Fly Through the Crash

Deacon Peggy Hahn

airplane wingI got some of the best leadership advice ever, the night before I was about to launch the biggest project of my life, from Sally Ahrens, my partner in ministry. She looked me in the eye and said with all seriousness, in a way that only she could do: “No matter what happens, fly through the crash.”

At this point in our preparation, I knew she wasn’t kidding. I also had no idea what she was talking about, so I just gave her the “huh?” look. “Fly through the crash. You just might land the plane,” was her response. This was only a few weeks after the plane had landed in the Hudson River. I got it.

airplane crash in water

I am sharing this with you today because I have come to realize that the language of “being on survival mode,” as people use it regarding their congregation, does not fit at all. Every story I know about survival mode has a high level of “fighting for life” that includes a willingness to fly through the crash.

The behavior of survival is hopeful because it means an instinct for living that overcomes a willingness to die. It is true of prisoners of war who tell horrific stories of pain and suffering, always aware that death is very real yet always hanging on to a glimmer of hope that life may come tomorrow. You can see it in the eyes of people who have survived hurricane, fire or tornado devastation. Survival has a do-what-it-takes-to-live kind of courage.

I honestly wish I saw more of this in congregational leadership. More often I see stubbornness wrapped in nostalgia. That digging-in-our-heals posture is not survival, it is (you won’t like this) death. Once we become closed to new ideas, even about our faith, we start to die. This is true for people and for organizations.

The great news is that we can change our mindset. We have a choice on how we will react to things we don’t like, things that are thrust upon us, or even things we choose that have unexpected outcomes. We have the power to survive.

Theologically, I think that God has wired this into our humanity. It is the Holy Spirit wrestling with our ego, offering us glimpse of hope, if we can let go of our stubbornness to grasp it.

My prayer for leaders is that they get in touch with their survival instincts, let go of their stubborn egos, and fly through the crash. In this time of re-generation of the world, the church as we know it is in a metamorphous not a death. What looks like death are places where people stop surviving.

Take Sally’s advice (trust me, I always did) and fly through the crash.

Thanks to her encouragement, together we created a way for 36,000 people to serve in New Orleans in 2009. This was the largest servant event. From the air traffic control tower, there were countless opportunities to crash, including a few minor collisions. Yet we landed the plan with a city blessed by our church, young people engaged in a faith that made a difference, and a church with a new way of doing a Youth Gathering. Not too bad for a 4-day gig.

Imagine what leaders who serve every day in a particular neighborhood could do if they started to survive?