Recently in Africa, Paula and I were passengers on a small twin engine plane built to carry seven passengers and a pilot. Turbulence was redefined for me that day as we moved closer to some storm clouds that the pilot couldn’t or didn’t avoid. Prior to take off, the pilot was overheard to say, “I’m tired and ready to get this day over with.” Recalling his words while flying into the storm left me somewhat unsettled.
There were a few sudden drops of what felt like hundreds of feet combined with nonstop, left to right and right to left swerving lasting from takeoff to landing. In the extreme moments of the flight, I think all the passengers were bracing for the worst. I’m sure the pilot felt like we were never in any trouble but none of his confidence was conveyed to those on board. Obviously, the fact that you’re reading this article now is proof that we landed and came out safely, but I will say this. A runway has never been more welcomed and my feet being on the ground never felt so good.
We had “weathered the storm” and had lived to tell about it.
Not to be overdramatic, but looking back on that ninety minute flight brings to mind the turbulence I have attempted to fly myself through over the past few years. Though not on an airplane, I’ve had more than a few passengers on board with me. Because of this, I’ve had to choose my routing and flight patterns accordingly knowing that I was somewhat responsible for more than myself alone.
There have been many dark clouds filled with hard times along with the lightning strikes of conflict and flying through them was difficult much of the time. The turbulence brought on by a global pandemic, acts of racism, the divisive presidential election of 2020 and the roar of social unrest has tested us all. Now we find ourselves dealing with insecure global markets, skyrocketing inflation, a total disregard for decency in our nation and an overall lack of confidence that much will be different for our children and grandchildren. Throw into the middle of those contrary winds a culture gone mad with its pervasive ideologies along with its emblazoned perverseness and you have a storm that defies description.
Welcome to leading in the 21st Century.
For me personally, I’ve had to come to some very serious and at times, some very determined conclusions over the past few years as I moved from one storm to another and each one could have had long lasting and negative effects on the church.
It has been vital to stay calm in the storm. For a leader, bouncing back from the initial shock of a storm is crucial. A leader’s response typically sets the tone for the organization. The stakes are too high for a leader to be unstable and shaken for very long, if at all. When instructing passengers about safety measures prior to a flight, the attendant always directs everyone to “place the oxygen mask over your own face before helping others.” There’s a reason for that. You can’t help anyone if you are incapacitated yourself. Sure, there has to be space allowed for a leader to get his or her own help. That’s understandable. However, a lifetime of prayer, discipline and self-control will have already helped prepare a leader to initiate the most needed response until his own personal equilibrium can be fully gained. It has been said that the only safe ship in a storm is competent leadership.
I’ve come to understand that when storms come, being a first responder is necessary. Any church or organization looks to it’s leader for direction. Regardless of how severe the impact of the storm may be, as a leader, you have to dig deeper than others may be required to do. You have to find resilience and resolve to be able to make decisions, and steer the church through the turbulence into smoother air and clearer skies.
When storms come, precision focus is necessary combined with a keen sense of purpose. A pastor and leader has to stay centered on what is known to be true and what you have come to believe is right. The church has to rally around it’s core values to find the way through the storm. Flying through stormy turbulence is never the time to change planes. It’s too late for that. You have to stay with what you know and ride out the storm. Even when the storm threatens structural damage, you immediately address all that you can, knowing that the plane has to be kept in the air until a safe place is found to land it. You will have to accept that not everyone will understand or appreciate the emergency calls you are forced to make. Often, your decisions will be questioned and your motives will be suspect, but you have to stay focused knowing that the storm will pass.
In all phases of a storm, communicating to those you serve is your own personal responsibility and it can’t be delegated to anyone else. Even though effective communication is known to be vital, it is frequently overlooked and not always carried out adequately. During the storm-filled months that followed the onset of the pandemic, I determined that I would be committed to the following:
State as clearly as possible what I knew.
Be truthful about what I did not know.
Correct as much misinformation being created by other sources that I possibly could.
Lift the level of hope about the present and future.
Keep the mission of the church the priority.
As we navigated through the turbulence of the storm, I was assured that God’s call and the mission of the church had to remain our guiding light through which all decisions were processed. Like trusting an airplane’s instrument readings, we’ve all had to trust God’s Word and His call to see us through the past few years. Otherwise, we could have been victim to the disorientation of not knowing “which way was up” while flying through the dense fog of our own emotive reactions to each days circumstances.
It has been said that there are some things that are learned best in the calm and some in the storm. That is very true. Storms come with a price but they also come with valuable lessons. I think the greatest lesson of all has to do with endurance. Much like the airplane I boarded while in Africa, you too are built to withstand the storm. Don’t give up when the turbulence shakes you. You’ll get through it. No man would have ever crossed the ocean if he could have gotten off the ship in the middle of the storm.
After leading through this recent season of stormy weather, I have come to this conclusion. I would have never seen sunshine again if I had not weathered the storm. Seeing the brightness of the day is well worth holding on in the darkness of the storm.