Jan 12, 2022

ChurchPulse Weekly Conversations: Ashlee Eiland on Crisis Leadership & Preaching

This week on ChurchPulse Weekly, Ashlee Eiland (Co-lead Pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, MI) joins Carey Nieuwhof to talk about preaching, leading teams in the pandemic and serving in ministry alongside your spouse.

On Developing a Team through the Pandemic
Recent Barna data show that four in five churched adults (80%) agree their church’s senior pastor is the glue that holds their church together. While this suggests that while congregants hold their senior pastors in high regard, leaders still face the challenge of sharing that burden with a team rather than bearing it alone.

Eiland found the relational work she put in before the pandemic to be essential in building a strong team to lead through it. She reflects, “I remember the first thing I did in the first 60 days of being at Mars Hill was to ask one of our admins [to] set up a 30-minute meeting with every staff person there. I want[ed] to know their story, their context, and get to know how they [were] feeling in this season.”

These meetings built trust and vulnerability that allowed her to ask the difficult questions once the pandemic hit. She had conversations with staff, asking, “What are the unique challenges that this pandemic is presenting for your family right now? What pressures are you feeling to have to produce? […] How can we see you loving your family as a win, even if that means you’re spending less time on email?”

She says, “I felt like I was encouraging people to care for themselves more than I’ve ever had to because there were dynamics that we couldn’t see serving as pressure points for people in their individual and personal lives.”

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On Preaching with Authenticity
Through the pandemic, preaching continues to be one of the primary ways pastors support the spiritual lives of their congregants. When asked, half of churched adults (54%) say their church does a very good job supporting their spiritual growth through helping them understand the basic foundations of the Bible, with another 35 percent saying their church does a fairly good job supporting them in this way. 

Eiland has found authenticity and vulnerability to be essential to connecting to people through preaching in this season. She says, “Our congregation is showing up to say, ‘I don’t want to have to do that much heavy lifting. I don’t want to have to sort this out. That takes so much energy. Will you tell me something that’s real and true?’”

She also emphasizes the importance of returning to the simplicity of faith. After doing a series walking through basic spiritual disciplines, she said, “I had someone say to me after a Sunday, “That’s the first time I feel like I’ve explicitly heard one of our pastors tell me why Scripture’s living and active and sharp—not just that I should sit and read my Bible, but to tell me why it’s important that I do it.”

Overall, she concludes, “I think our church is really resonating with simple, practical and real.”

On Leading Alongside a Spouse
Eiland offers a few practical tips she’s learned from working in ministry at Mar’s Hill alongside her husband, Delwin, who serves as a Worship Pastor. 

“What makes it work is really clear boundaries on when we talk about work versus what we bring home to family,” she says. “We have three young kids, and so we’ve gotten better at saying, ‘Hey, in these moments, we’re not talking about what’s happening at work right now.’”

Secondly, she says, “Celebrating one another’s wins publicly is really, really important. If [Delwin’s] writing a new song that’s really meaningful for the church, I want to celebrate that with our kids and with our congregation. If there’s something that I’m entering into, like when [my] book came out, Delwin is the number one cheerleader. Mutuality and celebration is really important.”

Finally, she shares, “Number three for me is to not assume that his perspective of what’s happening at church is the same as mine. Even though we’re in the same spaces, sometimes in the same meetings, we’re coming at those spaces from very different vantage points, with different biases, even as a married couple. It’s so important for me to still ask, ‘Hey, how was your day today?’ even though I knew exactly where you were the entire day.”

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About the Research
The research for this study consisted of an online study conducted September 16-October 4, 2021 with 1003 churched U.S. adults. The margin of error for this sample is plus or minus 2.9 percent at a 95-percent confidence level.

Featured image by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash.

About Barna
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.

© Barna Group, 2022

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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