Dear fellow pastors,
The ancient church used the metaphor of a boat to understand themselves and the mission of God (this metaphor is the inspiration of the free book I wrote for new believers, “Expedition: Following Jesus on a Mast-Raising, Sail-Setting and Treasure-Seeking Journey to the Ends of the Earth”). I want to use this metaphor as an encouragement to you as we navigate these uncertain waters together.
Covid-19 has come over the horizon like a sudden storm. We were not expecting it and we were, understandably, not prepared. The winds of the storm have brought the rain of illness and the hail of death, but it has also brought the disorienting fog of social distancing and its implications for the life and practice of the ministries and churches we serve and lead.
This is the fog, in the sea of uncertainty, that every pastor and church leader must now navigate. These waters are unknown and disconcerting. We knew the water we were on before. We had countless charts and instruments to guide us. We understood our local boats with all of their limitations and advantages. We were able to see and interact with our crews face-to-face regularly. Then, suddenly, with the arrival of this storm, we have been disorientated and are now adrift on the sea of uncertainty in the fog of online ministry.
As we adjust together, I want to acknowledge our reality and shout from my boat through the dense fog, “You are not alone!” Like a giant armada of boats playing Marco Polo, I want to encourage us to call out to each other with encouragement, to actively share resources and ideas, and to collectively listen to the voice of Jesus together.
As I survey the horizon, the fog is dense. We used to be able to see and interact with the people we serve regularly and now we have to rely on phone calls, text messages and ZOOM. These are great tools, but it is ok to grieve the reality that these not the same as face-to-face interactions and ministry and that not everyone can use them equally. For those whose boats (churches) are in small centers where ministry was physical and local in the community, social distance has robbed you of your ministry presence. For those who boats (churches) are in larger centers with larger crews, your entire systems have had to be altered, reworked and resources reallocated, which is a much larger job than most realize.
As we voyage these foggy waters together, I want to remind us of a few things. First, in times like these, no one really knows what they are doing. Those that might blow the loudest horns, are still in the same fog that you are, they just have a bigger horn. This is new uncharted territory. Second, it is okay to grieve. In the sudden leap for change, especially change that is thrust upon you, it is ok to grieve what was. Like all grief, it takes time, and everyone processes it differently; don’t ignore grief’s process (you are probably in it). Third, we need to “Marco Polo” our way forward together. Find a band of fellow sailors and cheer each other on in this season. In humility, navigate this sea together. In humility and community, there is hope as we listen to Jesus together. Fourth, share resources and ideas with others. When emergencies strike, those who hoard in isolation don’t fare as well as those who network and share with others. This principle transfers to pastors and churches in this season. Fifth, survival is sometimes success. Let’s not be like the rescue boat that, after months of searching, finally picks up the marooned sailor and asks him why he has repainted his damaged ship and isn’t wearing his full uniform. Everyone’s situation is different, and these are challenging times.
Fellow pastors, let’s embrace humility together, join forces on mission and encourage each other forward. Whether you are in a small vessel in a rural lagoon or a large aircraft carrier in an urban ocean, this season has put us all in the same fog and we need each other to navigate through it while continuing to passionately pursue our rescue mission of seeking and saving the lost (rescue boats are most needed in the storm). Let is remind each other of what we can so easily forget in the storm, that our primary goal is not the survival of the boat but the pursuit of the mission.
Therefore, be of good courage, celebrate the good around you, show yourself (and others) lots of grace, spend more time with Jesus, love your family well, passionately pursue God’s mission and lead with boldness. In the fog, Jesus is still calling and leading, even if we can’t clearly see Him.
May we remember and remind each other of the truth that Jesus has not abandoned ship, He will lead us and He will not fail!
Your fellow sailor and friend,