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 is 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:
1. Legal Requirements
Each church is registered with the government as a charity and therefore has to abide by bylaws and constitutions. In an emergency situation, the constitution states a process that must be followed as to who is responsible for what and how the next leader is to be selected. It also covers the process for removing the senior leader, should it come to that.
All of these processes must be followed and documented. This protects the church from any legal backlash and makes clear who is responsible for what.
Document everything. It is important that each church board review their bylaws and constitution at least annually. They must then either abide by them or follow the proper procedure to change the bylaws that are outdated or encumbering.
2. Financial Requirements
Start with planning. No one likes to plan for the worst-case scenarios, but it is absolutely vital. The board must have a plan in place to protect itself against an emergency that could destroy the church.
Financially, this might mean setting aside a portion of your monthly income into savings until you have at least three months of expenses in your savings account for those emergency situations.
Some might argue that they can’t afford that, but the truth is, I don’t think you can afford not to. It starts with a discussion at the board level as to what the emergency backup plan is.
3. Spiritual Basics
Spiritually, I think it is important for every church to have a mature team in place that knows how to handle spiritual warfare. Make no mistake, the devil is active and loves nothing more than to destroy churches.
Put into place a mature prayer team. I look for individuals who know how to pray, who can grab onto something in prayer and not let go until the answer presents itself. I look for people who are discreet and honour people with a high level of confidentiality. 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.
4. Cultural Transformation
Culture trumps vision every time. 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.
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. I would highly recommend Dr. Sam Chand’s book “Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code” to learn more about the culture of a church.
5. Succession Plan
I think one of the most important essentials is an emergency succession plan. As John Maxwell says, everything rises and falls on leadership, and I believe he is absolutely right. A church can be thrown into major crisis if something happens to their leader. It is crucial that the current pastor and board 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.
6. 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. 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 irreconcilable mistakes that damage the organization and put it into a more vulnerable position than it already is.
So what’s the answer? I think King David gave us the greatest example of how a leader should lead through a 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 strengthen and maintain the emotional stability within the whole organization.
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
Church recovery from a ground zero situation can seem like a minefield of explosive issues. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Think through every possible scenario and have a plan in place. 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. Write it down and make sure everyone is aware of where it is.
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. We need to stay the course and show the world 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.
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