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Pastoral Ethics in Crisis Times

Some of us see ourselves as “good in a crisis.” Some of us don’t. For pastors, though, the real question is not, “How do you see yourself?” but rather, “How do your people experience you as a crisis leader?”

Some of us see ourselves as “good in a crisis.” Some of us don’t. For pastors, though, the real question is not, “How do you see yourself?” but rather, “How do your people experience you as a crisis leader?” <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
Every pastor is different. Every crisis is different. Still there are principles which will serve you well as you seek to keep your head when the roof falls in.
 
First, remember the routine. Even on the Sunday after 9/11, we still had to have church. In fact, for many people it was that ordinary Sunday routine which helped them begin to feel life would somehow go on. Many pastors found their sanctuaries full and their sermons listened to that day with an intensity they had seldom experienced.
 
Routines help reassure us that the world has meaning and purpose, even in the midst of radical disruption. So even if you’ve just announced that you’re leaving in August, but the annual budget promotion meeting usually happens in June, go ahead and call the meeting. Grieving folk need to be reminded the church will be there when you’re gone. Those who aren’t grieving, of course, will know that anyway!
 
Second, bless what others are doing. Many pastors are control freaks. We honestly believe we will do a better job than others at virtually every task.
 
Especially in crisis times, we find it hard to let go of control. But these times, when there is much to be done and we ourselves are under stress, are precisely the times when we need most to bless the work of others.
 
In crisis times we don’t have to motivate people. They are motivated by the events themselves. Many will come up with creative ways to express their concern, if only we will allow them to do so. Indeed, many people experience significant growth when they simply jump in and get involved out of the emotion of the moment. We need to be careful not to dampen that enthusiasm unnecessarily.
 
Third, keep your ministry high-touch. In times of crisis, people need their pastor. By paying attention to routine yourself and by empowering the laity to work on the crisis themselves, you also gain the time and energy to invest in caring for people.
 
Often, for example, a crisis may involve conflict within the church. We pastors, like most people, tend to draw back from those with whom we may be in conflict. This is exactly the wrong thing to do. A pastor who stays in close touch with those with whom she disagrees communicates durable caring. People who know we care about them are much more willing to work with us toward a mutually agreeable solution. When the church is in the midst of crisis, concentrate your time and energy in pastoral care.
 
Finally, keep and communicate a long-term perspective. The real value of the Revelation to John, that prime example of New Testament crisis ministry, is its strong affirmation that no matter what might happen between now and then, God eventually wins. The destiny of God’s people is not in doubt. Beasts there will be along the way, but still the path leads home.
 
Ron Sisk is professor of homiletics and Christian ministry at North American Baptist Seminary.
 
Adapted from The Competent Pastor: Skills and Self-Knowledge for Serving Well, The Alban Institute, 2005. Click here to order.
 
Previous related column:
Pastoral Ethics and Church Process