By Brent Storms, Orchard Group President/CEO
Over the past couple of decades with Orchard Group I have experienced a handful of crises: the terrorist attacks on 9/11, the 2008 recession in the global economy, and the brutal impact of Hurricane Sandy on New York City. There have been two additional major challenges mixed in as well: one significant leadership challenge and one major family disruption. In many ways, our current global pandemic crisis is unlike anything we’ve confronted. However, there are still strong lessons from the past that can help us navigate now and into the future.
We can’t lead healthy organizations if we don’t remain spiritually healthy ourselves. Every leader will experience crisis at some point. If leaders are going to be effective over the long haul, they need to be aware of and prioritize their own spiritual health.
In crisis, here’s what I tell myself (and our new church leaders):
1. Lean into the spiritual disciplines that keep you connected to God.
Years ago, I found Gary Thomas’ book Sacred Pathways to be extremely helpful. Some of the concepts still guide my thinking to this day. When times get tough, you may find that some spiritual disciplines become far more valuable than they are during a “normal” season. For example, my wife, Rhesa, journals daily; I do not. However, during some of my most challenging leadership seasons I have found the practice of journaling daily to be very valuable. Whether it is scripture memorization, prayer, fasting, journaling, time in solitude, etc. – find the disciplines that help you stay connected to God during this season.
2. Establish a rhythm that clears your head and refreshes your soul.
During one of the most difficult times of our lives, Rhesa and I took a five mile walk every day from our Brooklyn apartment around the loop in Prospect Park. Many days we even went around twice. We talked, prayed, and burned off anxious energy due to a significant family crisis. It kept us grounded and helped us cope in a positive way. We are fortunate to now live in a place where getting outside while “social distancing” is easier than it was in Brooklyn. I’m on my tenth straight day of taking an afternoon hike. Yesterday I hiked five miles and saw a total of 12 people. It is one of the ways I can keep my head clear and my heart healthy.
3. If married, make sure that you and your spouse stay on the same page.
During the challenges we’ve faced over the years, Rhesa and I have made it a habit to regularly ask each other the question: "Are we staying on the same page about this?"
Likewise, every time we have a church planting couple experiencing an especially difficult time, I ask them the same question: "Is this pushing you guys closer together as a couple, or is it pulling you apart?" It’s highly likely that current concerns about health and finances, coupled with cabin fever and restless kids, could start to pull some couples apart. Do whatever it takes to make sure you stay more connected now than ever before.
4. Ask the question, “What if?” but eventually move to the declaration “Even if!”
Although I have to credit my friend, Jordan Rice at Renaissance Church in Harlem, with this language, I’ve been practicing the principle for as long as I can remember. I find it quite helpful in a time of crisis or challenge to do the contingency planning that comes with asking the question, “What if?” As a leader of an organization, or church, or even a family, it is responsible and wise to prepare for some worst-case scenarios. But it is not good to dwell there. It’s so much healthier to pivot eventually to the declaration, “Even if!”
Even if some of the worst-case scenarios unfold… I can trust in the goodness of God. He will be present with me no matter what unfolds.
Think about the bold declarations of Psalms 23 and 46, or Martin Luther’s A Mighty Fortress is Our God.
Even if I walk through the valley of the shadow of death… even if the mountains fall into the heart of the sea… even amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing… the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want… the Lord Almighty is with us…
A Mighty Fortress is our God!