There has never been a time when the leadership skills of the clergy have been under more scrutiny than the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has tested the faith of both the clergy and the congregants as Pastors have perished under the disease. Some Pastors who thought that they could defeat the disease through proclamation of their faith on television also died, and it has caused people to ask themselves a number of questions about what God was trying to communicate to the church. As a result, a number of theories emerged–the theory of the eminent second coming of Christ and many others. However, the focus of this article will be on the leadership challenges that were brought about in the South African churches during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic posed challenges to the church, but it also brought about new prospects as many churches had to adopt virtual mechanisms for meetings and services. The church was forced to incorporate technology fully, an option that had not been explored before in many rural and urban churches in South Africa. Nevertheless, the major challenge of the churches during the lockdown period was in the area of finances. Many churches that had not been proactive in preparing for the crisis began to suffocate during this period, and as a result the function of the church activities were curtailed. Therefore, this article recommends that the clergy should equip themselves with the abilities and competencies needed for leading during a crisis.


Crisis leadership is a subject that is often discussed in a smaller scale amongst the clergy. Scott (2020) observed that crises force ministry leadership to operate outside of their comfort zones. It compels them to operate in three planes, namely, being situationally aware, biblically faithful and culturally astute. Thus, the core cultural function of leadership during a crisis is efficient and constant communication; an element that was relegated to the notion that God will take care of everything when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Thankfully, the Church of the Nazarene Board of General Superintendents (2020) issued a statement when the COVID-19 pandemic struck to provide guidance and to encourage the church.

The COVID-19 pandemic also brought the notion of preparedness at all times into reality, as no one knows the hour and time of the arrival of the Son of Man or the time and hour when disaster may strike (Matt 24:36-42). With the COVID-19 pandemic, it was as if God was communicating with the clergy to constantly develop themselves,

because little or lack of knowledge destroys (Hosea 4:6). The clergy are expected to be people of knowledge and insight as that will enable them to handle uncertainty and complexity with confidence. When a crisis strikes, people in the church look up to them to provide guidance and answers. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (2020) maintain that church leaders should provide guidance as long as the COVID-19 pandemic exists.

The COVID-19 pandemic also provided opportunities for the clergy to sharpen their technological skills. Some clergy saw themselves interacting with social media for the first time, a tool that has always been discouraged amongst the youth. The pandemic provided some families with the opportunity to bond during the lockdown period, whilst in other families it escalated abuses. ENCA (2020) reported that in South Africa more than 120,000 victims of abuse called the National Helpline in the first three weeks after the lockdown had started, doubling the usual volume of calls. This reveals a great amount of work that the clergy has to perform in families.


The World Health Organisation (2020) defines Coronavirus, which is also referred to as COVID-19, as an infectious disease that is caused by a newly found coronavirus.

Coronavirus attacks the respiratory track and is transmitted from person to person through infected air droplets, sneezing, or coughing. Christians are not immune from contracting the disease. Medical News Today (2020) explained that the Coronavirus affects the respiratory system, causing one to show symptoms such as coughing, high temperatures and shortness of breath. Due to the Coronavirus, people were asked to wear masks in public and private spaces, maintain social distance, and wash their hands regularly or use alcohol based sanitisers. This was done in order to curb the spread of the virus amongst other means such as the lockdown and tracing and quarantining of infected people. Eyvazzadeh (2020) emphasised the following as the means of avoiding infections:

  • Wash the hands regularly and thoroughly with soap, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use hand sanitisers with at least 60 percent of alcohol in the absence of soap.
  • Avoid touching the face unless one has just washed the hands.
  • Stay clear of people, maintain a social distance of about 1.5 metres.
  • Avoid overcrowded areas as much as possible.

Figure 1.1. Coronavirus (Covid-19) images

Derived and adapted from Wikimedia Commons (2020)
Adapted from Encyclopaedia Britannica

The above images provide a synopsis of the structure and nature of Coronavirus.

The virus is said to be found in many animal species even though its mutation infects human beings. It attaches itself to the host through the protein spikes which are projected on Figure 1.1. above.

In South Africa, Coronavirus has left a trail of sicknesses, deaths, and a strain on medical facilities. Patients that are affected by the disease are given supportive treatment and some are put on ventilators. As a result, many companies were converted to manufacture ventilators. Frey (2020) confirmed that companies responded to the government call to apply their skills and resources in developing the much needed ventilators which are used in severe cases of COVID-19.


The church environment completely changed under the lockdown as there were sequential rules and regulations that were released which governed the churches. The Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs was appointed as the custodian of COVID-19 activities together with the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC). The National Coronavirus Command Council served as the advisory body to the government. Together with the government, the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (2020) stipulated the following alert levels in the lockdown process of the country:

1.1.1 Lockdown Alert Level 5

Lockdown level 5 was introduced at the early detection of coronavirus in the country. It was meant to curb the spread of the virus whilst at the same time giving the government time to prepare itself strategically in terms of allocating resources. The country was brought into a complete shut-down, wherein mobility was strictly prohibited except for medical purposes. Church gatherings were also completely closed. There were no social or economic activities, and borders of the country were closed. Practically, there was no work that was done. However, some companies devised the means to enable employees to work from home. The church as the body of Christ was kept alive in the homes. Later as the lockdown progressed, a number of clergy started to preach the Gospel through social media and other technological means such as Zoom.

1.1.2 Lockdown Alert Level 4

Under lockdown alert level 4, the government permitted restricted movement on some economic activities, and the borders were only opened for the transportation of goods, repatriation of South African citizens who were stuck in other countries, and for foreign nationals who wanted to leave the country. No travel was allowed between the provinces, except for the transportation of goods and other permitted commodities. The public transport operated at a minimal scale, and people that were using such a transportation mode were required to wear masks at all times. Strict hygiene laws including sanitisation of the hands and deep cleansing of the public transport were enforced.
Social gatherings were still prohibited under level 4. Bars, shebeens, conference and convention centres, entertainment venues, cinemas, theatres, concerts, sporting events, religious activities, cultural activities, and restaurants remained closed. This was done in order to limit community outbreaks. Churches were also barred from meeting in their respective buildings. Clergy were allowed to conduct funerals upon receipt of permission from the local police station.

1.1.3 Lockdown Alert Level 3

Alert level 3 of lockdown involved the easing of some restrictions on work and social activities. The level permitted opening of churches with restrictions, and allowing only fifty members to meet per service. Churches were, however, encouraged to use the virtual platforms because religious rituals that encouraged personal contact were prohibited.
Some sectors of the economy also opened, and as such, about 8 million people went back to work. Work environments were highly regulated by hygienic laws which included wearing of masks just like in churches. Restaurants were opened for deliveries and take-away. Liquor sales were permitted for consumption at home, onsite consumption was not allowed. Tobacco sales remained banned, an action that fuelled conflict between tobacco companies and the government, as tobacco companies took the government to court for the banning of tobacco products.

1.1.4 Lockdown Alert Level 2

More easing of certain stringent regulations occurred under level 2. However, emphasis was still placed on social distancing and prevention of resurgence of the virus. Level 2 would allow people to travel between provinces as that is not permitted in level 3 lockdown. This article is written under lockdown alert level 3.
Private residential projects were to be allowed to resume construction, and real estate agencies were to operate fully. Mining and manufacturing businesses were to operate at 100% capacity. The other gain is to be on the tourism industry as hotels and B & B were to be opened for the first time. Gyms and fitness centres were to be given green light under level 2.

1.1.5 Lockdown Alert Level 1

Lockdown alert Level 1 meant that all strict social and economic precautions be will removed as things return to the new normal under stringent hygiene guidelines. People will, however, still be encouraged to avoid over-crowded places.

Figure 1.2 The Summary of Alert Levels during Lockdown Period

Derived and adapted from the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (2020)


MacDonald, Stetzer, Wilson and Yang (2020) maintain that COVID-19 demands on Pastors and Church Leaders will not end anytime soon, even though there are signs of optimism in combating the disease. Listed below are some of the challenges that confront the clergy:

  • Stress, fatigue and anxiety due to the feeling of helplessness.
  • Inability of the clergy to conduct house visits.
  • Inability to fellowship physically with the church members as it is the case during church services.
  • Inability to conduct church rituals such as Holy Communion, baptism, etc.
  • Inability to support church members physically when a crisis strikes.
  • Financial difficulties as some church members lost income, jobs and businesses.


Although there are some challenges experienced by the clergy during COVID-19 pandemic, some opportunities also presented themselves. Linder (2020) is of the opinion that COVID-19 afforded the clergy an opportunity to think of creative ways of conducting ministry. Churches were forced to abandon their plans, reflect on their practices and become more compassionate. Some of the opportunities afforded by COVID-19 to the clergy are listed as follows:

  • Exploration and adoption of virtual platforms to expand the ministry.
  • Strengthening of the church in the families.
  • The clergy had ample time for their own families and spouses.
  • Encouraging church members in a different way, to look more unto God as many have observed the afflictions caused by the pandemic.
  • Learn to be more Pro-active rather than Re-active.
  • Learn to plan wisely, especially in the area of finances.


Leadership is an important component of any organisation, as it sets the tone for its success or failure. Churches, like all the other organisations, rely on sound leadership so that they can have a meaningful impact on communities. Scott (2020) argues that leadership agility requires pivoting from normal procedures and methods, leveraging limited resources, money, time, and people.

Thus, various leadership skills are imperative in ministry:

  • Crisis leadership skill
  • Communication Skill
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Agility and flexibility skill

Klann (2003) concluded that there is nothing that tests or exposes a leader like a crisis. It quickly exposes the leader’s hidden strengths and core weaknesses. Therefore, leaders should learn to decide with speed over precision in a crisis as situations could change drastically; they should focus on what matters the most.


COVID-19 has transformed the world, ushering it into a new normal. During the crisis, the clergy have been exposed to different ways of doing ministry. The Church of the Nazarene has a tremendous support from the Board of General Superintendents which was proactive in issuing directives in line with the protocols of COVID-19. Local Pastors as well rose to the occasion, even though more could be learned on how to lead under a crisis.


This article argues that the clergy should be life-long learners. This will enable them to be pro-active rather than re-active in times such as these. They will be able to handle the church finances in such a way that there is no panic or financial constraints when crises strike. 


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