“Sully” Sullenberger was the pilot who successfully landed US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River in 2009 without the loss of a single life. He was recently asked this question by Fast Company magazine: “How do you deal with uncertainty?” You can listen to or read his full response, but I thought that his observations apply to those of us who lead the church, especially through uncertain times. He talks about “a firm foundation” based on several principles.
First, “we had already built a team . . . in which we had already established well-defined roles and responsibilities.” The idea of “team” and “well-defined roles” is not a paradox; they go together. Each team member has something to contribute and is very aware of what that contribution is. This is something that air crew members knew before the plane headed for the Hudson River. They did not wait to find their roles until the plane started going down! Church leaders need to have done their homework before a crisis hits. They need to be ready to respond, knowing whose strengthens are needed in order to accomplish the mission of the church in a time of need and giving each person the opportunity to exercise those gifts as part of a ministry team.
Second, “the team has been schooled in the consistent application of best practices.” The crew had learned how to do their jobs and to do them to the highest standard. They not only practiced their skills but they learned from others. Church leaders need to be lifelong learners as well, continually observing best practices in all types of churches and learning from both the successes and failures they see. Once they know what works, they can find ways to apply the best practices in their situation.
Third, all of this “gave us the foundation on which we could improvise.” The air crew knew their jobs, they did them well, so they were skilled enough to try something that they had never done before. They trusted each other and found a way to do something new—land in a river! Church leaders are continually coming upon the unexpected. The only way to respond effectively to the surprises of ministry is to know yourself, your people, and your context; then you can improvise like a gifted musician or a trained air crew member.
An air crew must be prepared for unexpected challenges because lives are in their hands. A church ministry team not only has lives in their hands, they are dealing with the future of God’s people.