COVID-19 Conversations: Lysa TerKeurst on Vulnerability & Leading in Crisis


Articles in Leaders & Pastors • July 21, 2020

In early April, just a few weeks after local and federal government issued safe at home orders and urged citizens to observe social distancing guidelines, ChurchPulse Weekly hosts Carey Nieuwhof and David Kinnaman shared findings related to the mental and emotional health of pastors and their congregants in light of current events. Now, in the most recent ChurchPulse Weekly episode, Nieuwhof and Kinnaman take another look at church leaders’ well-being, inviting Lysa TerKeurst—author, speaker and president of Proverbs 31 Ministries—to comment on the data and offer practical advice for pastors leading through crisis.

Before You Can (Digitally) Disciple Someone, You Need to Meet Them Where They Are
In an interview with Kinnaman, TerKeurst encourages church leaders to first acknowledge and understand how their people are feeling in the current moment before engaging in digital discipleship.

TerKeurst says, “Before we give advice on how to do something, it’s really important to ask questions and seek to understand before we try to make [others] see our side of things or get the teaching that we’re offering. When we’re doing everyday life with people—not through the digital airwaves—we have the opportunity to be a little more perceptive on the story behind the story. But when we’re discipling people digitally, we really have to ask good questions.”

“I think one of the greatest things we can tell people, especially in that digital environment, is when they tell us something, that we believe them,” TerKeurst says. “Telling someone, ‘I believe you when you say you’re hurting,’ that in and of itself can be quite healing for people.”

It’s Important to Remember the Difference Between Privacy and Secrecy
It is often hard for people to know what to share and how much to share with others. The tension of this is perhaps felt more strongly by church leaders who often strive to be a source of comfort, solace or guidance for their people, but who may have difficulty opening up about their own struggles or burdens with their congregation.

“I think every person has a different tolerance for vulnerability,” TerKeurst notes, “and I think you have to be honest as a leader or a teacher [and ask], ‘What is my tolerance for vulnerability?’ I [personally] let my vulnerability come out in a way that I’m honest with the big facts of the story, the basics. But I let my story and the basics of what I’ve walked through be the backdrop. The [important thing] is that the life lessons that I’ve learned can be transferred even if someone’s not walking through the same thing as me.”

TerKeurst explains, “I think appropriate vulnerability is letting people know the basics of what you’re going through. [It’s important to remember that] there’s a big difference between privacy and secrecy. … ‘What do I share? What do I not share?’ or ‘What’s appropriate? What’s not appropriate? What will make people feel uncomfortable? What will help people?’ I think if you remember, privacy is withholding certain information for the sake of healing. Secrecy is withholding certain information for the purpose of hiding—there’s a big difference there.

Remind People That it’s Beneficial to Gather Together
As the interview came to a close, Kinnaman asked Lysa a question he and Nieuwhof have posed to many ChurchPulse Weekly guests: “What is your hope for the Church coming out of COVID-19?”

TerKeurst’s response is two-fold, sharing hope for congregants and faith leaders. “I think one obstacle that we’re going to have is suddenly church has become very, very convenient for people, and it’s much easier to get up on Sunday morning and not have to go through all the rigamaroles. … I think one thing we’re going to have to help people overcome is that convenience can’t trump the benefits of coming together. As leaders, we’re really going to have to lead front and center with the benefits of gathering so that people understand that coming together has enough payoff that it’s worth pushing through the habit that we’ve now formed.”

“Not only are churches going to need to work to remind people of the payoff of coming together and gathering in person,” concludes TerKeurst, “but I think that the Church is also going to have to do some practical things to show people, ‘We’re thinking about your safety. We have put parameters in place … We are doing what we can to take your concerns seriously. They’re valid concerns. We’re not going to shame you for those concerns, and we’re going to attend to them appropriately.’”

Best, Worst, Pray—Advice from Nieuwhof and Kinnaman
As podcasts hosts Nieuwhof and Kinnaman wrapped up this week’s episode, Nieuwhof takes a moment to share a practice that has been helping him stay mentally and emotionally healthy during this time of disruption.

“About two months into COVID, when we were still on lockdown,” notes Nieuwhof, “I wasn’t seeing people—I was surrounded by people every day on Zoom and so on—so I said to Frank [Bealer, a previous podcast guest] who I talk to fairly regularly anyway, ‘I’m feeling a little bit alone. A little bit isolated. Do you mind if we just text every day?’ We came up with this really stupid simple format. It’s this simple: it’s best, worst, pray.”

“That’s it. Best, worst, pray,” Nieuwhof explains. “What’s the best thing that’s happened or is happening? Just in a quick sentence. What’s the worst thing that’s going on? Then, what do I want you to pray about? We’ve swapped that text every day now for a few months, and it’s been life-giving.”

In a recent webcast, Caring for Souls in a New Reality, Barna president David Kinnaman sat down with Lysa TerKeurst and Dr. Henry Cloud to discuss Soul Care in a time of Crisis. If you missed the webcast or want to watch certain segments, visit Barna Access—our new digital subscription service—to view the replay for free for a limited time. Barna Access is also home to our ChurchPulse tools, which can be utilized with a free membership to measure the well-being of your congregation.

Comment on this article and follow our work:
Twitter: @davidkinnaman | @barnagroup
Facebook: Barna Group

About the Research
COVID-19 Data: 
Barna Group conducted these online surveys among 2,153 Protestant Senior Pastors from March 20–June 15, 2020. Participants are all members of Barna Group’s Church Panel. Minimal weighting has been used to ensure the sample is representative based on denomination, region and church size.

Data Collection Dates
Week 1, n=222, March 20-23, 2020
Week 2, n=212, March 24-30, 2020
Week 3, n=195, March 31-April 6, 2020
Week 4, n=246, April 7-13, 2020
Week 5, n=204, April 14-20, 2020
Week 6, n=164, April 21-27, 2020
Week 7, n=167, April 28-May 4, 2020
Week 8, n=165, May 5-11, 2020
Week 9, n=184, May 12-18, 2020
Weeks 10 and 11, n=191, May 19-June 1, 2020
Week 12, n=203, June 26-29, 2020

Featured image by Finn 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, 2020

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