Local Church Ministry

Next-Step Leadership: A Flexible Approach for Leading During a Crisis

“We need to change our plans.”

As a leader, I don’t like saying those words, and I don’t like hearing them. It means that time and effort has already been invested into reaching a decision. And now something needs to change.

It could be a small tweak, or it could be a complete overhaul. For the purpose of our discussion, the degree of the change doesn’t matter. It’s the fact that something has to change at all.

The reality is that leadership requires flexibility. Things change. And sometimes, they change with little or no advance warning.

In a time of crisis (such as a global pandemic), circumstances change rapidly. Over the past few months, church and ministry leaders (along with every other type of leader) have been forced to make many quick changes. 

We had hoped that the pandemic would be a quick, momentary disruption, and then things would quickly get back to normal. However, many of us have begun to realize that this crisis is going to last much longer than we expected.

If you’re a pastor, church leader, or you lead in some other arena of life, this means that the way you lead for the foreseeable future must look different from the way you led a few months ago. If you’re having trouble keeping up with all of the changes, let me encourage you to consider the “Next-Step” leadership approach. I believe it can help you as well as those you lead.

What is Next-Step Leadership?

In a helpful post titled, “How to Lead When Nothing is Normal,” Dan Reiland wrote, “As leaders, we don’t have to have all the answers; we just need to know the next step and have the courage to take it.” That’s next-step leadership, and I believe it’s a great way for you to lead in the days ahead.

Consider a few characteristics of next-step leadership. First, it’s necessary. As a leader, you simply can’t lead the same way during a crisis as you would when things are “normal.” Wartime presidents lead very differently than they do during peacetime. Whenever a crisis hits, you must make adjustments to your leadership approach in order to properly handle your changing circumstances. It’s a necessity.

Second, next-step leadership is short-term. By God’s grace, this pandemic won’t last forever. Like all crises, it’s temporary. And when the crisis has passed, you can return to casting vision, developing long-term strategies, and holding Christmas cantatas. But right now, you need to focus most of your attention on the short-term challenges staring you in the face.

Third, next-step leadership is flexible. If you’ve read some of my other posts, you may have heard me say, “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not break.” Crisis moments require flexibility. This pandemic has demanded it. And those who incorporate flexibility into their leadership approach will not be bent out of shape. Next-step leadership is flexible by design.

How to Implement Next-Step Leadership

Here are seven suggestions for implementing next-step leadership during the pandemic or any other crisis that you face as a leader:

  1. Pray (a lot)! A crisis is a difficult experience. Before you make any decisions, you need godly wisdom. Pray and ask the Lord to help you make wise decisions that honor Him.
  2. Place long-term plans on pause. This doesn’t mean you need to throw out your 5 Year Strategic Plan. It just means that you shouldn’t spend a lot of time on long-term plans right now. If you do, there’s a strong likelihood those plans will have to be changed anyway. So, don’t waste your time making detailed plans that span a couple of years when things are likely to change next week.
  3. Establish a system for making quick decisions. Churches are particularly known for taking a long time to make decisions. Multiple committees are required to give their approval. The deacons or ministry staff may have to give input. The decision may require a congregational vote. This process can take a while. However, during a crisis, a leader is often not given the luxury of time. Therefore, establish a system for making quick decisions. As a leader, you certainly don’t want to make these decisions in isolation. But, you probably don’t have time to hear from everyone. Given your church or ministry’s unique context, consult with other church leaders to determine how you will make quick decisions during this ongoing time of crisis.
  4. Examine all of your options. As you determine the best next step on any particular decision, think about all of your available options. Consider these questions: Does each option honor God? How does each option affect those I lead? If a particular option is chosen, how hard will it be to backtrack if the decision has unforeseen consequences? How much will each option cost financially, emotionally, and spiritually? What are the pros and cons of each option?
  5. Determine what’s best next. Once you have considered all options, you must make a decision. Determine what’s best next and do it.
  6. Develop contingency plans. Not all decisions will be the right decisions. Therefore, sometimes the next best step will be a step back. You may need to reevaluate a decision and try something different. That’s why it’s a good idea to have some contingency plans ready.
  7. Communicate frequently. Circumstances can change rapidly during a crisis. Therefore, you will need to communicate much more frequently than normal. Multiple means exist to communicate with those you lead. Utilize what works best in your context, but make sure you communicate on a frequent basis, especially as changes are made.

Lead On

If you’re a pastor, church leader, or a Christian leading in some other context, I’m so thankful for you. I know these have been challenging days. I wish I could say that the worst is over. Only the Lord knows for sure. 

But let me encourage you to keep pressing on. Keep leading. Even when you don’t have all the answers, we serve the One who does! I pray He will give you the wisdom to discover your next step, and the courage to take it.

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