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4 Keys to Leading in Times of Uncertainty

We all thought that a few weeks in March 2020 spelled uncertainty. Over a year later, most of us, and most of our congregations, continue to experience the turbulence of leading in times of uncertainty.

Last week I offered 4 major challenges that hide behind most of the uncertainties that we experience in our churches.

Today we begin a series of blog posts addressing both the uncertainty that almost all of us can sense, and the sneaking conviction that everything we used to know isn’t what we know in the present, and certainly not in the future.

So, as a leader, here are 4 fundamentals to focus on during times of great uncertainty—like last year, like right now!


Seek counsel. Simply put: plans fail—leaders fail—when they lack wise counsel.

You need wise counsel to gain your bearings, and sometimes to help you admit to yourself that this is as bad as you’re afraid it is. Ever notice how easy it is to live in denial when it’s too painful to admit reality or the leadership traits challenge to deal with reality?

I put counsel first because when you hold leadership traits responsibility during the depths of uncertainty, you won’t remember the other three. 

For almost all of my leadership years, I’ve been blessed with team members who could lead up. With board members who could offer gentle counsel and promise not to abandon me. With mentors or coaches who could ask the right question or point to a similar situation and the actions taken.


If you’ve been in Leadership Essentials, you know how much importance our trainers and coaches place on clarity. When there’s clarity, the people have confidence that you know where we’re going.


  • You have a great mission statement that speaks to what your church is about. Maybe not.
  • You have a sharpened vision statement that paints the picture of where your church is going. Maybe not.
  • You have anchored your convictions to the Word of God that articulates a Great Commission: “Go and make disciples…” Maybe not.
  • You have taken to heart the words of Jesus: “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” Maybe not.

Looking backward to who you’ve said you are—or who Jesus has said you are as a redeemed child of God—stabilizes confidence in you during rocky, uncertain times going forward.

As a leader, you cannot allow a departure from the Mission of God that your congregation has been invited into to go unchallenged. Nor should the leaders around you allow that to happen. Being faithful to the Mission of God should never be up for a vote as if the calling of God was swayed by personal convenience. 


Our plans. Our programs. What we do and how we do it must be flexible in uncertain times. Most churches do exactly the opposite. They skew away from who they are and their mission, and become desperately inflexible with their approach, their programs, their plans, and their priorities.

Let me give you 2 painful examples and you can try them on and see if they fit for you.

  1. For me, when something is not working, my “go to” posture is to put my head down. Try harder. Work longer. Be more efficient at doing exactly what’s not working…faster.
  2. I like to pretend reality is not reality, so flexibility is not required. When the gang violence escalated at the inner city campus of our church some years ago, I’d try to pretend that if I didn’t say anything (I certainly didn’t want to disrupt enrollment in our school or worship attendance) then no one else would have read the same thing I did in the newspaper. No need for flexibility when we all pretend. (It’s like we all hear the tire leaking air but pretend that it won’t go flat. Or, pretend the tent in the rain is not taking on water so we’ll all stay dry.)

Transparency and Trust

Be open. Honest. Tell the people in your leadership, in your congregation, on your staff, what you know—even if you don’t know much. 

When I’m uncertain, I naturally get quiet. I withdraw until I feel I’ve worked something out in my own mind…over the next hour or two…or month or more. Bad plan.

I remember a couple of uncertain times in our congregation when we were abruptly thrown into a world we didn’t want to be in. I remember seeking counsel from our leaders, both formal and informal, and then announcing at the weekend worship services that worship would be a bit shorter today and we would have a family meeting. Guests were free to leave but the family needed to meet. We had something to say. I will forever treasure our chairman, Mike, standing (very uncomfortably) shoulder to shoulder beside me as we shared the bad news that plunged us into an uncertain season that they needed to hear from us and from nowhere else.

Sometimes the best you can say as a leader is: We don’t know much. You can be reassured that our leaders are aware and developing a plan. We wanted you to know (that we don’t know much…yet) and we will be back with more.

Several final thoughts:

  1. Churches, and denominations for that matter, that are institutionalized and refusing to take steps toward a different, vibrant future, naturally gravitate in the wrong direction of each of the above.
    • Counsel is insular and dismisses the voices of others.
    • No clarity of mission or purpose that can genuinely guide us forward.
    • Inflexible with programs and plans. Leaders and people can see that they’re not working but rationalize a defense for why “not working” is…ah…working!
    • Transparency cultivates trust. The greater the institutionalism, the greater the lack of trust.
  2. Go ahead and put this in the hands of your formal/informal leaders and discuss it at your next occasion. Ask: “How well did we deal with the uncertainty of March 2020?” “How could we improve with dealing with the uncertainties swirling around in May 2021?”
  3. We will do some building on this topic over the next several weeks. 
  4. PLI is looking for an Executive Assistant to join our Nashville team. Email us for information.

If you value the leadership traits training that PLI provides in the United States and around the world, would you join in making a regular monthly gift to support the expanding work of PLI? Like-minded leaders like you continue to enable PLI to do what it does.

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2 Responses

  1. David Bahn says:

    This is so well stated. I especially appreciate the way you talk about the open communication with the additional comment:
    Sometimes the best you can say as a leader is: We don’t know much. You can be reassured that our leaders are aware and developing a plan. We wanted you to know (that we don’t know much…yet) and we will be back with more.
    Yes sometimes that’s what you have to say. And doing so builds credibility in an economy of truth and humility.

  2. Good points all! I’ve found that during these times, being able to articulate our philosophy of ministry has been more helpful than a mission or vision. A philosophy allows for flexibility and helps decision making in uncertain times so much easier.

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