Don’t you feel like everything we knew and assumed at the dawn of 2020 has been vaporized? If you are like me, it has left me searching for how to keep our family, church, and mission vibrant…and more importantly sustainable. There is a term in political realms called “continuity of government” that I believe needs coopted by we church leaders. Continuity of government (COG) is defined as, “The principle of establishing defined procedures that allow a government to continue its essential operations in case of a catastrophic event such as nuclear war.” Nuclear. Does that, at least psychologically, sound like what you have been disoriented by this year in your sphere influence?
Here are qualities that I am discovering every leadership team of a local church need to sustain the “continuity” of gospel ministry in a day of so much “nuclear-level” disruption and disconnection?
Emotional Intelligence within Self
Have you caught yourself repeatedly saying, “that’s so 2020,” i.e. blaming this year for problems and challenges that tend to be a part of every year? It is so easy to get a negative attitude and outlook that lacks substantive, objective reason. An author recently asserted, “The thing we can give others right now is the gift of a non-anxious presence.” The first person you are called to “govern” is yourself-specifically your heart that is desperately wicked and prone to wander without intentional discipline and truth-telling. Just “be an example of the believer.” As Paulo Coelho says it, “The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.” Become a student of not only how you emotionally impact others but how you can improve on that front. Instead of listening to yourself (emotions), speak to yourself (truth). As I recently posted-with some well-meaning pushback-a spiritual leader’s number one responsibility is to stay encouraged! Every highly-effective leader knows where to go and what to do/where not to go and what not to do when they get discouraged. Do you? (By the way, the driving motive of this emotional intelligence is not selfish but to effectively love God and our neighbor for the long haul.)
Pr 25:28 “He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.”
Assuming the Best of Others
Have you noticed how tough times cause you to chronically question or doubt the motives of other around you? A a pastor friend Randy Justus recently posted, “Due to the current surge, we had twice as many people worshipping online today, than in person… and I back my people 100%. The Holy Spirit, the Word of God, and their own conscience in light of their personal circumstances can guide them better than I can. Give grace.” What wisdom and perspective when we are tempted to question motives or critique how others in our church are navigating this season! Please don’t forget that these dear folks, overwhelmed with personal challenges and a myriad of voices trying tell them what they should think, feel, and do/not do right now, are the building blocks of your church’s future ministry. Don’t ostracize them through thin-skinned judgmentalism or defensiveness. If there is anytime to exhibit sincere, godly compassion as a leader for the brethren, now is that time!
1 Co 13:5-7 “(Charity) Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.”
Regular Fellowship with Peers
Unfortunately, this season of isolation is revealing the far too many leaders only have relationships with those under them and little if any with those beside them. Sometimes we need to spend a bit of time with someone who already “gets it” but is, at least partially removed form our immediate context (leader in another church or location). In other words, we all need peers in the ministry who not require our explanations or conciliatory remarks…we can just get right to shouldering together joy that is increased by sharing and sorrow that is diminished by the same. Not only does sin’s mastery require a man be to alone as Bonhoeffer put it, so does discouragement. I recently touched on having your “group of five” here. We are not called to just commiserate with fellow leaders but to challenge each other privately and support each other publicly. Do you have that group? If not, you are one mood swing away from a serious mistake or moral failure. Truly the adage, “the only way to get through this is together” is true not just for our people but also their leaders!
Ph 1:27, 30 “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel..Having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me.”
Consistent Convictions to Guide Messaging
One of the unfortunate casualties of many spiritual leaders today is the gospel–the central good news of Jesus our Savior. For the sake of the lost and believers alike, the politically-charged rhetoric, divisive views on pandemic mitigations, and racial and class tensions must not move our churches off message! The question is, “Who is the keeper and protector of that messaging?” The answer is the leader, the same one who is so careful who preaches from the pulpit or what curriculum is being taught to the young people must lead the church in not only what is said but how it is said. Rebecca Pippert, in her book Stay Salt: The World Has Changed: Our Message Must Not, declares, “The world has changed in so many ways, and many of us no longer feel confident when it comes to evangelism, especially with the rise of hostility towards Christian points of view. Keeping quiet is becoming our default position. Yet the world has not changed in one way: it still needs Jesus.” (I would add that not only are we too quiet on evangelism, but we are also too noisy on other, lesser subjects.) With all of the cataclysmic spasms our world is going through right now, we must lead out in personal evangelism, mobilizing disciples, and gospel-centric/text-driven preaching.
1 Co 2:1-5 “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.”
Communication Bordering on Nagging
Right now about the only thing that is holding our churches together is clear, steady communication to God (prayer), from God (His Word & Spirit) and with one another. Little if any events or programs. Just communication or the lack thereof. Without radical, deliberate commitment, you will lose people and they will lose your God-assigned mission/vision. As Andy Stanley asserts, “Casting a convincing vision once is not enough to make it stick. Twice isn’t enough, either. Vision needs to be repeated regularly.” Does your church know the “why” and have they heard it in a variety of ways even this week…today? Otherwise, how can you expect them to keep tuning in online, braving the elements to attend if that is an option, giving financially, praying for and supporting the leadership, inviting their friends and family to get in on what happening/being said? The key in our communication-especially right now-is not volume as much as frequency.
He 10:24-25 “And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” (Verses that apply as much now as when physical assembling is easier and maybe more frequent.)
Collaborative Decisions when Consolidation Is Easier
Our most recent gathering of our finance committee was only virtual because three of our deacons were all out-on with Covid, another with severe back pain, and another who is battling leukemia. But…we still needed to meet to get the usual, collective wisdom that comes only in that format. Don’t give into the temptation to make a power grab as the senior leader just because “it would be more efficient right now.” You will live to regret what will be a series of myopic decisions plagued with blindspots that can only be tempered through a leadership team. As Dustin Benge writes, “When ministry is a one-man show it becomes a man-centered ministry.” Your church is watching. The only decisions that they will come to fully TRUST are the ones they sense are made by a TEAM! If there is anytime that limited, flawed leaders like us must insist upon biblical, spiritual collaboration, it is during a crisis.
Pr 24:6 “For by wise counsel thou shalt make thy war: and in multitude of counsellors there is safety.”
Reliance upon the Spirit’s Leadership
How did your specific plans and projections for 2020 fare? If they are like ours at North Life, not so well. One of the gifts of this current year is the gentle reminder that only God knows the future. The amazing thing is that this precognitive God has given us His Spirit. All of the above commitments are futile without the partnership of the Paraclete, the One who comes along side of our present tense, with all of its challenges and unknowns, to help guide us who guide others toward a sure, clear future. A.W. Tozer once contrasted the post-modern church with that of the first century, “If the Holy Spirit were withdrawn from the church today, 95 percent of what we do would go on and no one would know the difference. If the Holy Spirit had been withdrawn from the New Testament church, 95 percent of what they did would stop, and everybody would know the difference.” Sadly, we are being exposed. May the Lord redeem where this blog post finds our leadership to be right now by increasing our desperate, passionate reliance upon His Spirit’s power and revelation.
Zechariah 4:6 “Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.”
You may be tempted to say, “But I don’t know if I/we are going to survive this.” May I gently say that I can definitely relate to that sentiment, but God’s continuity of ministry is not dependent upon us longterm. He is bigger than that. As Charles Wesley wisely put it, “God buries His workmen but carries on His work.” His work will go on, no matter what. Much of this continuity of God’s governance in your local church depends upon His grace and your tenacity to honor Him with these leadership commitments. As one businessman recently put it, “Companies don’t die because the company fails but because the entrepreneur gives up.“
In fact, these difficult days are not the antithesis but actually the means to the “domino” transfer and expansion of our leadership to others as Paul, the oft-besieged yet highly influential apostle, reminds us in 2 Timothy 2:1-3: “Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also. Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” Would the cause of Christ be stronger if there were a thousand more of you…your emotional health, assumptions, fellowship, messaging, communication, collaboration, spiritual reliance? Start there. Stay there. And let’s see what see powerful sequence God can sustain through us in the new year!