who matches that culture. Do not hire someone who is gifted but has a different culture. They will destroy what you have built faster than you could ever imagine. In emergency situations, where a lead pastor is not in place, the board becomes the guardians of the culture. That is so important. If you are unsure of how to work within the culture framework of your church or even how to understand it, you have to read Dr. Sam Chand’s book “Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code.” Every pastor and board member needs to read this book.
Visually, we have our culture codes posted around the building at MyVictory. Developing those codes might have been the best thing I’ve ever done as a leader. About three years ago, during our first weekly staff meeting, I asked our staff what they value the most about working here. And just let them talk. I wrote all of their answers down on our big white board, and then the next week, I taught a bit on culture and asked them again. We got a whole bunch of new answers and I wrote them all down on the white board again. The next week, we did it again. We started noticing similarities in some of the answers and we began to circle the similar thoughts and discussed them until we came up with one simple statement, then we moved on to the next one. This process took 3 months and at the end of it we had 10 simple statements that became out Culture Codes. What’s happened since then has been remarkable. Because I took the time as a leader to include all of my team in this process, they took remarkable ownership of our culture and they began to implement it to their teams of volunteers and they guard it passionately, because it’s theirs!
There are definitely a lot of leadership essentials required through emergencies and into a recovery process. I think it is too late to look for those essentials when you are in the middle of the crisis or in the aftermath of it. I strongly suggest every pastor and church board, that are in a healthy situation now, sit down and talk through some of these ideas and begin putting together a plan for the worst case scenarios. I think one of the most important essentials is the emergency succession plan. As John Maxwell says, everything rises and falls on leadership, and I believe he is absolutely right. So, a church can be thrown into major crisis if there is a vacuum of leadership because something happened to their leader in an emergency or because they didn’t have a succession plan and their current leader decides to move on. I have seen too many church go through this crisis and having no plan, ends up destroying the church entirely. So, I think the current pastor and the board need to have a discussion on succession. Who will replace the current leader? We break it down into 3 categories: What is the emergency succession plan? What is the 5-10 year succession plan? What is the 15-20 year succession plan? It’s all about being prepared.
Emotional Health and Well Being
Through it all, the pastor must also maintain the emotional stability and health of the church body in the turbulence of recovery. This is the toughest time to lead as a pastor. Often times, as pastors we are asked to comfort and lead in situations in which we are hurting, too. Many are unable to carry that weight. It becomes too much and they make unreconcilable mistakes that damage the organization and put it into a more vulnerable position than it already is. So what’s the answer? Well, I think King David gave us the greatest example of how a leader should lead through crisis in 1 Samuel 30. In verse 6, in the midst of his pain, it says “He strengthened himself in the Lord.” That’s the key. As leaders we need to draw our strength from God and lead, even when we are hurting. From that strength, we can lead others to strength and maintain the emotion stability within the whole organization.
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
Growing churches and planting churches both have their challenges. But church recovery from a ground zero situation can seem like a mine field of explosive issues. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Think through every possible scenario and have a plan in place. Then you can just kick into action should the situation ever require it. If you prepare and nothing happens, great! But if you don’t prepare and something does happen, you will be left scrambling. While I think this preparation must be done by the lead pastor, even more importantly it must be done by the board of directors. They are often the ones left holding the bag in crisis situations, so involve them in the plan. Write it down and make sure everyone is aware of where it is so that in the middle of ground zero they can access the plan and go to work implementing it. Most people have wills for personal situations, but I find that too many churches don’t have wills or emergency plans for their organization. Go to work prepping that plan right away.
Often times a crisis will distract us from our mission and vision. But, the best and fastest way to recover is to get back to the mission. One reason this is more important in the church is because the world is often watching how we handle crisis and if we really believe what we say we believe. So we need to stay the course and show them that Jesus is the answer and that the church is the hope of the world and we’re on a mission to reach every available person at every available time by every available means with the Gospel of Jesus Christ by creating churches unchurched people love to attend.
- Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code by Sam Chand
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