One of the heroes on D-Day in World War II was awarded one of our nation’s highest commendations because his clear-headed response to the chaos on the beach saved many lives, and helped secure strategic targets critical to the success of the invasion.
About 200 days later, this faithful soldier, after earning at least four other significant battle medals, became disoriented and emotionally distraught. The soldiers he was leading had to carry him off the battlefield to a safe place away from the fight.
Many pastors think they are immune to the effects of stress and emotional overload. Believing that being filled with the Holy Ghost makes them spiritually bulletproof, they scoff at the idea that they need anything other than another opportunity to preach.
But regardless of how macho and spiritual your leaders are, your church’s crisis response plan must reflect that your pastor is human. As you develop plans to keep bad events from plunging your church into crisis, you must realize that your pastor may not always be available to lead you during those dark times.
If one bad event your church faces is the unexpected news that your pastor’s wife has inoperable cancer — both your church and your pastor deserve to have someone step-up and minister to them. While your church family must come together and strengthen each other, your crisis response plan should include having a trusted minister friend who can fill your pulpit, make hospital visits, and temporarily fill other ministry roles for your pastor. If your church has other ministers who can do some of these tasks, that works well. However, having a minister who is not part of your congregation but who has your pastor’s trust lead your worship services for a week or two will take a huge weight off of your pastor, and will allow him to be a husband and father when his family desperately needs him to be just that and to be close. He can still attend the services, but the time usually spent preparing a sermon or organizing the worship and other ministry details will be invested instead in his family.
Your pastor may kick at that, but for his family’s sake, don’t back down. They need his undivided attention at these moments, and the congregation also needs the assurance that someone who is not emotionally distraught is looking after them and their pastor.
This scenario must also be considered at other crisis-inducing times. If a church van is hit by a drunk driver, we normally turn to the pastor to lead the response. But what if he was the one driving? Or what if his teenaged daughter was critically injured in the crash? Again, your crisis plan must include having someone prepared to step in and temporarily lead your church during a traumatic event.
This temporary leader is not an interim pastor, nor will he have any authority that overrides your pastor or church board. It is simply a preplanned, short-term ministry response to a traumatic situation. This person’s role is to minister: not to take charge or manage the business. (Although every church, especially smaller churches that rely heavily on a pastor to run the business of the church, should have a plan that dictates what happens if a pastor is incapacitated. We’ll cover that later.)
In summary, your church’s crisis response plan must cover the possibility that your pastor may not be able to lead the response during a traumatic event, and it must assign another person that task. Your plan must also give room for your leaders to give first priority to their families and their own health when critical events occur.
*While pastoral and other leadership roles are often filled by females, these articles are written from the masculine perspective to make them shorter and easier to read.