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Leading in Uncertain Times: An Interview with Sarah and Micah Greiner

A few weeks ago I sat down with Sarah and Pastor Micah Greiner to discuss leading in uncertain times. Sarah and Micah have served at St. Peter Lutheran Church in Arlington Heights, Illinois, for a decade or so. They’ve been in Leadership Essentials, Senior Leader and D2MC. Now they teach and coach others. You’ll appreciate their candid, honest conversation both this week and next. Let me encourage you to share this with your entire leadership group at your church and use this week and the next week or two to spark some sharpened leadership conversation for these uncertain times (see 4 Keys to Leading in Times of Uncertainty and A Closer Look at Leadership in Uncertain Times.

What did leading in uncertain times look like in the throws of COVID at St. Peter?

Micah: I actually felt more clarity than uncertainty. We had a strong team that was ready to be decisive. We’d been working on governance for a few years and we knew how to make decisions. Our folks were battle weary. In our case, the barn was already on fire. We had been postponing some hard decisions for a while.

Sarah: I remember this was so hard. We were going to close our entire church. Our school ministry. Building empty. Virtually every program that we were doing stopped! We suddenly learned what it was like to carry a light backpack and make room for discipleship like we were learning in D2MC.

“What if every girl and boy and man and woman accepted the invitation into the Mission of God? Invested in intentional relationships? Saw their primary role to be on mission with Jesus? In their workplace? Or school? The impact of our church in this community would be profound!”
– Sarah Greiner

Micah: We knew we needed to focus on just a few things.

  1. Our discipling strategy.
  2. Create a high quality worship experience. Online. Simple. Weekly reproducible. Give people the chance to actively worship from home.
  3. Create an online school experience that was excellent…as much as you can do in a pandemic. We had school leadership that was ready for that.
  4. Our leaders decided to stop everything we normally did and create just a handful of streams of content online for people.

More than ever we sensed the urgency. Clarity that COVID was creating the opportunity to make discipling the red hot center for us.

Sarah: We had known for a while before COVID that some things needed to be let go, but it’s so hard to do. Now everything just stopped. The programmatic approach rested. The ground was fallow. Amazingly, when there’s nothing it’s easier to pioneer something new.

We had times of fear. And, you could see who was trying to lead out of fear. The spirit of fear binds you. It’s hard to create, to dream. But we also saw who raised their hands to pioneer. They were up for the challenge, actually wondering what God might do. They had an openness.

“COVID accelerated everything. But…it gave us the courage to act in ways we had been reluctant to act.” – Micah Greiner

What contributes to not leading with fear?

Micah: 1. Awareness of your own identity. 2. Having transparency and trust be values that you’ve pursued in the community of the congregation. 3. A supportive team around you that works together.

Micah: A pandemic scrambles the organization chart. Suddenly, I spent lots of time with the IT/tech person to get online worship going.

Sarah: My experience on the PLI learning community teams was huge. I saw how the PLI team pivoted to online training last year and we learned from that.

Micah: Transparency and trust were values we had been investing in for a long time. No one questioned any of our COVID related decisions. We know how hard the mask wars have been in so many places. (Illinois didn’t give us many choices.) The church trusted our board. You always have a few alligators. They saw how isolated they were.

Sarah: We surrendered so much to the Lord. It was beyond our control. We’re an old church. Abraham Linoln was president when our congregation was founded. There’s history here! We’re learning to let the Spirit go first. COVID pruned so much from us. Micah has created a spirit of curiosity and dreaming in our congregation. It helped us stay in the space of possibility.

You speak of identity. What do you mean?

Sarah: Remembering that I’m a child of the most high God. Knowing who you are uniquely designed to be. Knowing your strengths. 

Micah: It’s going back to 2011 when we learned all of this in Leadership from Within when we first started PLI. We brought what we learned at PLI to our leaders. People are uniquely gifted by God. It’s normative among our leaders now. 

What happens for you as a leader when that first person steps forward when you don’t know who will join you on the new journey? 

Micah: That first person is huge! They give you courage. You’re not alone. They validate. There’s breath and life.

With the type of changes our church is facing—probably most churches—patience is essential. No one goes from 0 – 60 in a day or a week or a month or a year. You have to have patience with the folks that will never get there.

“The barn was already on fire when COVID hit. We kept pretending like things were the way they used to be. COVID compounded everything.”
– Micah Greiner

What do you do with the person that will never navigate the changes facing the church in these uncertain times?

Sarah: You keep loving them. Don’t force them. Honor them. I can get focused only on them and I’m learning to watch for the people that God is raising up for the challenge.

In seasons of adaptive leadership like today, in uncertain times, leadership is disappointing people at a rate they can handle.

I’ll share more about the conversation with Sarah and Micah next week. You’ll appreciate not only the transparent way they share some struggles and wins but also the larger pivot toward not just reengineering programs to grow the church bigger and better, but doing the hard work of transforming lives and communities to be more like Jesus in the uncertain world of today.

Here are two requests:

  1. Pass this blog along to your board or team of leaders or to anyone that’s stuck in measuring your congregation’s ministry with an antiquated set of lagging indicators. Use it to start a new leadership conversation.
  2. If you believe in PLI”s vision of accelerating a movement of the Gospel by training a global family of leaders, join so many others in making a monthly gift that supports this rapidly expanding work.
  3. Thank a few of the leaders who teamed will with you this past year.

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