"You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger;"
James 1:19, NRSV
My best friend is a Lutheran pastor. Every time he invites me to preach at his church, I joke with him that I am going to preach from the Book of James; Martin Luther's "Epistle of Straw." All jokes aside, even my Lutheran friend would agree that this advice from James speaks to church leadership in the Age of COVID-19.
One of the hardest parts of leadership is knowing when to talk and when to listen. The COVID-19 pandemic has produced countless numbers of people willing to talk. And, rightfully so. As church leaders, every decision we make affects untold numbers of people. Our decisions don't just affect our congregants or our staff. They affect their families, neighbors, childcare providers, care receivers, outside employers, and everyone in the community with whom they come into contact. We are under a lot of pressure to talk right now. Everyone wants to know exactly what our plans are for re-opening churches. When will we re-open? How will we accommodate safety protocols on our campus? How will we accommodate those who are immuno-compromised? A lot of people want to hear our answers and hear them now.
I want to offer two pieces of advice here.
#1 - Listen before you speak. Take the time to ask questions. Find out what your congregants want and need. Find out what your staff wants and needs. Find out what the community wants and needs. Everyone has an opinion, and you don't have to take every piece of advice that comes your way. But, you do need to listen to every piece of advice that comes your way and make sure that everyone involved KNOWS they are being respected and considered. You will not make everyone happy...not matter what you decide. But, if people know that you actively listened to them (as opposed to just passively hearing them) and considered their point of view, they are much more likely to be amenable to your decisions. Listen before you speak.
#2 - When you do speak, speak with authority. Notice I did not say speak forcefully. There is a difference. Once you have carefully listened and considered all available input, MAKE A DECISION. Everyone knows that this is a rapidly changing environment. And, chances are, what you decide today will change tomorrow or next week. However, once you have made your decision, communicate that decision clearly, articulately, and with the authority befitting your office. You have been called to lead your church. LEAD IT. Do not be afraid to make bold decisions. Do not be afraid to state what you think and what you believe is best. If you sound like you believe it, so will other people. If you sound like you mean it, they will listen and respect your decision. They may not agree with it. They may not like it. But they will respect it. BE A LEADER.
Leading is not an easy task. It is not a set of traits with which one is born. It is more than a set of learned skills. It is all of that, and it is none of that. Leadership is a relationship with those around you; be they staff, congregants, children, youth, adults, the un-churched, or the de-churched. Foster those relationships. Honor and respect those who are looking to you for leadership. THEN LEAD THEM.