“From a pilot’s perspective, flying ahead of a storm requires knowledge of weather before and after departure, what kind of turbulence to expect, and how and when to deviate from storms. Pilots are trained to instinctively handle inclement weather — with or without visibility — but by no means are they flying alone.”
Airline pilots expect storms. Airline pilots train for storms. Airline pilots react to storms and lead through them when they are deemed unavoidable.
What about church leadership in terms of storms? Are leaders prepared to lead through storms? How do leaders react when encountered by storms? Storms are not new for church leadership. However, what is new is this colossal storm named COVID-19?
Prior to 2020 most pastors, worship leaders, youth leaders, administrators, kids’ leaders, teachers, or anyone for that matter had not heard of COVID-19. Instead, many were simply leading churches and ministries having no foresight that the new year was about to divulge a looming disaster.
From the beginning of the pandemic through mid-year, most if not all churches still find themselves spinning to react in a fruitful manner to the storm called COVID-19.
Storms are not new; always have there been storms that threaten the normal function of ministry. Learning how to lead through storms is the repetitive issue for leaders. In the same vein, just as an airline pilot has to spontaneously respond to conditions found while leading the plane, so do those who lead people through various storms. However, the storm named COVID-19 is a game changer.
To worsen the matter, the church is all over the place in every denomination in terms of how to respond to the storm. Some churches and ministries, for example, are reportedly seeing revival and renewal while others are discouraged due to lack of interest. In some locations, such as in California, pastors are being threatened with arrest warrants and loaded with threats of hefty fines if they proceed with in-house worship. However, other churches in other states have resumed as normal. Still yet, others are offering online-only forms of worship, or are gathered on parking lots for outdoor worship. The response has been anything but organized.
What about the aspect of leading in the storm with pressure from the people in the fuselage? To make matters worse, there exists pressure upon leadership to lead through the storm from the aspect of the people; Christians have all responded to church and COVID-19 in any way but unified. For instance, some find no worry in gathering, while others refuse to enter a church building. The pendulum swings wildly; some Christians will shop in malls and eat in restaurants, however, will not return to church gatherings or even participate online. On the other end of the vast pendulum swing, believers demand in-house services and will be discouraged if they are not made available. Some Christians fight over being forced to wear masks, while others protest attendance if masks are not enforced.
Moving forward, one cannot ignore the cultural pressures of the storm; most shopping malls are open, stores have resumed operation, vacation destinations are in full booking season, pools are being swam in, amusement parks are selling popcorn, and the vast majority of local sports are playing ball. Nevertheless, numerous church leaders are sitting in the cockpit contemplating the next move to lead people from the mall and stores back to engaging in worship.
Leaders, believers, and worship/church gatherings have to find a way through the storm. Absent of a divine miracle, COVID-19 is here for the long haul; this storm will not be over soon unless God eradicates it, therefore, leaders must find a way to navigate the church forward.
Sports have found a way; coaches and players haven’t given up and quit. They still play. They have found a way through the storm. Businesses and restaurants have found a way through the storm; they have remained open and customers still arrive. The shopping malls have found a way through the storm. Vacationers, protestors, and amusement parks have found a way through the storm; people haven’t given up. The church, Covid or no Covid, must find a way through this storm as well.
Leadership, storm or no storm, is about influence; the only way to cause people to follow is to have strong relational influence. In contrast, leadership must never be purely transactional. In other words, leaders will be extremely unsuccessful in leading through the storm simply by commanding believers to do anything. Instead, there has to be an influential lead and follow. Therefore, church leaders must lead through this storm by example. This is a key navigational component for success in leadership, however, it is especially true when leading in a storm.
Remaining in the vein of the airline pilot, if caught in an unavoidable storm how do they lead through it?
1. They slow down.  In other words, they reduce the speed of the plane; the strong fluctuations of the storm’s vertical forces will be less likely to damage the aircraft if they are flying at a reduced speed.
Church leaders need to slow down. Take a deep breath. Rest. Pray. Study the Word. This would be a perfect time to draw closer to God than ever before. Exhausted leaders are unfruitful leaders.
The fact is, God saw this storm coming and did not divert the church around the storm. Absent were words from the tower (heaven) informing leaders to bypass COVID-19. Therefore, God saw it coming and holds the answer of how to get through this storm. God is faithful, and God will guide (1 Cor 1:9; 1 Cor 10:13).
Furthermore, if leaders exhibit a calm resolve it will be reflected within the people. Leadership is influence. Therefore, lead with influence by maintaining a calm resolve that this too shall eventually pass, and that God will lead to victory. Leaders that are spinning out of control produce followers that are spinning out of control.
What the church needs in this storm are leaders who example the way out by trusting God and not allowing fear, worry, stress, or panic to crash the plane. Be vocal about it and believers just may follow the example of a restful, safe, and calm resolve.
2. They disconnect autopilot.  Pilots take control and pay attention during the storm. Simply stated, this is not the time for leaders to be in a state of lazy mediocrity. This is not a time to be taking God or the role of leadership for granted. Likewise, this is not the time to be in a state of denial or spiritual slumber.
Wake up. Pay attention. Press in. It recalls the words of Peter as he said, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1 Pet 5:8). Meanwhile, share this mentality. Preach and teach it. Voice it constantly on social media. The displayed and transparent example just may influence believers within the church to snap out of autopilot as well.
3. Pilots focus on maintaining attitude control.  Rephrased, they stay calm and avoid freaking out. They apply patience and keep their emotions in check. This must be applied to pastors and leaders during this storm called COVID-19 in equal fashion.
The fact is people see the leader’s attitudes and are influenced by them; this works for the good as well as the bad. People can hear it in the leader’s voice, and they can see it on his/her face. What have your social media feeds reflected during this storm? How has the church been influenced by your communication? Have you reflected joy and peace or fear and fret? Also, what attitude has been expressed before the people about the importance of church gatherings?
If leaders do not express an attitude that gathering is essential, people will reflect the same attitude. It may take time and a slow intentional effort, however, eventually people will be influenced to see the light in the darkness of the storm if the leader’s attitude is positive. The best way to example a forward path through this storm is to keep the attitude in check.
4. Lastly, pilots do not turn around.  Once found within an unavoidable storm, the last thing a pilot does is attempt to turn the plane around. Doing so increases already heightened structural stress on the aircraft.
Leaders, the only way out of this storm or any storm is to lead forward. There is no going back. There is no retreat. There is no option to quit now. People must hear this in your voice, and they must feel it in your messages, posts, and facial expressions. Leadership is influence, and the best thing a leader can do in this storm is lead forward with influence upon people with a no quit spirit.
Leaders must not talk about surrendering services, neither giving up on the vision/mission of the church or ministry. Now is a great time to cast fresh vision, and to exude joy about the possibilities of a great and fruitful future. Leaders need to talk about life after the storm. Point the people beyond the storm and lift their spirits with the forward look that this too shall eventually pass, and the best days wait ahead.
Express that in the future ministry may be adjusted, however, point them to the future, nonetheless. Leaders lead with influence and looking forward will yield positive flight plans.
Whether you are a church goer or a church leader, remember that leaders lead through influence. Therefore, influence people through this storm by slowing down, disconnecting autopilot, maintaining your attitudes, and by refusing to turn around.
 Joe Sills, “How airlines and pilots prepare to fly in extreme weather,” Insider, 16 August 2019, https://www.insider.com/is-it-safe-to-fly-in-thunderstorms-snow-windy-weather-2019-1.
 Mark Wingfield, “John MacArthur retains Trump lawyer in fight over COVID restrictions,” Baptist News Global, 5 August 2020, https://baptistnews.com/article/john-macarthur-retains-trump-lawyer-in-fight-over-covid-restrictions/#.XzGXg25FzIU.
 Pilotmall.com, “Flying in Thunderstorms (What to Do & What Not to Do),” https://www.pilotmall.com/blogs/news/flying-in-thunderstorms-what-to-do-what-not-to-do.
Pastor Toney, along with his wife Monica, serves as the pastor of The Refuge Church in New Martinsville, WV. Prior to this assignment, he led in a revitalization for twelve years of a church in Wayne, WV.
Pastor Toney is passionate about leading the church into revival and into an encounter in the presence of God. He believes that a presence driven church will experience the glory of God, and he strives to lead as a committed pastor of the people.
Pastor Toney is an Ordained Bishop with the Church of God (Cleveland, TN.). In addition, he holds a Bachelor’s degree from Lee University, and he recently completed a Master’s degree from Lee University as well.
For more information about his church and ministry go to: http://www.therefugenm.com
You can connect with Pastor Toney on Facebook or Instagram under his name, or contact him through email: Tcox0004@leeu.edu