Colliding Data Points and Why Your Church Leaders (Likely) Aren’t Idiots

Your church leaders are likely not idiots. Yes, of course, that is possible. There are foolish leaders in all types of roles, and all of us are fully capable of making unwise choices. But just because your church leaders are not making the same call you would make does not mean they are idiots.

When there is one overarching data point, decisions are typically pretty obvious. And therefore unifying. Or at least not dis-unifying. For example, when I was a pastor in Miami and hurricane warnings were given for the weekend, we would cancel church. Yes, there were different hurricane models, but they all generally landed in the same place, with the eye of a hurricane possibly hovering over your church and home. When you are in the path of a hurricane, sometimes a Category 3 or 4, you cancel church. There is no data point saying otherwise. Easy call. You make it, and push through the frustration of needing to adjust your “fall sermon series” or “launch weekend plans.” Does it take any wisdom or savvy our courage to make that call? Or to make the call to gather again the following weekend even if there is damage to the facility? The answer is clearly “no.”

But the moment church leadership teams are in now is very different. There are conflicting data points.

The virus is serious.

On one hand there is the alarming data about CoVid-19. More than 120,000 people have already died. Real people. Real fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, friends, and spouses. And sadly, the virus is not slowing down. Not only are more people testing positive for the virus but in many cities, hospitalizations are increasing (as of the end of June). The virus is serious and should be taken seriously. The data is so alarming that some cities and counties have returned to “stay at home orders.” If that was the only data point then church leaders would have much easier decisions.

The implications from isolation are also serious.

The data surrounding the virus is not the only data point. The implications from months of isolation are many and they are devastating. Porn use is up. Substance abuse is up. There have been rises in “problematic gambling. The Washington Post declared that “the pandemic is pushing America into a mental health crisis,” and USA Today reported that the pandemic could push suicide and drug-related deaths to 150,000.

And this makes the decision for churches to re-gather, and how to re-gather, very complex.

Atul Gawande, surgeon and Harvard professor, has distinguished between simple, complicated, and complex problems. A simple problem can be solved by following a process. A complicated problem is really a long-series of simple problems, so it can also be solved by following a process, albeit a long and complicated one. A complex problem, however, is one that cannot be repeated or replicated. There is no process to follow. There is not a tested and repeated framework you can pull up on your computer. Leading in this season is complex. We have not been here before.

Church members, please consider…

In every church there are people who believe the church is opening too slowly and people who believe the church is opening too quickly. If your church leadership is “opening slower” than you think they should, please consider that they are looking at data about CoVid-19, hearing from doctors, and sensing the weight of the decision of helping people gather in the midst of a pandemic. If your church leadership is “opening faster” than you think they should, please consider that they are looking at the data surrounding the implications of isolation and hearing painful stories, and feeling the weight of not helping people gather in the midst of a pandemic. There are quantitative data points (stats) and qualitative data points (stories) that say “we should not gather” and ones that say “we should gather.”

Pastors, please consider…

Just as I am encouraging church members to consider that their leadership may not be idiots after all, I want to challenge pastors (including myself) that those in our churches with strong opinions are not idiots either. The person who is convinced the church is opening too quickly may have friends who are immunocompromised and penned that passionate email thinking of them. The person who is bewildered that the church is opening too slowly may have a son who is struggling with the pain of isolation and is filled with holy frustration over the lack of community. There is frustration all around because there is pain all around. Real pain and real people.


Let’s be kind and compassionate to one another. The apostle Paul’s words are a great reminder: “Let all bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ” (Ephesians 4:31-32).