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COVID-19 financial woes called ‘opportunity’ for pastors

May 3rd, 2020 / By: David Roach | TEXAN Correspondent / comments

COVID-19 financial woes called ‘opportunity’ for pastors

GRAPEVINE—As a presidential economic advisor and head of the largest public endowment in America, Britt Harris has a unique perspective on the financial crisis caused by coronavirus. But it may surprise you.

“Crisis” should be “a positive word to you” that signifies “amazing opportunity,” Harris said during an April 30 leadership webinar hosted by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Christians “have never had an opportunity like this to bring the Lord to the world.”

Financial downturn and cultural turmoil have opened an unprecedented door for Spirit-filled pastoral leadership in particular, said Harris, president and CEO of The University of Texas/Texas A&M University Management Company, which manages nearly $50 billion in endowment and operating funds. He also is a member of President Trump’s Working Group for Financial Markets and an advisor to the New York Federal Reserve—as well as a pastor’s son.

The key question for pastors leading their congregations through the pandemic, Harris said, is whether they will seize the opportunity or turn inward with fear.

Two “rogue waves” hit the economy simultaneously, he said, COVID-19 and a battle over oil prices between Russia and Saudi Arabia. As a result, both America’s gross domestic product (GDP) and the stock market’s S&P 500 Price Index plummeted. Economists forecast April through June to be the worst second quarter in U.S. history, with a 35 percent drop in GDP anticipated.

While some recovery is expected in the second half of the year, Harris said, 20 percent of the people in most churches have found themselves unemployed.

Amplifying Americans’ economic stress are major cultural shifts stemming from COVID-19, he said. Among them: continued social distancing, an increasing number of online events and meetings, consolidation of businesses and public security measures like temperature checks as people enter buildings.

Family dynamics also are changing, Harris said. Sheltering in place has brought some families closer together. But approximately a quarter of families have experienced an increase in abuse, addiction and mental illness, he estimated. That’s all on top of the health risk posed by COVID-19.

Amid that milieu, each pastor must think of himself as a ship captain whose crew members need him to take the wheel during a storm, Harris said.

“No one expects you to be perfect,” he said. “But they do expect you to be present.” Christians need to see their pastor “operate calmly and well, prudently and wisely without fear.”

One best practice during a crisis is for organizations to select three characteristics for which they want to be known and focus on those areas, Harris said. The principle transfers well to churches.

“Twenty percent of what you do creates 80 percent of the output that you get,” he said, citing a management maxim known as the Pareto Principle. “We get distracted by that other unproductive 80 percent. This is the time” to focus intently on the productive 20 percent of a church’s ministry.

COVID-19 ministry may require reorganizing the church leadership structure into a temporary “battle mode,” he said, with experienced leaders in the congregation designated as “field generals” to oversee areas of ministry focus.

Additionally, pastors must remember that faith does not necessarily require a quick regathering of the church as soon as government officials permit public assemblies, Harris said. In Scripture, David took shelter when he fled King Saul, and Israel sheltered when the death angel passed over them in Egypt. Likewise, there is a time for Christians to shelter in safety today.

“You want to be courageous,” he said. However, “you could do a lot of damage to the kingdom if you open up too boldly or too quickly and all of the sudden there’s an outbreak of the virus in your church and someone dies. … If that happens, your church is going down probably, and you’re going to affect some of the other churches around you.”

The bottom line for church leaders is that the coronavirus did not surprise God, Harris said. The Lord wants Christians to reap a spiritual harvest even in the pandemic, and “people are looking to [pastors] to call them to that service.”

The full video from the event is available at https://training.sbtexas.com/onlinetraining/leaders-in-turbulent-times---43020/1555/.