Leadership During Crisis: Guiding the Ship through the Storm

by Wayne Pederson, Executive Liaison, Far East Broadcasting

No one could have imagined as we began the new year the challenges we would be facing in our ministries, in our relationships, our finances, and our personal lives caused by the “invisible enemy”—Covid-19.

Under the auspices of Far East Broadcasting, Wayne Pederson convened a gathering (virtually, of course!) of a dozen or so global ministry leaders to address the Covid-19-related issues and adjustments. All the news is not bad news. There is a silver lining in the midst of all of the confusion and anxiety in our culture.

Passion and Vision. One of the leaders in our group based in Jan-Erik Nauman of IBRA-Africa works in collaboration with a number of indigenous partner ministries. According to Jan-Erik, partner ministries with a clearly defined mission along with a fervent passion for their calling are thriving. Ministries without a clear mission and half-hearted vision are seeing Covid as a disaster, and they’re struggling to survive.

David Wills with National Christian Foundation and board chairman of ECFA said that ministries built on a solid foundation of strategic funding, carefully laid-out strategy, along with solid board governance and team leadership will not only survive but thrive. Other ministries may not survive the crisis.

Focus on the Gospel. Jan-Erik Nauman reported more people than ever are coming to Christ. Numbers are growing by the week. More listeners are responding with direct questions about how to know Christ. International ministries are receiving more inquiries via text or email from listeners who are anxious, confused, fearful, and needy. He reported 40% of inquiries result in that person accepting Christ as Savior for the first time. This added one-on-one workload has added significantly to the stress on their limited staff.

Ministry leaders are re-doubling their focus on keeping the Gospel front and center in their content. Lauren Libby, CEO of TWR, is challenging staff to stay on the Gospel core. Doug Hastings of VP for Moody Radio said they’re presenting the plan of salvation on the air every hour. And Moody postponed their on-air fundraiser sensing it was more important to focus on ministry than raising funds.

Core Calling. This is not the time to delve into projects outside of our core mission. Ed Cannon, CEO of Far East Broadcasting, stated: Stay with your singular focus. Stop doing things not core to your mission. In the process of adjusting to the “new normal,” ministries are finding they need to abandon projects and strategies that have become obsolete or are peripheral so they can refocus on their basic, foundational calling.

More Virtual, Less Face-to-Face. Chuck Bentley, CEO for Crown Financial, said they had already adopted the work-from-home model. They needed almost no adjustment with the onset of the pandemic. They are now 100% remote.

Others have discovered that virtual meetings have actually increased connection with staff, partners, volunteers, and donors. One leader noted increased creativity and efficiency from partners and staff working from home away from distractions in the office. And he stated his management style has become more pastoral, less management.

Several global leaders reported doing their training seminars virtually, on-line, saving their ministry and their ministry partners (especially in high-poverty, inaccessible areas) huge amounts of funding.

Fundraising. Covid has forever changed the way we raise funds. The era of the “chicken dinner circuit” is over. One global ministry CEO stated that getting on a plane, staying in a hotel, and eating at restaurants to meet with donors can take a whole weekend or the better part of a week. Now, he can Skype, Zoom, or FaceTime a half dozen donors in a day at no cost in a fraction of the time. And most donors express preference for this method of communication.

Crown Financial surveyed their donors asking whether they would prefer a traditional fall in-person banquet or a virtual fundraising event. 89% of their donors indicated they would prefer virtual. So, this October, Crown Financial plans to have their first virtual fundraising event. They anticipate greater attendance, videos from staff all over the world, and at practically zero cost!

One CEO said this: Donors are not interested in responding to “Help—We’re in trouble” type of appeals. He suggested: “People want plans, not pleas!” If we clearly describe to our supporters how we are focusing on the core mission, they WILL respond.

Allocation of Resources. Ministries are saving from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars from reduced commercial travel, bringing an incredible opportunity to re-allocate spending to more ministry. FEBC cancelled plans for their leadership team gathering and 75th anniversary celebration in the Philippines. Cancelling airfares, accommodations, meals and other meeting expenses for 200 people achieved a six-figure savings. Donors have responded enthusiastically when they hear of the reallocation from travel expenses to expanded investment in ministry opportunities.

Shorter, More Frequent Communication.Supporters are more apt to read a concise one-page report than an extensive 8-page newsletter, which they may likely put aside in the “maybe later” file.

Greg Thornton, Vice President of Moody Media, has turned his creative Moody Publishing staff loose to create more, and shorter, content and even creating free e-books.

Real Estate vs. At Home. A number of CEOs are finding that having a large corporate office is no longer necessary. Staff are experiencing greater flexibility, higher efficiency, more creativity, and higher job satisfaction working from home. Yes, some miss the chats, the coffee breaks, the personal connection of being physically together.  One leader expressed concern that some employees have adopted a kind of “vacation” mentality. His organization found a need to tighten expectations and policies related to remote work.

So what! Now what?

  • We will continue to meet more frequently using virtual meetings.

  • We will make greater use of digital, interactive, virtual tools for communication.

  • We will reallocate spending on vast amounts of travel costs.

  • We will re-examine benefits of owning or leasing a large corporate office.

  • We will adopt shorter, more concise, more frequent communication models.

  • We will stay focused on our core mission.

  • We will keep the Gospel front and center in our content.

  • We will make use of virtual tools to connect with more donors more frequently.

  • We will not measure activity or hours—rather measure results.

  • We will allow younger creative staff more input into ministry operations.

And we do know this:

  • Leaders must lead with calmness, clarity, speed, and steadiness in crisis times.

  • Leaders must acknowledge the uncertain, the ambiguous, the “I don’t know.”

  • Leaders cannot be territorial. We must collaborate and coordinate.

  • Leaders must work with resources we have, not what we don’t have.

  • Leaders have to be creative, flexible, transparent, decisive.

  • Leaders have to prioritize what’s crisis and what’s not.

  • Leaders have to keep a plan for the immediate AND the long-term.

I’m finding the book of Proverbs exceptionally relevant to ministry leadership these days. “The prudent understand where they are going” Proverbs 14:8.

God promises in James 1 that when we humbly ask for God’s wisdom, He will give it.

This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.