By Daryl Crouch
In the early morning hours of March 3, 2020, a tornado moved through our community. It ravaged homes, schools, businesses, and churches. Lives were lost.
And as the sun rose, we who were spared looked around and took inventory of our own lives. We gave thanks. We began grieving. Then we quickly got to work.
One of the things that make a crisis a crisis is that it happens so suddenly. Crises do not give us a lot of time to prepare.
No one really expects them to happen when they do, how they do, and with the punch they pack. But they are sure to come.
Now a month later, we’re in the middle of the coronavirus crisis.
Schools are closed. Business and church operations are limited. Markets are responding. And government officials are asking for everyone’s help to “flatten the curve,” which would limit the impact of this healthcare crisis.
As it is with many things in life, the preparation we do before the crisis comes may be the most important work we do at all.
How then can we prepare for future crises while leading our churches through them? We’re still learning, but here are four actions that will help.
1. Cultivate a deepening trust in God.
It may not sound as practical as we want it to be, but a robust, theologically-rich trust in God changes everything.
King Solomon, in the throes of ruling Israel, wrote, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart …” (Proverbs 3:5). How we view tragedy and how we respond to it depends on how we have learned to depend on God.
As much as pastors and churches have taught, ministered, and encouraged people to trust God, the unique challenges of a crisis create uncertainty, doubt, and sometimes overwhelming anxiety in the congregation and in the community.
It’s during these moments we have an unprecedented opportunity to speak peace and to remind people that the Lord is near, that He is at work, and that He can be trusted.
2. Build networks of relationships across community domains.
We’re not only pastors and congregations, but we’re also missionaries planted in our community to care about welfare of our neighbors.
So while we pray and call people to trust Jesus, we also come beside government officials, educators, business leaders, and non-profit leaders who are also responding to this crisis.
Resources are stretched thin for everyone, which means churches play an invaluable role in crisis response and recovery.
In the weeks after the tornado, local churches in our community mobilized armies of volunteers who were right behind first responders to help residents clean up after the storm, provide material resources, and offer meals and housing for those in need.
This cooperative effort was possible because of networks of churches working together to engage the public and private sector of our community.
In our particular community, the relationships church and community leaders established before the crisis came helped us respond more quickly with shared trust and with a unified effort that has served our neighbors well.
3. Discover the most helpful ways to serve neighbors.
One of the beautiful expressions of the global body of Christ is that every local church regardless of size, demographic, or denomination has been gifted uniquely to serve the community.
In our community, some churches had chainsaw crews ready to go right after the storm. Others were already prepared to provide meals.
Still others were networked in a way that allowed them to put a large amount of volunteers in the most needy area of the community within just hours of the tornado.
Not every church can do everything, but the Lord has prepared every church to do something.
So whatever that is, do it with all your heart. Do it in cooperation with other churches and community efforts. Do it in a way that actually serves the needs that exist.
4. Commit to stay engaged over the long haul.
The outpouring of support from around the nation overwhelmed us in the aftermath of the tornado. People from around the country loaded trucks and trailers, and within just a few hours were serving our neighbors by our side.
Without that kind of crisis response, getting help to those in greatest need would have been limited and perhaps severely delayed.
So while a quick response is critical, churches must see long-term recovery efforts as one of our primary ministries.
As pastors and churches, we’re planted in the community. We live and work among neighbors, schools, and businesses impacted by the crisis.
This means our opportunity for gospel-centered ministry continues for months and years to come as people continue the laborious efforts of rebuilding their lives.
This long-term perspective, then, leads church leaders to re-evaluate ministry programming and schedules, financial priorities, and staffing responsibilities.
A crisis does not redefine our ministry, but it should cause us to rethink the way we accomplish the mission of Jesus in our community.
Not prepared, but equipped
Whether it’s a tornado, a virus, or some other kind of crisis, they all produce loss: loss of life, loss of possessions, loss of health, or even loss of a sense of security.
Physical, spiritual, emotional, and relational stressors converge in times of crises in ways for which none of us are quite prepared.
The people of God, however, are equipped to respond with both a message of hope and a mission of help.
We are a people, indwelt by the Helper, the very Spirit of God, who enables us to love our neighbors in a way that lets them see and experience the faithfulness of God even in the worst of times.
DARYL CROUCH (@darylcrouch) is senior pastor of Green Hill Church in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee.