Without question, COVID-19 and its variant, continue to turn our world upside down. This pandemic has scarred us in ways never imagined.
Longstanding public, nonprofit, and private institutions have been repeatedly punched by COVID-19. Particularly, churches and school systems have been required to counter those multiple hits. For church and school leaders, formulating and implementing a response is challenging work.
Often in their careers, church and school leaders deal with the unexpected. Yet, I doubt responding to a pandemic was in their preparation to serve the public. From my experiences in schools and a church, the key pivot factor for leaders is always people.
Schools and churches are people centered. But sometimes, people are the biggest challenge for pastors and school leaders. Why? No matter the decision— it is impossible to please everyone.
Our church is in the midst of a renovation project. Early on, a large dumpster was placed outside our preschool.
After an outdoor worship service, one church member quipped— we should put a sign on the dumpster—Suggestion Box. I laughed, and thought— bet our congregation could fill it up. But, then I wondered, how are pastors and school leaders equipped to take suggestions?
Daily, these leaders cull through ship loads of information and suggestions from staff. Communicating and implementing a practical user friendly response can be challenging.
Communication, appears simple, but it’s not. COVID-19 is not user friendly.
Thanks to the whims of the virus, a carefully thought out plan for Sunday or Monday can change in a blink. If we survive this madness, I’m certain post pandemic studies of church and school leaders will reveal sleep deprivation and increased intake of antacids were significant.
Sleep deprivation and heartburn are not limited to leaders. Congregations, students, parents, and teachers aren’t immune from these health concerns. On the surface, these people might appear fine, but a significant undertow is at work—morale.
Morale can’t be overlooked by leaders.
“Toughest year of my career” is what a high school teacher told me after a June graduation. I wonder how many other teachers felt the same?
Comparably, if pastors were polled, I believe we would hear—“my toughest year as a pastor.”
If it was a tough year for teachers and pastors, think what the year was like for students, parents, and congregations. Mental health and morale wears on the people being served by churches and schools too.
During the pandemic, the infrastructure of technology has helped churches and schools reach their communities. However, technology isn’t a substitute for that most critical infrastructure—human relationships.
We should not be surprised that student test scores from Virginia’s Standards of Learning are down. Education researchers have documented the significance of the instructional relationship that a teacher develops with a student. Building those relationships within the confines of a computer screen is difficult.
Additionally, no one should be surprised that churches continue to struggle to meet needs of congregations. No matter the quality of an on-line worship service, congregations like students need human interaction.
So do pastors and school leaders need to have suggestion boxes installed in their buildings? Probably not.
However, these leaders would be wise to assess their listening skills. In assessing their skills, they should also be asking what mechanisms are in place for congregations, students, parents, and teachers to be heard.
The first step in rebuilding and developing relationships is taking the time to listen.
Church and school leaders might be surprised with their take aways from interacting with the people they serve. Those take aways can be very valuable with this asking—“don’t tell me what I want to hear, tell me what I need to hear.”
Church and school leaders, listening is an opportunity to learn. Failure to listen reduces transparency and increases distrust.
With the uncertainty of COVID-19 still lingering, no leader can afford not to listen.