What do you do when the swamp is on fire?
The Great Dismal Swamp in the southeastern most part of Virginia is on fire. For many of us this probably sounds counter-intuitive. When water levels drop in swamps the humid decomposing material in the swamp dries out and a lighting strike can create an underground smoldering fire that is near to impossible to put out. This morning the Richmond weather man noted that with prevailing winds Richmond is apt to get traces of smoke form the swamp fire today. Great!
This is becoming a bit of an apocalypse for us in Richmond, smoke today, earthquake yesterday; the largest in Virginia in one hundred years.
All this reminds me of a minister’s life in a congregation. What do you do when ‘the swamp is on fire’ in congregational ministry?
First, embrace truth. One of the healthiest things a minister can do is examine a congregational situation and say, “Oh my, we sure have a mess here.” Denial is deadly. Embracing truth is liberating. When things go wrong don’t protect yourself or get overly defensive; embrace the ugly truth about the congregational situation. Own it.
Second, do not panic. The biggest mistake ministers make in a crisis is to either deny a problem exists or panic. Often, ministers will face a crisis and go into a strange kind of panic/paralysis. The truth provides such a powerful emotional ‘hit’ it shocks and disables an adequate and strategic response. If a trauma or crisis arises in a congregation and the minister hobbles around half-paralyzed the congregation is in deep, deep trouble. A crisis calls for the minister to put on her/his “fix it,” “management,” “strategic” hat. And ministers know how to do this. For instance, in funeral situations ministers are accustomed to facilitating a process and doing personal grief later. That perspective must come forward when the ‘swamp is on fire.’
Third, look at the system not people in the system. When things go badly we homo sapiens always point fingers at others and lay blame. The minister must be the one person in the congregation who consistently points a finger at the system. While people contribute to congregational problems 99% of the time it is a system malfunction that creates a congregational crisis.
Fourth, take care of yourself. A minster has to facilitate an effective strategy to move a congregation through crisis. Then, the minister needs to provide herself/himself with a treat: a few days off, a chocolate covered sundae without guilt, etc – whatever floats your boat.
Fifth, say your prayers. Of all people, ministers ‘stand in the need of prayer.’
Apocalypse: Oh yea it is bad. As Rodney Dangerfield would say, “How bad is it?” Yesterday we had an earthquake. The swamp is on fire and Hurricane Irene is coming up the coast to put out the fire.
Grace and Peace,