How a Church Can Survive an Internal Crisis
This story of a church in turmoil is not for the faint of heart. There’s sin, pain, rebuilding of a congregation in distress. What do you do? Where do you begin? Dawn and Rod Pearcy, longtime leaders at Calvary Chapel Ft. Lauderdale, describe their tsunami and the nine lessons behind the effect of good leadership development.
1. Tell the truth
When the lead pastor confessed his moral failure, Rod, his longtime friend and former roommate admitted, “I was devastated. We called the board and staff pastors together and he told them the truth,” recalls Rod. The board accepted the pastor’s resignation effective immediately.
A gifted church member, skilled in corporate communications, was key in leading church leadership to create a response team to assess all that could possibly go wrong, including the news media, church finances, and other people’s unedited, spontaneous stories.”
2. Attend to the wounded survivors
“We intentionally told our staff family first,” says Dawn. “These were the ‘next of kin’ that needed to be notified before news of the crash was made public to the congregation at a family gathering following Sunday worship.
- “We made sure the message was honest, clear and concise.
- “Most importantly, we made sure our congregation heard the news from leadership first.
- We assured them we would be there to walk through this together, looking to Jesus to help us, heal us and give us hope.”
3. Admit your woundedness and pain
The Pearcys joined other Calvary pastors to help staff
- process their anger, mistrust, disbelief, and loss, and
- ask the question, “How do you trust your leaders when you’re in a vacuum of trust?”
4. Be open to receiving volunteer help
“The crisis went down a week before Easter,” says Dawn. “Thankfully, a number of respected pastors and teachers reached out and volunteered to fill the pulpit. Franklin Graham offered to do Easter services and we gratefully accepted. God’s faithfulness reminded us that we, as his church, would not be alone moving forward.”
- Lesson: “Lots of people wanted to reach out, yet not everyone is qualified. In ministry, it’s the calling, the giftedness and the caliber of the people that matter.”
5. Honor God’s direction for new leadership
Calvary’s interim leadership was orderly, brisk and blessed. Rod: “Out of several qualified candidates emerged an interim pastor who was so different from the just-departed leader, maybe not as charismatic but of extremely high character, humble, and transparent. He wanted us to explore our own lives of brokenness. He modeled to us how to become more authentic with each other. Most of all, we trusted him. We knew very quickly that he was the pastor God had for Calvary Chapel. Seven weeks after his interim appointment, Doug Sauder assumed his role as our new lead pastor.”
6. Prepare to ride out the ups and downs
The health of Calvary’s workplace rose and fell, as annual results from BCWI’s Staff Engagement Survey charted the church’s culture journey. “Given the staff departures and ongoing one-on-ones with employees, we were both exhausted. ‘When do we get to quit?’ joke the Pearcys. “About then we remembered the words of James, ‘And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing’ (1:4). We weren’t going anywhere.”
7. Remember Nehemiah
“Pastor Doug steeped himself and taught us the truth of Nehemiah and how to rebuild the spiritual walls of our church,” says Dawn. “Staff-wise, our foundational core values, such as authentic love, leading like Jesus, and pursuing excellence, became absolutely foundational.”
8. Stand on God’s Word
When Calvary’s main sanctuary was being built, the church chose to bury a Bible directly under where the preaching pastor stands, with the prayer that God’s Word would go forth no matter who stands behind the pulpit. “Calvary Chapel has continued to see God’s faithfulness with thousands coming to know the Lord every year. From the pulpit Pastor Doug announced:
- Commitments to Christ are continuing through church services and
- people are coming to the Lord as a result of the church’s ongoing community outreach. Through Vision 2023, Calvary has already engaged 22,000 people—en route to making 60,000 new, passionate, fully-devoted disciples in two-and-a-half years.”
9. Trust and serve the Lord
Rod: “We look back and recall what we did right and what we did wrong. The best thing is realizing it had so little to do with us. It was and still is, all about God’s immense favor on us every step of the way.”
Dawn: “Bottom line, we trust and serve the Lord. As his body, the church, we seek and worship him and keep reaching out to others so they may come to know Jesus, who changes everything.”
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