How to Lead Your Church Through Adversity

As leaders we can’t always anticipate what’s around the bend.

Sometimes life just happens – even in the church.

Quality leadership and the kindness of God will help you make it through anything that comes your way.

But in the same way a very difficult situation doesn’t “just happen” (there are reasons and causes), you can’t successfully lead your way through adversity without a clear strategy to follow.

Adversity can hit a church in a wide variety of ways. In just the last couple of weeks, a church let me know they let several staff go due to lack of income. Another church lost their pastor to a moral failure, and still another church is tangled up in a lawsuit regarding a building project.

In some ways a church is like a magnet for adversity because spiritual warfare is in play. I’m not suggesting that you adopt the disposition that there is a “demon behind every problem.” We are all capable of creating our own problems. We do know, however, that the enemy does not want your church or any church to prevail, and therefore champions anything that will short-circuit Kingdom progress.

I pray your church is not going through a tough time, but if it is, the following will be helpful to you.

5-Step Plan to Navigate Adversity:

1) Lean into God, but don’t hide behind Him.

It is possible to hide behind God by over-spiritualizing a problem. You can skirt the real issue by saying “we’ll just pray about it.” Prayer is essential and is absolutely vital to successfully leading through adversity. But at some point God wants you to get up from your knees and lead the way.

This requires facing reality with openness and honesty. Own the problem and talk about it with your staff and key leaders. God provides the wisdom, favor and power, but we must do our part as well.

2) Rightsize the situation.

Hardship hits us first in the realm of emotion, so we often don’t see the situation clearly.

Our perspective is often skewed by our own human emotion, and therefore it’s easy to unintentionally exaggerate the size of the problem. This usually leads to making a solution seem unattainable.

Rightsizing a situation is accomplished when you avoid emotionally-laden statements and replace them with facts.

For example, a staff member in a large church said to me (referring to his fellow staff members) “Wow, everyone is leaving. What’s going on?” I asked him what he meant by “everyone is leaving” and what he thought the solution was. He was concerned that so many people leaving would hurt morale, and the church would therefore have a hard time rehiring those positions.

I asked him to name the people leaving. There were 3. I asked him how many were still on staff. He said 47. So, 3 are leaving and 47 remain on the team and love their job. Is that right? He responded “yes,” and immediately saw the point. I then asked if he thought they could make 3 good hires. He smiled and nodded yes. That is the process of rightsizing a problem.

3) Regain clarity of vision.

Difficult situations often derail leaders from the primary vision. There are so many fires to put out, conversations to have and issues to resolve, that your time and energy are pulled from the real mission.

It often takes no more than a quiet hour with God to regain the clarity of your vision and get back on track.

Push pause on all the noise of your current troubles and get alone with God. As you pray and listen, write down the vision. It’s unlikely that it changed; it was just hijacked by the difficulties you are facing.

4) Focus on the essentials.

A clear vision requires strategy. A workable strategy is a written plan with a timeline and measurable goals.

Begin with the essentials. What are only the things that must be done to achieve the vision? Ask the question, “How do we focus on strategic steps connected to the vision so that we get through this tough season having made measurable progress?”

5) Take the first step.

At this point you have accomplished several things.  You have talked to God and been honest about the situation with other leaders. You’ve gained a clear definition of the problem and rightsized where necessary. You’ve regained focus on the vision and essential steps in the strategy.

Now it’s time to take the first step in your strategy.


As each step is achieved, adjust if necessary and take the next step.

Keep going, and you will make it through the adversity.

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