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Responding When Tragedy Strikes

Powell Grisham
Powell Grisham Monday October 19, 2015
<? echo $type; ?> Responding When Tragedy Strikes

As leaders, we make lots of decisions. While some are truly difficult and have the potential to impact our overall direction, many decisions could possibly be made by two, three or four other highly qualified people in your organization. As a mentor once told me, my challenge as a leader is to know which decisions only I should be making. That seemingly simple statement has stuck in my head for years. Each day as I lead my team and our church, I hear that question rolling around in my head like a marble rolling around in a large cooking pot. As a leader, I don’t inherently believe every decision should be made by the person whose name is in the top box of the organization chart. Many of you already disagree with me . . . and that’s okay. All I’m saying is, I’ve seen God work in amazing ways when others are allowed to be part of the decisions and final decision. From my perspective, people are a lot more excited to come to work when they know their opinion matters and I—as the person whose name is in the top box of the organization chart—care about what they think.

Recently, our city has walked through two difficult tragedies. One received premium air time on all the national news channels and possibility landed on the front page of your local paper. The other, while it didn’t make the national news, was just as tragic and reports indicated it triggered a chain reaction that lead to 1,500 low-income families and individuals becoming homeless in a matter of 24 hours. The point of sharing this is to give you context around what we learned as a church as we determined how to respond. This list isn’t something I sat and created over a cup of java at my favorite local coffee spot. What I want to share is what we learned during two opportunities to serve our community, in the middle of a tragedy, and be the local church.

Know the WHY

When we know WHY we do something, we typically figure out the HOW. We knew these situations where opportunities to serve the hurting in our local community. They were not opportunities to highlight our staff or even the church. Our community was hurting and we had an opportunity . . . even a responsibility to serve them and help them see we cared.

Rally the team

Maybe your church already has a team, with an action plan designed for situations like this. We don’t. If you don’t, make a determination as to who will walk with you, even if it means they put in extra hours, to determine the best way to help and serve. We learned, everyone can’t be involved because everyone doesn’t have the skillset needed to work in a time of crisis.

Determine your resources

Before we made the first phone call to learn more about each situation, our internal team talked through what our church could do. In the case of the displaced individuals, we knew we couldn’t provide housing so we began efforts to learn who was providing housing so we could support them.

Determine community partners

Before we took actions, we learned which local organizations where taking the lead and partnered with them. In this case, it was the United Way, Salvation Army and the District office of the United Methodist Church. We introduced ourselves to them, shared who we are, why we wanted to help and then asked questions.

Determine the needs

We asked lots of questions of the community partners in order to learn the specific needs for those involved. Couple of points on this: Ask more questions than you think you should so you can really get to the needs. Be persistent because, in a time of crisis, systems and procedures get shaky and it’s easy to get frustrated and walk away. This is one reason you must start with WHY.

Determine plan of action

When we had our WHY, had our team together, knew our resources, knew our community partners and the true needs, we were ready to create our action plan.

Tell your team

Before sharing your church’s plan publicly, slow down and inform your full team. We found it’s important to let them know first so they get engaged and on board.

Implement the plan

At this point, you were hoping I’d say that! Remember, don’t get in a hurry. We’ve found with both opportunities to serve that moving too fast in these situations isn’t productive.

Remember your WHY

We’ve found it’s only a matter of time before someone brings up the political angle to the situation. Stay out of all of that. We are the church and we are here to serve . . . remember your WHY.

Cast vision

Tie your service to your community to the vision of why God has called you to open your doors each week. Tying your WHY to your vision helps everyone see it as more than community service.

Leaders, please don’t fall into the deadly trap that says you have to call all the shots when tragedy strikes. Know that sometimes a great leader needs to be a great follower. Know that many times a great leader just needs to ask great questions. Know that, most of the time, we aren’t the smartest person in the room. As we all lead, let’s make sure and leverage our influence for the good of those who need help the most. Leverage your influence to allocate resources and services to trusted ministries, agencies and organizations who are the expert. As leaders in the church, God has extended His grace, mercy and blessings on us and placed us in positions of influence. Let’s leverage His gifts in a way that our cities and communities see that the church still has influence in a hurting world.

Powell is the Lead Pastor of Rock Point Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He and his wife, Amy, are so thankful for the ways God has moved in their family.  In 2004, after being part of North Point Community Church since it’s beginning, he was honored to be asked to help start North Point’s first strategic partner church, Wiregrass Church, in Dothan Alabama. After leading Family Ministry for six years at Wiregrass, he then served as President of Lighthouse Family Retreat. In the summer of 2011, Powell and his family moved to Chattanooga and joined the team at Rock Point. Powell graduated from Berry College and has an MBA from Troy University.  He and Amy married in 1996 and have two boys, Stanton and Whitaker. Powell enjoys needle point, collecting bird figurines and Big League Chew Bubble Gum. Okay, that last sentence isn’t true . . . expect for the Big League Chew part!