Category Archives: leadership

PLOD: Encouragement and Advice for Pastors in the Fourth Wave

As we enter the fourth wave of Covid and press into the fall ministry season, I want to offer some words of encouragement and some practical advice.  To do so, let me share a very old hymn by AB Simpson, Plod.

This hymn embodies great advice in our current ministry climate.  In a season where you are trying to figure out what ministry looks like in constantly changing restrictions, hybrid (in-person and online) formats, digital fatigue, divided churches (over Covid and vaccines), and empty seats (most churches I know are running at a fraction of pre-Covid in-person attendance), it can be hard to know what to do and one can easily become disoriented and discouraged.

I want to suggest a simple course of action from the old hymn, Plod.  Plodding may sound strange and even defeatist in a social media and success-driven culture that compulsively celebrates “amazing.”  We are used to hearing triumphant leadership advice that promised to skyrocket your success and effectiveness.   In contrast, perhaps God is calling us to unfettered faithfulness.  A faithfulness in our calling as pastors to pray diligently, preach the gospel in season and out of season, attentively care for people without expectation, and regularly offer the sacraments.  What if this faithful persistence to our calling is the main thing to focus on in a season like this, trusting that fruitfulness (whatever and whenever God determines that to be) will result? 

It may seem glib and defeatist to some, but God is calling us to plod.  Not in a defeated acceptance of seeming ineffectiveness but in faithful service to our King and our calling, regardless of immediate reward.

Now…the temptation in a post like this is to end with a triumphant declaration that victory will come, that the night always precedes the dawn, and that “success” is right around the corner.  Perhaps!  But…what if it isn’t?  Is Jesus still enough?  Is faithfulness to the King and His Kingdom worthy of my life regardless of accolades or perceived “success?”  The answer of course is “yes” and maybe the unexpected gift of this season is a sifted view of success that elevates faithfulness and fruitfulness over effectiveness and success in our lives and ministries.

As you endure the fourth wave, embrace faithfulness for, in the words of AB Simpson, “Plod will win the day.”

The Fog of Fall

The church has historically used a boat metaphor to help understand itself and its purpose (I use this image extensively in my book, Expedition: Following Jesus on a Mast-Raising, Sail-Setting, and Treasure-Seeking Journey to the Ends of the Earth).  As the church charts its way into the fall, it is heading into a fog.  There are so many unknowns and all the landmarks that we trusted to navigate have been obscured by the fog of the unknown.  This is disorientating but it can also be frightening.

Navigating a naval vessel in the fog is not for the faint of heart.  It demands unique skills and nautical practices.  One must use foghorns to announce one’s presence to other vessels and, conversely, carefully listen for others to sound off on their location.  One would also dispatch lookouts with sharp wits, focused eyes, and keen ears. 

This is what the fall will feel like for ministry leaders.  The fourth wave of Covid has created a fog and blinded us to many of the things we have relied on to navigate safely in ministry’s waters.  We once relied on casual foyer conversation to help us gauge how people were doing.  We once relied on in-person attendance to measure how the church was doing corporately and how people were doing individually.  These trusted symbols of success (as problematic as they were) have been overshadowed and made obsolete by the settling of Covid’s fog, obscuring our finely tuned leadership senses and making us feel vulnerable and confused.

As you lead into the fog, I want to encourage you to not lose heart.  Because you can’t see people, it doesn’t mean they are not tracking with you.  Because the church can’t gather in person, it doesn’t mean people aren’t gathering with you online in some way.  Because you don’t hear constant feedback or engage in casual in-person conversations, doesn’t mean you are not being effective.  Because you don’t feel like you are being effective, it doesn’t mean you are failing and, more importantly, faithfulness always trumps effectiveness anyway!

As you lead into the fog, I also want to encourage you to deploy the crew and loudly blow the foghorn for your congregation.  This is a season to be calling and connecting with your people by checking in.  People are afraid, frustrated, and feeling disconnected.  Blow the foghorn frequently and often.  Also, blow your foghorn in your community.  Embrace this season as an opportunity to serve and care for the community/neighbourhood/region God has placed your church in.  If you struggled with ways of letting your community know you are there for them, this is the time to find new and creative ways of caring (care for long term care home residents, health care workers, teachers, single mothers trying to navigate a global pandemic alone, etc.) and serving your community.

As you lead into the fog, rely on your maps and instruments.  Get back to the basics in ministry.  If there was ever an opportunity to reset our churches on the fundamentals of what we are called to do, now is the time.  Whatever the method, the mission and ministry of the church have always included the markers of sacraments, proclamation, service, worship, and community.  Whether in-person or online, and however one approaches their programs and church structure, these are the historic markers of the church.  Get back to the basics and rest in God’s boundless goodness and exuberant grace.

When the fog sets in, so does fear.  We fear the unknown.  We fear not being able to see.  We fear vulnerability.  However, in the obscurity of the fog, we also begin to rely on our other senses; our other senses heighten in the shadow of the fog.  Thus, when you can’t see, listen.  When we can’t see the future with predictability, listen for Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who is leading us (John 10:27).  Maybe one of the unforeseen gifts of this season is the tuning of our lives to the melodious voice of Jesus who, like all shepherds, leads with His voice.  Maybe we have become so accustomed to relying on our eyes in ministry that we have forgotten the call to listen and know the Shepherd’s voice and follow Him.

Although the fog has set in, it won’t last forever.  Press in, press on, and have hope.  Although the future may be obscured by the fog, our captain (King Jesus) knows the way and He will lead us through it. 

Keep going, keep leading, and, above all, be faithful.

As 1 Thessalonians 5:24 says, “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.”

Five Things For The Church To Focus On This Summer

With the country coming out of lockdown (hopefully) and emerging into a new normal, the following are five things to focus on and plan towards as we enter the summer months.

Congregational Connections

Take the time and intentionally invest in connecting personally with everyone in your church over the summer.  We have done this regularly throughout the pandemic and will do so again over the spring/summer months.  Every household in our church will get a fun delivery (around our theme), a call from our congregational care team, and a call from one of our pastors.  Although this is a big investment of time (obviously done differently depending on your church size and context), it has been key to helping people stay connected, cared for, and has been a huge encouragement to our pastors, callers, and connectors.  In a season without casual in-person conversations, this is vital to keeping your community connected and cared for.

Embrace Fun

As a leader, I sense a strong narrative vacuum entering the summer and intentionally plan to fill that void with something constructive and positive (the problem with vacuums is that something will fill it – good leaders know this and are proactive at shaping and filling them).  In stark contrast to the negative narratives existing in the cultural ether and to build on the growing sense of enthusiasm and excitement of loosening restrictions, I want our church to be organizationally prepared with things exuding fun, excitement, and momentum as we move into the summer.  It takes planning and almost a sixth sense of where we are going to be, so you can be prepared to meet that space with your plans.  I have a strong sense that there will be excitement as we hit the summer and renewed optimism after a long Covid winter.  As a result, we will be cultivating lots of fun in our church.  We have a fun theme, missional activities to help our people connect with their neighbours, fun gathering events (that we can execute regardless of restrictions), and lots of levity planned.

Connected with the above, I also think people are starved for group celebrations.  We have gone over a year without birthday, anniversary, graduation, etc. celebrations.  Lean into celebrating this summer and into the fall.  Budget more for this and do more than you have ever done.  People are starved for it!  Celebrate everything you can think of and have fun doing it.

Evaluation and Planning

Take the summer to evaluate and plan for the fall.  This fall calls for proactive strategic thinking.  You only have so much time and resources.  How you deploy budget, ministry, staff, communication resources and volunteers is crucial.  Take time to think this out with several scenarios (depending on restrictions, etc.).  Additionally, consider your online ministry and its future.  Don’t lose all the gains you have made in this Covid season.  Intentionally grow these areas and do it in a way that works in tandem with your in-person ministry.  This will be key to the future of flourishing churches in our new normal.  To aid in this, I created a free online ministry evaluation guide that you can use with your team.  View/download it here.

Connect with Your Neighbourhood

In the last year, people have moved, readjusted routines, and reconsidered their priorities.  As a result, people are in a unique space to consider church and this aspect of their life.  There may be people who have moved into your community and are now looking for a church, there may be people who are now rethinking the need for God in their life and want to re-engage with a faith community for them and their family, etc.  Invest this summer in communicating to your surrounding community that you exist and care about them.  Embrace a season of invitation both corporately through your communication and advertising strategy but also encourage and empower your people to invite their friends and neighbours (some of which will be new over the last 18 months).

Rest

After the most challenging ministry season of our generation, be sure to rest over the summer.  Take all your holidays, slow down, and be sure to care for yourself and have others care for you.  I wrote about this and the unique season ahead in my previous post.  Don’t underestimate the precarious and dangerous season ahead.  Church leadership is hard.  You are often leading on the ledge alone while calling people to a place they don’t want to go.  This is why God gives some the spiritual gift of leadership.  If you have this gift, the church needs you in this next season.  It is time to lead your church into its future with great purpose and persistent hope.

Bring on the summer!

This summer will be unique in the life of your church.  Lean into it, make the best of it, and care for yourself as you do. Bring on the summer!

Digital (Online) Ministry Evaluation Guide

As Spring approaches and the 2020/21 ministry year comes to an end, it may be tempting to turn the page on this unique Covid ministry year and not look back.  Yet, in the midst of this unique year, there are countless important lessons to learn, new competencies to cultivate and fresh opportunities to explore. 

Whether the Fall of 2021 will be a post-Covid new normal or whether we will still be under increased restrictions (due to new variants or some unforeseen wrinkle in the vaccine distribution), it is vital to stop, take stock, give thanks and evaluate the past ministry year with both a wide and long lens into the future.

We need to look into the future with a wide lens. 

Digital ministry is not just about streaming your weekly in-person worship services!  Its implications are much wider and it’s potential much greater (especially for expressions of community and opportunities for outreach). Most churches moved online in the pandemic in a bit of an understandable panic and didn’t really consider the uniqueness of digital culture.  As a result, our methodologies and missiologies were not well-formed and effectiveness suffered.  As you begin planning forward, recognize the world has forever been reshaped (we took 10 years of inevitable change and crammed it into a year) and we need to adapt accordingly.  As you continue to serve your church and community, it is vital that you consider the “why” and the “how” of online ministry rather than simply adding a camera and live streaming your in-person ministry activity.

We need to look at the future with a long lens.

If digital ministry last year was largely motivated by a crisis, its future must be carefully considered for long-term impact and effective implementation.  We are in the midst of the digital revolution and although many things we did in-person are going to have an understandable resurgence, it will level out to a new hybrid-normal for most things in society.  In the same way that people will learn and work in more hybrid ways, they will also engage that way in church. Thus, it is vital to recognize that digital (online) ministry was not just a pandemic necessity but will become a long-term reality in part or in whole. 

Digital (Online) Ministry Evaluation

To aid in this evaluative process, I created the Digital (Online) Ministry Evaluation Guide to help you do just that.  It is designed to help you reflect on the effectiveness of your digital ministry, what you need to stop doing, what you need to keep doing and how to make what you continue to do more effective in the future.

Some of the content in the evaluation form is based on the content of my book “Digital Mission: A Practical Guide for Ministry Online” and the digitalmissioncourse.com.  Both of these resources will help you and your church, ministry or organization think and adapt to the digital future.

To facilitate your evaluation, use the free pdf download as a guide for individual reflection or for an upcoming staff meeting/retreat as a way to spark conversation and ignite change.  Don’t let this last year go by in vain but rather use it as a catalyst for ministry/mission advancement.

Download the FREE evaluation guide here:

Taming Your Problems; Saddling Your Challenges

A Season of Stampeding Problems

This is a season of stampeding problems that can seem like they are charging us on every side.  In a season of intense pressure, it is important to consider how to effectively process problems, so they don’t trample you.

Like many people, I have been binge-watching several TV series.  One of my recent favourites is Yellowstone.  Yellowstone stars Kevin Costner and is a cross between Bonanza and Sons of Anarchy.  In addition to its anti-hero protagonist and cliff-hanger episode endings, it has you secretly wanting to build a cabin and train horses (this is, literally, the life of my dad).

One of the narrative devices, metaphors, and subplots of the show is the process of taking a wild horse and breaking it, so that it is able to be ridden and, in the hands of an expert equestrian, do astonishing things.

This image is well suited for seasons of immense and relentless pressures.

What does it look like to tame our problems and saddle our challenges with a tenacious hope in God and the empowering of the Holy Spirit?

Confining the Problem

Like wild horses, the first step in taming problems is to corral them.  In a season of stampeding problems, this can seem harrowing but it vital.  If you are feeling overwhelmed with people issues, conflict situations, regathering protocols and family matters, it is important to separate them.  Problems, like wild horses, stampede together.  Take time to list (corral) them by naming them. Problems, like a herd of wild horses, are less overwhelming and dangerous when they are separated and corralled.

One of the benefits of corralling your problems is that it is easier to separate them with fences in your mind.  If you find yourself being stalked by your problems while you are trying to sleep or being present with your family, corral them on paper.  Once you have listed and separated your problems, create appointments with them.  This way you know when you will pick them up again. 

Challenges are Tamed Problems

Now that you have corralled your problems, it is time to tame them into opportunities.  Like breaking a wild horse, it can be risky, but it can also be rewarding. Persistence and perseverance are fundamental in this process.  You have to face your problems to break them.  It is vital to face each problem individually and find a way to reframe it into a challenge.  One of the main differences between problems and challenges is how you see them ending.  For each of your problems, face them head-on.  List what you are afraid of, what all the possible outcomes are and what the risks are.  Then, intentionally, reframe each of them into a challenge by prayerfully seeing what God could do in each.  A challenge is just a problem tamed with hope.  Tame your problems into challenges by pulling yourself into the future with a persistent hope in Jesus.

Opportunities are Saddled Challenges

Now that you have tamed your problems into challenges, it is time to saddle them into opportunities.  Consider how each challenge can be an opportunity for God to work in your life, someone else’s life, your ministry/church, etc. and begin to act your way into them with this perspective.  Our hope is not in the removal of the problem but in God’s work through them.  Consequently, don’t see problems as obstacles to be avoided but as opportunities to explore.  Saddle your challenges into opportunities by praying your way through them with a persistent hope in what God can do.

The Journey Ahead

On occasion, I have had the privilege to go horseback riding in the mountains.  It is an amazing experience.  Not only is the settling amazing but the fact that you are journeying on the back of a once untamed horse is a marvel.  Riding a horse on a trail near a cliff edge is a poignant image of someone who has learned to corral their problems and saddle their challenges. They know that there will always be problems and, as a result, there will always be opportunities. Thus, the wisdom here is not to make all the problems go away (avoid them or ignoring them) but learn how to tame and saddle them as they take you into the wide frontier ahead!

In an unprecedented season of problems, may we learn with God’s help to corral, tame, saddle, and ride them into the future with a tenacious hope in Jesus.  The frontier is calling, and Jesus is leading us on.