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Keep Calm and Lead On

Dear Church Leader,

As we enter the final weeks of summer and prepare for the unknown of fall, there is an often-ignored leadership competency that is vital in this season.  It is the unappreciated ability to keep calm and lead on.”

We are about to approach the most volatile of ministry seasons.  Last year was difficult with lockdowns and restrictions but this year will be uniquely challenging with variants, increased restrictions, amplified polarization, unknown post-pandemic engagement/attendance patterns, and an overall fatigue in everyone, everywhere.

This bitter cocktail of uncertainly and weariness has created a reflux of anxiety and a tendency towards either willful ignorance or fear-filled reaction.  In seasons like this, a crucial leadership competency is the ability to lead humbly, calmly, and steadily with thoughtful deliberate action.

In every nautical adventure movie, there is a climactic scene where the ship is on a catastrophic trajectory (causing great anxiety and fear in the crew) and an abrupt maneuver is needed to avoid calamity (a torpedo is inbound, or a collision is imminent).  In these scenes, the crew is frantic and wanting to impulsively act but the captain knows it is not the right time.  Decisive action is needed but if the action happens too early or if the wrong action is taken, the ship will be in great peril. 

Calm, steady, and humble leadership is needed in times like this.  If you lead with anxiety and fear, you will react rather than respond.  If you lead with prideful arrogance, you will miss important information and make poor impulsive decisions.  Instead, keep calm and lead on.

As you desire to calmly lead in this season, here are three ways to do so from 1 Peter 5:1-11.

First, be humble and honest.  It is healthy to be appropriately transparent with your team about the uncertainty ahead.  Lead your team not from your uncertainty but from your humility, casting ALL your cares on God.  Lead with faith over fear.  Faith doesn’t blind us to the obstacles or challenges; rather, it changes the focal point.  Faith acknowledges the uncertainty while simultaneously focusing our attention on Jesus and His sovereignty.

Second, be alert and of sober mind.  As a church leader, you will be tempted to act based on how you feel and sense things to be.  Beware the danger of uncalibrated perceptions. In this season, all the feedback signals and effectiveness gauges that we grew accustomed to using and trusting have been disrupted.  As a result, you can’t fully trust your gauges.  How you sense things are may not be an accurate representation of reality.

Finally, be reminded that Jesus is on His eternal glorious throne.  Jesus is building His Church (even if we can’t see it, feel it, or quantify it), and He (the Chief Shepherd) will lead us through. The fall season ahead will be uniquely difficult, but we can have hope because Jesus is with us and leading us forward!

Keep calm and lead on.

FIVE THINGS TO TAKE INTO YOUR SUMMER

Dear Church Leader,

Summer is here!  The sun is shining, the weather is unusually warm, and you are more tired than you realize.  This has been one of the most difficult years in recent ministry history, involving persistent change, conflict and confusion.  As a result, stress has compounded and compacted like sediment over our hearts and leadership, and I want to give you peer permission and encouragement to rest in the coming days and begin to let Jesus, the living water, gently soften your heart, bringing rest and restoration.

As you enter your summer, I would encourage you to take these five things with you!

First, take your holidays.  If you have them, use them and guard them.  Intentionally shut down and decompress.  I took some time off in June and discovered I was more tired than I thought.  You may be tempted to save your holidays for later (“I can’t really go anywhere anyway”).  Guard against this.  Take your time and disconnect as much as possible.  You need it more than you realize.  I know I did!

Second, take a personal inventory of how you are doing.  Be honest with yourself.  How is your soul?  Have you been self-medicating in the increased isolation of the season?  Do you need help?  Just as there were increased mental health changes of lockdown (which you probably experienced), there will also be mental health challenges as things move back to full engagement with people (especially for anyone who has any form of social anxiety).  Take time to reflect, grieve losses, do a moral inventory, consider your relationships and ask God and others to walk with you through all of this.

Third, take time to plan for the future with hope and caution.  There will be lots of appropriate excitement for a vaccinated Fall.  Embrace the excitement but chase that excitement with some caution and backup plans.  There is reasonable concern about variants and the possibility of more restrictions in the fall/winter.  As you plan ahead, don’t put all your planning or hopes in a fully in-person future.  I am not making a case for future restrictions, but it is good leadership to be prepared.  We are not out of Covid yet, even though it may increasingly seem like it.

Fourth, take it slow.  As you prepare for the future, I would caution you to not jump back to all your old patterns and methodologies.  Just don’t relaunch everything you did before, hire back all the same staff positions, and structure everything the way you did two years ago.  It may feel comfortable, but it would be foolish.  A post-Covid reality will look different than a pre-Covid reality.  Not everyone will come back in person and those that do will all not come back at the same time or in the same way.  People’s attendance and giving patterns will change and we would be foolish to not account for this.  Don’t get me wrong, the future is hopeful, but the future will look different than the past.

Finally, take stock.  Take time with your leadership team(s) to list all the ways God has been faithful in the last 16-18 months.  Covid seems like five years packed into one and we can forget all the things God did in the last year.  It will be an encouraging time that will give you hope as you look to the future.

Covid has been long!  It has been filled with pain, sickness, disruption, death, conflict, change and more change.  Don’t underestimate the impact of this on your spiritual life, emotional wellbeing, relationships, family and ministry. 

Take these five things into your summer, embrace rest and let God cultivate hope back into your life and ministry!

Effective Online Ministry Workshops/Course 2021

As the church begins to regather in person, it is vital that we don’t lose all the digital advancements we made while critically evaluating and reflecting on our digital ministry. Through a series of three workshops, we will seek to understand digital culture, evaluate what worked in the last year, and begin to design a long-term online ministry strategy for the future for either a fully digital ministry or a hybrid approach.

It will examine how the internet and social media is profoundly changing culture and explore how the Church can effectively engage this new medium for the advancement of God’s kingdom and mission.

Session #1 (Aug. 5) – Understanding Digital Culture (and how it is different than in-person): Bringing Theology and Media Ecology Together.

Session #2 (Aug. 12)– Learning about Evaluating the Nut and Bolts (Bits and Bytes) of Online Ministry: Especially Hybrid (Digital/in-Person) Ministry Strategies and Methodologies.

Session #3 (Aug. 19) – Designing a Long-term Implementable Online Ministry Strategy

The course is also available for credit at Ambrose University and Seminary.

For more information and to register:

Six Things to Change in Your Church Re-Entry Mindset

Dear Church Leader,

As your church prepares to exit lockdown and re-engage with in-person gatherings, it is vital to prepare for the coming months with the right mindset.  As you do, consider these six things:

The Slow Re-Entry

Be prepared for a trickle, not a downpour, of in-person attendance.  As restrictions lift, everyone will not come back at the same time or with the same expectations.  Some will come with enthusiasm, some with caution, and some with apprehension.  Understanding this reality is vital in protecting your heart from potential discouragement and disappointment.  Additionally, if we expect people to all come back right away, we will not be prepared to help those who will take time to feel comfortable and reengage with in-person gatherings or to minister to those who choose to engage exclusively online.

Therefore, adjust expectations and allow for people to engage at their own pace.  To aid in this, it might be helpful to heighten regular hygiene practices, remove any stigma for those who prefer to continue wearing a mask, and be sensitive to people’s personal space by keeping designated extra social-distance seating for those who would prefer it.

The Great Migration

One of the practical dynamics of a pandemic is that although people moved geographically, we didn’t see this manifest in the local church as most kept engaging digitally after they moved. Although a small percentage may decide to stay digitally connected with their previous church after they have moved away, most will begin looking for a new church home as restrictions ease.  This will have two effects. First, it can be discouraging for pastors who will be faced with what would have, typically, been a series of losses over eighteen months, condensed into a short few. Second, it calls on the church to prepare for an unusual influx of people in the coming weeks/months as those who have moved geographically to your area are looking for a new church home.

Thus, as you prepare to welcome your congregation back, put extra energy into your newcomer strategies and hospitality ministry.  Consider ways to let new people in your community know of your church as they begin to look for a new church home.  Be sure to do this physically (signs, postcards, etc.) as well as digitally (Google and Facebook Ads).  Above all, remember that digital is the new front door.  If you haven’t done so already, be sure your newcomer engagement strategy includes, and even focuses on, your digital platforms.  Keep your website, social media, and live streams up to date with excellence and authenticity as people will attend digitally before they attend physically. 

The New Hybrid Normal

It is also important to recognize that, like most things in society (movies, education, work, etc.), people will desire a hybrid (physical and digital) approach, embracing the benefits of both.  As a result, people will engage with church physically less often and when they do, they will be looking for personal relationships and physical community.  The shift away from large performance-centric gatherings will continue and the growth of artisanal community expressions (both digitally and in-person) will continue to emerge and grow in dominance.

Thus, as you regather physically, pour increasing energy into community and relationships.  Additionally, don’t ignore digital and the unique gifts it offers your people to stay connected, foster community, and minister to people untethered by geographic restraints.

The Rebuild

As you look into the coming year, it is imperative that you begin to adopt a rebuilding mentality.  If you entered Covid with a mature church with great structure and momentum, it would be foolhardy to assume that mentality will work coming out of Covid.  As we exit Covid, your church will need to act more like a church plant than an established church.

Just as when a sports team enters a rebuilding year, you will need to adjust your mentality accordingly (change how you allocate resources, get back to the basics, simplify, adjust your expectations, focus on different priorities, etc.). Take time over the summer to review your ministry strategy and re-emerge focusing on the fundamentals that make your church unique.  If you don’t know what that is, this is a great time to discern it with your leadership team and relaunch into the Fall.  Don’t fall for the temptation to go back to what was.  Move forward engaging with a world that will look very different than it did a year, two, or five years ago.

The Great Divide

One of my brilliant colleagues made the apt observation that we will need to press into reconciliation in the coming year.  The world is increasingly divided, and the church is no expectation.  Your church cannot achieve its mission if it is divided, and Jesus wants us to show the world that we are His disciples by our love.  As a result, I believe this is our moment to be a shining city on a hill, glowing with the light of Jesus’ redemption and reconciliation.  God’s mission depends on it!

The Fall Out

As you enter this next year, I want to warn you.  It will be hard!  Not only will it be filled with rebuilding, but it will also be filled with broken and hurting people.  When disaster strikes it is not until after the devastation that people begin to deal with the internal pain and brokenness it created.  We would be naïve to assume that things will just spring back to life in people’s lives after the immediate effects of Covid are over.  People will be hurting emotionally, spiritually, and physically as we re-emerge from Covid.  Let us be prepared for the difficult times ahead by doing what we do best: pastoring, loving, and caring for people with the grace, hope, and love of Jesus.  Let us also be prepared that some of those hurting will be us.  Do not ignore your own brokenness as you care for others.

The Hope

Although our mindset needs to change as we engage in the coming months, the main things do not.  Jesus is still on His throne, and He is leading His Church.  Although the coming year will be filled with challenges, take heart.  Jesus is good, He has overcome, and He will lead us! 

As Jesus said, “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b, NIV) 

The Great Peanut Butter Crisis

One of my personal Covid projects was writing and illustrating a children’s book.

When my kids were young, we would go on an annual vacation to the mountains (Kananaskis) and I would regale them with stories about Dingo the Dinosaur and Chippy the Squirrel. The stories were improvised, fun, ridiculous, and always had some kind of lesson to them. Now that all my kids are adults, I wanted to write them a physical book (with a VERY limited print run) as a reminder of those days with a timely and important lesson about friendship.

Although written for my kids, I thought it might also be an encouragement to you. Covid has interrupted our relationships and I think we all need to be reminded of the gift of friendship, especially in seasons when life unravels and tangles us up.

Here is the free pdf version (for the best experience, view and read it full screen). Feel free to share it with whoever might find it helpful and meaningful.

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