Today marks the 16th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. Like many of you, I remember that morning well. I had just pulled into my church parking lot and was ready for our first day of fall Bible Study. All of those plans changed quickly.
In recent weeks, tragedy has struck again in the form of Hurricane Harvey and now Hurricane Irma. The timing of these hurricanes has surely disrupted many ministry leaders’ well-planned events and activities. These storms are a good time to ask the question—how do you lead in the midst of disaster? When things happen that are out of your control, how do you continue to move forward? Here are five ways you can lead in the midst of unexpected tragedies.
1. Lead with confidence and calm. Two years ago I was preparing to welcome 3,000 women to a statewide women’s retreat. As I stood in the holding room with a microphone in hand, I received news that an accident had occurred on the property. Two of our maintenance staff lost their lives. In the midst of heartbreak, I knew my job was to lead with confidence and calm. In the midst of a horrible situation, my leadership job was to keep things going and to comfort in the midst of hurt. It wasn’t easy, but it was vital.
2. Lead with flexibility. Your “plan A” might quickly turn to “plan B” in the midst of tragedy. In the midst of the September 11 attack, the agenda for my Bible study quickly turned to one of prayer. Our plan to begin a new fall study didn’t seem nearly as important as crying out for those who were in the midst of Manhattan. Those who were leading quickly made the decision to dismiss after we prayed. Being flexible in that moment was more important than demanding we stick to a schedule.
3. Lead with compassion and a heart for mobilization. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans 12 years ago, I was two weeks into a new leadership position. Within 24 hours, I was put in a position of asking area churches to provide supplies for victims. I was pulled into Emergency Management meetings, and I witnessed Disaster Relief volunteers spring into action in a moment’s notice. As a leader, be aware of reliable sources for donations and mobilize women for action. Tragedy can turn into opportunities for ministry.
4. Be prepared before calamity happens. Have a crisis plan in place and communicate assignments to the right people. Who will handle communication? Who will meet physical needs? Who will meet spiritual needs? I’ve lived my entire life in Oklahoma, which means I’ve experienced tornado drills from the time I could walk. Being prepared before the storm hits can provide a framework for walking through the storm. You can’t always be prepared for every situation, but as a leader, consider the possibilities and have a written plan in place.
5. Lead immediately. A few years ago, a major tornado swept through south Oklahoma City. Damage was extensive, and lives were lost. There was no time for hesitation or apprehension. Leaders realize that action must be taken immediately in the midst of tragedy. Disaster relief chaplains rushed to the command center where families gathered. Feeding units were set up within 30 minutes of the disaster. Because leaders were prepared, they were able to lead quickly.
The tragedies in Texas and Florida are not the first rodeos for Americans dealing with tragedy, and they won’t be the last. I’m grateful for leaders who are not only leading people with courage and conviction, but they are showing the world that Christians run to the hurting and not away from them.
On a personal note, please continue to pray for those affected by Harvey and Irma. If you are looking for a place to donate, consider Send Relief through the North American Mission Board. Go to namb.net for more information.
Kelly King is the Women’s Ministry Specialist for LifeWay Christian Resources and oversees the YOU Lead events. Join her this year and get to know her heart for ministry leaders. Follow her on Twitter @kellydking.