COVID-19: Lessons on Leadership
Of Issachar, men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do, 200 chiefs, and all their kinsmen under their command. 1 Chronicles 12:32 ESV
On April 28, 2020, residents of the state of Alabama listened intensely to Governor Ivey’s COVID-19 update anticipating that the restrictions of the previously adopted “Stay at Home” order would be lifted. I don’t think that there was a more interested group of people than the religious sect in this state. Having been displaced from our sanctuaries for over a month now, we all anticipated a new order that would include allowing leaders and congregants to resume some form of corporate worship. Governor Ivey did implement a new “Safer at Home” order, but that order did not lift the restrictions on large gatherings. As with any political statement, there were some who applauded this new order and there were some who lamented. This update was an important update for business owners, pastors, and citizens alike as we continue to imagine what a return to normal will look like and if it will ever come. This update was an important one, but for the black church, it was not the most important one of the day.
During the press conference, the floor was given to the State Health Officer, Dr. Scott Harris. As Dr. Harris gave an update on the rising new cases and death total for our state, we became aware of a troubling reality. We were informed that of the 200+ deaths so far during this pandemic, African Americans make up half of that total. We were also told that of the 200+ deaths that have been reported as a result of COVID-19, three-fourths of them were elderly. Those demographics seem to describe our convention and our churches. Our convention has not been exempt from the tragic repercussions of this pandemic, as we continue to mourn the loss of our beloved leaders, members, and friends. We cannot escape the reality that the black community is perhaps the most vulnerable community in America at the moment. The novel coronavirus has greatly affected our country, but it has disproportionately affected the black community. Honestly, this is nothing new for us because this virus is not the only thing that disproportionately affects black people. This reality demands that the pastor cultivate a sensitivity to the present and a deep understanding of the past. The composition of these characteristics calls for leaders who resemble the men of Issachar.
In the days and months to come, we will continue to hear new guidelines submitted by our local, state, and federal government officials. We will be informed of the recommendations from the CDC. There will be many statistics reported about the rate of transmission and fatality. We are not lacking information during these times and we must be informed. However, for leaders in the black community, we cannot stop at information. We need understanding. Our people are particularly vulnerable, and the statistics prove that. I pray that our government officials will consider how they might best protect perhaps the most vulnerable group of people in our country, but history has proven that this is not always a reliable leaning post. Since a good majority of these individuals belong to our churches and our conventions, it will be up to us to ensure we interpret these circumstances with greater compassion. We will have to consider guidelines intended to protect the majority and consider how we might ensure the protection of the minority.
To lead in this space during these times is challenging, but we’ve been here before. This is not the first time we’ve had to do for our people what the institutions have done for others. This is not a critique of our government or it’s officials, rather it is a reminder that we cannot assume that others will do what God has called us to do. We must be willing to prayerfully consider how best to make strides toward a new normal without compromising the flock of God. We must spend time with the numbers, but we must also spend time on our knees. To faithfully lead our people through this valley will require us to look at the facts, but it will also require us to look at the faces of those who fill our rosters. To minimize the impact on the most vulnerable group of people in this nation will require us to leverage the insight of the politicians and physicians while also requiring us to lean more heavily on the chief Physician. It is not an easy task, but it is necessary. I pray that the Lord grant you the wisdom and strength needed to lead during these times.
Pastor Keith Shoulders, David Temple Missionary Baptist Church