How Pastors Should Respond in Crisis – Episode 137 | The Unstuck Church Podcast


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Communicating Hope & Finding Opportunities

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Well, life feels like it’s on “pause” in a lot of ways. Several weeks ago, Amy and I recorded a new podcast series, and we were feeling good about it. The episodes just felt so appropriate for where we were as church leaders. And then, obviously, our whole world changed. Now those episodes are not so appropriate for today. We’ll hold them for another time.

So we’re going to pivot. We want to be FOR you. We blew up our content calendar and decided to look for opportunities to serve you while you’re in the thick of leading through crisis.

One thing that has always fascinated me is how even people that are outside the church and outside the faith, for some reason, find themselves drawn to the church in the seasons of crisis.

Because of that, even in this situation where we can’t meet physically with people in church services and worship gatherings, I actually think there are huge opportunities to be found for churches who choose to look for them, instead of getting stuck focusing on the loss.

I wrote about this in my first article addressing church leadership during the coronavirus crisis, but I’ll say it again here:

There’s a significant opportunity for the church to be a beacon of hope.

You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.

Rahm Emanuel

In this episode, Amy and I discuss…

  • What it looks like for the senior pastor to lead the response, communicate hope, and cast vision for how you’ll be stronger on the other side of a crisis
  • How to pivot to looking for opportunities rather than focusing on loss while you’re facing a new normal
  • Examples of how MY team is identifying opportunities during this season, and how I have been communicating to my leaders, our clients and our wider community
  • 4 OPPORTUNITIES I see for local churches during this crisis, and specific examples of ways I hope you will respond

The opportunities I’m going share in this episode are probably not the only ones. We’d really love to hear from you on social media if you’re identifying others at your church.

Church leaders: How will you redeem the time you've been given? #unstuckchurch [episode 137] Click to Tweet 4 OPPORTUNITIES I see for local churches during this crisis, and specific examples of ways I hope you will respond. u003cbru003e#unstuckchurch [episode 137] Click To Tweet

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Let Us Know  on Social Media

We use #unstuckchurch on Twitter, and we start a real-time conversation each Wednesday morning when the episode drops. We’d really love to hear from you during this time:

  1. How can we be praying for you as a lead and your church?
  2. What stories can you share of ways churches are responding well during this crisis and focusing on opportunities instead of loss?

You can follow me @tonymorganlive and The Unstuck Group @unstuckgroup. If Facebook is where you spend your time, I’m there, too.

Links & Resources from the Episode

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Sean (00:02): Welcome to The Unstuck Church podcast, where each week we’re exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. While events in the world have brought on fear and anxiety, the church stands on the edge of an incredible opportunity to bring hope in the coming days. On this week’s podcast, Tony and Amy share thoughts on how church leaders can respond during a crisis. Before you listen, make sure you grab the show notes. You’ll get them every week in an email along with resources to go with this week’s conversation, as well as access to our archive of podcast content. Go to and subscribe. Now let’s join Tony and Amy for a conversation on leading in crisis.

Amy (00:46): Well, Tony, we’re back in the recording studio a lot sooner than I’m guessing either one of us anticipated, but a lot has changed these last few days, hasn’t it?

Tony (00:54): Absolutely. Yeah, I mean, obviously, life is on pause for the world around us, for our lives. And, I’m living with a little bit of regret any because we recorded some great episodes, that several weeks ago, man, they just felt so appropriate for where we were as a church. And then obviously, our whole world has changed, and now not so appropriate. So, I’m hopeful that today’s conversation that you and I have planned is going to benefit church leaders in this unique season for the church. I mean, it’s unlike anything else that we’ve ever experienced. So for now, it feels like we need this completely different focus and, hopefully you will be encouraged by the conversation that you and I are going to have today.

Amy (01:45):

Well, on that note, Tony, late last week you shared an article with church leaders, which included our podcast listeners titled “Leading in Crisis.” Why did you share that? What was the heart behind it?

Tony (01:56): Yeah, a couple of things come to mind, Amy. First of all, I’ve just noticed whether it’s a personal crisis or a crisis in our community or a crisis nationally, and the most obvious example there would be 9/11, that in those moments when crisis hits, we naturally turn to the church. Those of us that are part of a church turn to the church. But it’s been fascinating to me, even people that are outside the church and outside the faith for some reason are drawn to the church in the seasons of crisis. And because of that, even in this instance where we can’t meet physically with people in church services and worship gatherings, I actually think this is an opportunity for the church to really leverage this moment to connect with people that are looking for answers, that are wanting assurance, they’re wanting understanding. And it’s an opportunity for the church to be a beacon of hope. And so in the midst the crisis, when you’re scrambling to figure out how are we going to do Sunday services? How are we going to continue to engage with our staff and the people in our church? I hope that you will take some time in the coming days to think about how can we take advantage of this opportunity to connect with people who are going to be looking for answers, and in many instances, actually turning to the church? The other thing I wanted to do is model for you what people in your church and your community need to hear from their pastors and leaders. I hope you’ll go back and look at that article that we shared at the end of the last week to just get a sense of how we are communicating with you, our primary audience, about where we are, what we’re doing and what you can be looking for from us at The Unstuck Group to serve you. In the same way, I think your church and your community need to hear a similar message from you as pastors and church leaders. And so that article was intended to model for you the types of communication that I think are pretty important in this season of crisis in our communities.

Amy (04:19): Yeah. Well, speaking of leading in crisis, Tony, maybe it would be good for you to walk through how you approached unstuck teams next steps once this all hit.

Tony (04:29): Yeah. So, I don’t know if people realize this, because I’m guessing most of you are engaging with our content and you’re probably thinking, well this crisis isn’t going to impact The Unstuck Group at all because they’re still gonna be able to write articles, they’re still gonna be able to podcast, they’re still gonna be able to do all those things that we’re accustomed to hearing and learning from The Unstuck Group. And by the way, I hope you lean in even more because you’re right, this does create an opportunity for us to continue to equip you as church leaders. But the reality is most of what pays for our team to be able to do what we do is from on-site engagements. I haven’t looked at the numbers specifically, but it’s probably as high as 80-90% of the income that we receive is coming from on-site engagements. And we’ll be talking more in the coming days about the opportunity this creates for us. But once we kind of assessed where we are in this crisis with the coronavirus, my leaning was to look at, not only immediately how we need to respond, but what is the opportunity that exists for us as well? And once we made decisions about what needed to happen next, I first communicated hope and next steps to our team. So I wanted to make sure our team was clear on what we were going to be doing next at The Unstuck Group. Secondly, we wanted to communicate directly with all the churches we’re currently serving on the ground. And, just to give you a sense, I mean, in the last year we had on-site engagements with close to 125 different churches. So at any moment in time like these coming weeks, I mean, there’s dozens of churches that are being impacted by this. And so in addition to communicating hope to those churches, we needed to be very clear about “these are the next steps that we’re going to be engaging with your church as travel is put on pause.” And then finally, I wanted to communicate you, church leaders, more broadly. You are my community, and I wanted you to hear from me about how our team is engaging in this time of uncertainty. So, all of this, though, actually brought me back to my previous life. I don’t know if you know this, but I used to be a city manager, and so before my time in full-time ministry, I worked in local communities and it was a weird season of my life. I was relatively young, but the city council would hire me to oversee all of the police department activity, the fire department, the street superintendent, the park superintendent, all of the city services. I was responsible for making sure that that happened without interruption. And at one point I was a city manager out in Iowa, and it was one of the worst storms that I personally have ever experienced in my life and caused widespread damage throughout our community, not only to city facilities, but more importantly, many, many, many homes and businesses were impacted. And we had to set up a crisis center to deal with that instance. And what I learned from that experience is when the crisis hits, people are looking for their leaders to remain calm, to maintain a steadiness. They are looking for their leaders to clearly communicate “this is what happened” and really to own the aspects of the crisis that the community is experiencing to really acknowledge “this is the reality of where we are today.” And then to clearly communicate decisive action. “Here’s what’s going to happen next as the result of what we’ve experienced.” Um, so there’s, there’s this need to clearly communicate what’s going to happen by when and who will be responsible for making sure that it happens. And then you still, even though you’re communicating those specifics, you have to communicate why, the why behind the decision and, in all of this, the real opportunity that leaders have is to honestly acknowledge, “”here’s what we’re facing and then to clearly communicate, “here’s what’s going to happen next.” But real leaders in this moment will immediately began to communicate the hope that exists and why we’re going to be stronger once we get through this. And that’s what I learned going through this crazy storm that hit our community out in Iowa decades ago. But I think it’s a great lesson for leaders in the midst of this crisis, especially for the church leaders that are listening. This is how we need to live out our leadership in this moment. Because it is, though it’s a crisis, though it’s going to dramatically impact people’s lives and it’s going to dramatically impact the ministry that we’re engaging as churches, it also is an opportunity for us to lead strong because people will be looking to us in this season as well.

Amy (10:20): Yeah. When there’s a crisis, I certainly expect leaders to lead the response. But you just mentioned something else. You said something about the opportunities in crisis moment. Let’s spend a little bit of time there. You did a great job with that, with our team. With new constraints put on it, we quickly move to what are new solutions. So talk about the opportunities.

Tony (10:40): Yeah. So this has nothing to do with his political policies, many of which I don’t agree with, but Rahm Emanuel is as noted for this quote. He said, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste.” And he said, “What I mean by that is it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before the crisis.” And that is just so true. Now, he was thinking of it as it relates to political gain that could happen through a crisis. But my word, in the context of what we’re doing as churches, there is an opportunity that exists here and it really provides an excuse for us as church leaders to do things differently than we’ve done before. And as a result of that, I actually think God’s handing us an opportunity, weeks here, where we can be thinking about how we are doing ministry to the people that we’re trying to reach in our community. And we actually have the excuse because of this crisis to try some things that we’ve never done before. And I actually think coming out the other side of this, the church is going to be in a stronger place to engage ministry in today’s culture. Now let me just give you an example. So if you happen to be a church leader, you’re listening into this conversation thinking about, hopefully, how can we model some of the things that Tony’s talking about in our church context? I’m actually, for the other church consultants that are listening in or networks and denominations that serve churches, I’m going to reveal what we’re doing with the hope that you will learn from this, too and take some next steps that are going to benefit you. Because what I know is there are far more churches out there than The Unstuck Group could ever serve. And so if you get stronger and this, that’s going to benefit the church as a whole and we’re together going to help the church have a greater kingdom impact. But specifically for The Unstuck Group, one of the opportunities we see is to shift all of that on-site engagement that we’ve had in the past to more of a virtual consulting/coaching experience. And in other words, we’re going to be able to take our entire process, the assessment we do with churches, the strategic planning, all of the staffing and structure coaching that we provide, developing action plans. We really do have the ability to replicate our entire process using a virtual process instead. And, I’ve actually had the chance in the past to test drive this. I know it works, and so we’re going to be ramping up, in these days ahead of us, new opportunities for churches to engage our entire process without having to gather their team together in a physical space and without us having to be there on-site with the church. And the great benefit to this is in years past, we have had to turn down opportunities from churches that have reached out to us in Australia and South Africa and the UK and in other contexts because we could not get to them in a way that would allow us to serve their churches. And now, this crisis is actually forcing us to leverage these virtual solutions that are available. And because of that, we’re going to be able to serve churches that we’ve never been able to serve before. So if your church won’t be holding weekend services or other large gatherings in the coming weeks, which is going to be the case for almost every church, your team actually may have more time on your hands than ever before. And my challenge to you is just to ask this question, how are you going to redeem this time that you’ve been given? The opportunity is certainly for us, and I think this specific time is going to create opportunities for us to engage ministry in a completely new way.

Amy (14:59): So Tony, what’s the opportunity that you see for the church in this season? What have you been thinking about there?

Tony (15:04): Yeah, so these are some things that have come to mind specifically for you as church leaders and the ministry strategy that you’re engaging. First, the opportunity is for you to bring hope and assurance to people who right now may be living in fear, especially if they’re spending too much time on Facebook or watching too much of their favorite news channel. The media, they make money by creating fear. And so Facebook, I mean, just to be honest, they create money by creating fear. And so now is the time for your message, the gospel message to be presented in an effective way to bring hope and assurance to people who are living in fear. So that may be the opportunity that you need to lean into. Another opportunity for local churches is to connect today with charities in your community to learn how your congregation can partner with local charities that are going to be serving people on the front line who are being impacted by this crisis. Already your local charities have a sense of how people will need to be served during the season, and it just makes complete sense for you to reach out to them today to figure out how can your church come alongside what they’re doing to serve people in your community that are going to be directly impacted by this crisis. So that’s a second thing you can do. And another opportunity for the church is to really lean in in this season to pay more attention to your digital platform, especially streaming online services. I mean it’s being handed to us. This is our opportunity to really think more intentionally about our digital engagement as a church. And fortunately for us, there are models out there, churches like Life.Church have been doing this for a decade or more. Take advantage of the tools they have available. In fact, their online church solution, they offer that for free. So rather than trying to recreate the wheel, connect with Life.Church, look at the streaming options that they have available or the digital online church platform that they have available and figure out how can our church begin to grow its digital platforms so that even when the crisis is over, we’re better positioned to connect with today’s culture. That’s a third option. Here’s another one. While your team is working remotely, implement new online solutions for your team to better communicate with each other and to collaborate with each other around tasks and projects. And Amy, you and I know this is the way The Unstuck Group team has been operating for years, and I think we’ve done it out of necessity because our team is spread out all across the country, but there are things that we’re doing as a remote team that would benefit not only church teams in this immediate season, but again, once you get through this crisis, it’s going to make your team more productive, it’s going to improve your communications and it’s going to help your team align around the initiatives that you’re engaging in ministry as well. So this is the opportunity to increase alignment and productivity for your staff team, for your volunteer team so that you can have a bigger kingdom impact.

Amy (18:49): Tony, do you have any examples of what those tools could be? I know that there’s some churches who’ve never even thought about this.

Tony (18:56): Yeah. So we talk about some of these things pretty commonly. I mean, the simplest thing for you to use if you’re not already on some sort of a communication solution like Microsoft Teams or Slack, it’s amazing how much that improves communications on the team over trying to get everybody in the room for a face-to-face meeting or trying to email everybody information. I mean, just a simple, simple solution. My friend, Brian Miles, who started Belay shared this with me years ago, but he said every week their team shares highs and lows from their past week. And so we started doing that years ago. Our team, every Friday, we share the highs and lows that we’re experiencing. And sometimes that’s related to our work life or our ministry life. Many times though, it’s related to what’s happening in our personal lives. And I don’t know about you, Amy, but I just, I feel so much closer to my teammates because I know what’s happening in their lives and I know more specifically how I can be praying for my teammates because I know the opportunities and challenges they’re facing in their personal lives. Let me give you another specific example. Rather than each of our different teams having different platforms for managing projects and tasks, every one of our teams operates on Asana, and we map out all of our projects, all of our tasks. Everybody knows who’s responsible for what by when. I don’t have to guess, Amy, what your team’s working on or Tiffany’s team is working on or Sean’s team is working on. We’re all using the same solution and at any moment in time, I could look to see what everybody’s responsibility is and the deadlines that have been established and who’s being delegated to do what. It’s a way for us to make sure that we’re completely aligned about the priority initiatives that we’re going after as a team. And again, even for church teams, once this crisis is past us and we’re not working remotely anymore, those solutions around team communications and project and task management, you need to be leveraging those tools, not just for the crisis, but for the future as well. And it’s going to help your team become much more effective in carrying out the mission God’s called you to as a church.

Amy (21:36): Yeah. I’m thinking about my husband’s team. They’re all gonna start working remotely starting tomorrow, and I don’t think they have anything like this right now. And they’re going to feel that pain of not being able to have hallway conversations and drive bys.

Tony (21:48): That’s right.

Amy (21:50): All right, well, Tony, any final thoughts before we wrap up today’s conversation?

Tony (21:53): Yeah, so let me just share one, I think this is just a win that we have witnessed. I used to be a part of the staff team at NewSpring church in South Carolina, and one of our teammates is still engaged in the ministry there. I now live in Atlanta, so it’d be a little bit difficult for me to commute to South Carolina every Sunday to go to church. But I thought this is a great example of how a church is seeing the opportunity that exists in this crisis. And so NewSpring, in addition to moving all of their services online this past Sunday, sent out some tools to people in their church to encourage people to invite neighbors to come experience the service with them. And again, as long as you’re practicing those healthy boundaries around making sure you’re not inviting sick people into a home where people are sick or things like that, practicing appropriate social distancing. Who thought we were going to be talking about that? This is an opportunity for us to connect with people in our neighborhoods or friends or family who may not ever have gone with us to the large gathering on Sunday morning. But they’re using this as an opportunity to actually grow their influence, grow the church, and spread the gospel message in unique ways and creating opportunities out of the crisis that we’re facing. So today I don’t have any additional thoughts to share. I just have a simple request and that is a good example of it. We want to continue at the unstuck group to be praying for you. But at the same time we want to know specifically how we can do that. So I would encourage you to reach out to us, and let us know specifically, how can we be praying for you as a leader and how can we be praying for your church? But also we want to continue to share examples like the NewSpring example of how you as a church can be demonstrating what it is to be a beacon of hope in this time of crisis and to be looking for the opportunities that exist as well. We want to share those examples with the thousands of church leaders who are listening in to this podcast every week. And so if you have a prayer request or if you have an example that you think might be helpful to other church leaders, please email those to us or you can share your stories and prayer requests on social media using #unstuckchurch.

Sean (24:35): Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s conversation. As Tony mentioned, we’d love to know how to pray for you. Let us know by posting on your favorite social media platform with the #unstuckchurch. Also, if you’ve suddenly found your team working remotely, there’s still time to take advantage of the open enrollment period for the “Leading an Unstuck Church” online course. The course will help you tackle 13 of the most common core issues that churches face. If your team’s looking for a way to continue to grow while being digitally connected for a season, visit us at for more info. Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode. Until then, we hope you have a great week of ministry.

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