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Articles

How to lead during difficult times

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February 17, 2021

The world changed for me that night in March when NBA players were called off the court and the notifications on my phone started lighting up like a Christmas tree. Global pandemic, social distancing, mask-wearing, zoom-calling, toilet-paper ordering—what is this new reality I am facing, I wondered. As I entered into this Twilight Zone of leadership, managing seismic changes and making hundreds of new decisions, I felt the weight of it all on my shoulders. I’m sure every pastor and leader can relate. 

How do we remain healthy through times of heightened stress? While I certainly have not cracked the code on leading through difficult seasons, here are three things I’m learning.

  1. I need to listen to my body and get more rest.  

Recently, after two full days of meetings, I drove home with my friend, Migraine. He was not pleasant company. When I got home, I went to the bedroom, turned off the lights, and slept till the next morning. In this season of “make decisions, change decisions,” everything feels more pressurized, which adds weight to the soul and mind. I think wisdom calls us to look at our schedules and to realize it’s not sustainable to pack our days so full that we have no time for decompression. “Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life” (Prov. 4:23). Be kind to yourself and go hit a round of golf, or grab a light lunch with a friend. 

In addition to taking more time to recharge your own soul, be sensitive also to the weight your wife is carrying. No pastor carries the water alone, and the burdens are felt in the pastor’s home also. If you can, schedule extra time with your spouse, to meet up for chips and queso, or to take a hike outdoors together. As Lynley and I have made time for more of this, we have felt more refreshed for the work of the ministry and less overwhelmed by the challenges. 

  1. I need to rip up the old scorecard.

Most leaders I know are living in perpetual frustration because their plans have been foiled time and time again since COVID-19 hit. It’s not that our dreams are expired, but the pandemic has caused everything to slow down dramatically. All the goal-setters out there are crabby, because the world changed overnight and the metrics shifted also. Packed out events, sold out conferences, rooms filled with infectious energy—none of these “outward signs” that church stuff is working have any real significance in the moment. 

When I tweeted that “God wants us to be faithful, not successful,” a few people took issue with the statement. I can understand why. “Isn’t faithfulness a success in and of itself?” one person asked. Of course it is. What I meant, however, is that the world’s measure of success is normally associated with bigger, bigger, bigger. In this season, pastors cannot participate in that old system of topping last year’s numbers and pushing line graphs up and to the right. Instead, ministry means organizing service projects, preaching to cameras and cold rooms, and making phone calls to that person who lost their job this week. These less glamorous tasks are the slow and steady work of the ministry and they matter greatly to God. 

  1. I need to pray like it all depends on God. 

Naturally, I work like it all depends on me, and always have. It’s a problem. Self-reliance is the easy part for driven personalities. Learning to wait, sit back, and to trust the Lord, with an ever deepening prayer life—that is the real treasure that arrives in times of uncertainty. 

Recently, I was searching the internet for a free image to use for preaching. As I did, I came across a picture of Jesus reaching down into the water, seeking to lift up a fully submerged Peter. It dawned on me that the Bible isn’t clear just how far Peter sank after he walked on water. Some artists show his ankles under the sea, some his waist, a few his shoulders. This was the first time I had ever considered that Jesus allowed Peter to plunge all the way down. It was a thought-provoking image. 

As the global pandemic rages on, many church leaders are feeling increasingly uncertain about the new normal in front of us. It started ankle deep, then waist, and has continued to rise. Anxiety grows as momentum plateaus. Breathe deep and believe that the doctrine of God’s sovereignty is good for the soul. He still has the whole world in his hands. And when this moment passes, Jesus will reward those who kept their eyes on him–no matter how deep the water. He may let us sink a little, but he will not let us drown.

Put your ministry back in his hands, and pray that the Lord will work his will in our hearts as we wait upon his wrist to break through the water. 

Ben Mandrell

Ben Mandrell is Lifeway's 10th president. Read More by this Author