Tag Archives: covid19

A Fourth Wave Prayer for Pastors

Loving Father,

As the Psalmist invites us, we enter your courts with thanksgiving. However, if we are honest, we also enter your courts exhausted and with a limp.  This season has been hard.  This fourth wave and its restrictions (including people’s reactions to them) will be the most challenging yet.  Although the previous waves were difficult, many of us felt like we got a glimpse of momentum over the last couple of weeks only to have it eclipsed by recent (needed) public health measures.  Although we may understand the importance of these measures as we partner with other sectors of society (loving our neighbours in the process), it doesn’t make it easy.

As shepherds and leaders of your flock, many of our people are tired, frustrated, anxious, and stressed.  We have healthcare workers who are exhausted, business owners who are devastated, parents who are stressed, and others who are extremely angry at the government and their decisions (some believing they didn’t do enough early enough and others believing that they are doing too much).  We need your wisdom, strength, and resolve to lead our hurting, diverse, and, at times, divided and disgruntled congregations. 

Therefore, as we lead through the fourth wave of Covid, may you grant us…

Persistence like Noah, who built an ark while enduring ridicule and abandonment of others. 

Faith like Abraham, who despite not seeing any sign of hope, trusted in you. 

Resolve like Moses, who led your people out of slavery only to have them grumble and complain the entire way. 

Ears like Elijah, who heard your voice not in the earthquake and wind, but in the still small voice. 

Heart like David, who, although deeply flawed and riddled with errors of judgement, sought after you. May we have the humility to regularly ask you to search our hearts and test our motives so we never confuse leadership resolve with prideful arrogance.

Peace like Silas, who was able to sleep in a prison cell while facing a very uncertain future. 

Trust like Paul, who led some of the most dysfunctional churches in history and did it with eyes firmly fixed on you.  May we have an abiding trust in you as we lead our churches in a way that decouples our identity from their “success.”

Jesus, you are the head of the Church and so we rest in your leadership, goodness, and grace.  If the last twenty months have taught us anything, you are good and you will see us through! Therefore, lead us into the future with persistence, faith, resolve, listening ears, soft hearts, supernatural peace, and abiding trust.

You have called us, you are faithful, and you will do it (1 Thess. 5:24)!

In your glorious name, Amen!

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 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!

Eight Things to Consider as You Prepare for Easter

Easter is coming (April 4th)!

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As the highpoint of the Christian calendar, it is the most attended Sunday service of the church year. As we approach the second Easter of the pandemic, I believe it is time to lean in hard this Easter. Don’t fall into the temptation to simply accommodate things online this Easter, but intentionally and creatively design things to thrive digitally this year.

The following are eight things to consider as we plan and prepare for Easter 2021:

Be Digital by Default
Depending on where you live, you may be able to have some people in the room for Easter services (in my area that is currently limited to 15%) but the majority of people will join you digitally. This is especially true of anyone who will come for the first time. As a result, don’t dismiss your digital presence and experience. Recognize the uniqueness of digital culture and plan accordingly. Be digital by default and use this Easter to connect with more people than ever before. Boost social media posts (targeting people in your community), encourage your people to share the services with their connections, be creative and embrace the four shifts of digital culture: Experience as Story, Experience as Participation, Relational Authority and Tribalism (I talk about these in my book Digital Mission and the Digital Mission Course).

Be Creative
As we move into the Easter season, this is a season to embrace creativity as you engage online. Reject the temptation to simply do what you would have done in-person and assume it will work online in the same way. It won’t! Find ways to tell the Easter story that are more creative and engaging (especially for digital culture). This doesn’t have to be overly complicated, but this season does provide the unique opportunity to do things you have never done before.

Be Memorable
This will be a unique season in the life of your church. Resist the temptation to just make it through. Have your team(s) ask, “how can we make this year’s Easter one of the most memorable for our people and community?” What are some memory creating moments in the season that will help foster engagement, expectancy and community? To that end, perhaps consider ways you can celebrate baptism, have a Church-wide online party with fun surprises, give creative Easter baskets to families in your church, find a way to creatively share the message of Easter that leads to response, etc. Whatever you do, use this season to increase engagement, make memories and foster community.

Be Missional
Because you will be more intentionally online this Easter, extend your reach. Lead a campaign for your people to share your services online by inviting their neighbours and friends, use Facebook Watch Parties, boost services with paid social media ads and engage with your community. Find ways to serve your community in this season. We discovered that people are itching to serve others and one of our most effective community engagement strategies is to help people serve others. Maybe it is creative Easter baskets for long-term care home residents, a fun and safe Easter-themed social activity for the community, etc. This is the season to reach far and wide into the community that God has strategically placed you in.

Be Social
People are desperate for community. Consider how you can help people get connected in your church and move from connection to community. Community is possible digitally (I argue in Digital Mission that it is just built in reverse). Find ways to connect with people and welcome them into your church community.

Be Hopeful
If there was ever a season to preach about the hope of the resurrection, this is the year. Don’t shy away from hope. People are desperate for it! Whatever your theme, the message of Easter is the message that we are hardwired to hear, and this season people are more attuned to hear this message than ever before. Don’t shy away from preaching the Good News of the resurrection!

Be Personal
This is the time to connect with people in personal ways. Everything online is personal (your newsfeed, the items curated for you on Amazon, your search engine results, etc.). Make your digital relationship with your congregants personal as well. This is easier in smaller church contexts but anything you can do to make Easter more customized for individuals and families will communicate your love and care for them. As people become increasingly expectant of a personal touch, the church can do this in unique and extremely meaningful ways. Take time with your team to discuss how you can make your Easter more customized for each of your community’s individuals and families (for example, if you are doing a gift bag, basket or box, customize with a handwritten note, with items curated for their unique family make up, and if you include pre-packaged food of some kind recognize those who are celiac, diabetics, etc.). This will communicate care and concern!

Be Gentle
This has been an extremely hard season. Be gentle with yourself! This has all been rather overwhelming and you are learning things that are beyond your regular areas of competency. Avoid comparing with others and simply and importantly love the people in your care. Be creative in your context. Don’t be tempted to look at the church down the block or online. Find ways to be digital, creative, memorable, missional, social, hopeful and personal in your context and avoid the comparison game. Whatever God is calling you to, do that!

As I have repeatedly said to pastors in this season, you are doing better than you think you are in terms of ministry effectiveness (it is just that all of your conditioned gauges of effectiveness are no longer working because they are all conditioned to in-person metrics and feedback). Additionally, pay attention and care for yourself with lots of understanding and grace (this has been the most difficult season to lead in our generation and don’t under-estimate the impact on you).

Be gentle with yourself!

Pastoral Leadership, Covid-19, and the Stages of Grief

Change is Hard!

As a pastoral leader, this has been a difficult season on many fronts. You have led your community of faith through an unprecedented health crisis, managed relentless pivots, made difficult decisions, and dramatically changed the models of ministry you were not just comfortable with but were competent in.

People like change until you change what they love (or are good at). And let’s face it, we were not just competent at our old methodologies, systems, and structures, we mastered them. This is why (pre-pandemic), even in the face of rapidly declining baptisms, disciple-making, attendance, and giving, we were so adverse and reluctant to change our methodologies.  Our competency and comfort kept us on a trajectory of complacency.

Covid-19 changed that!

Covid-19 has forced us to change the way we do things and pushed us out of our comfortable ineffective ruts. I believe God will use this to drive us closer to Him in intimacy (trusting more in Him than our methods) and toward greater innovation as we seek to discover what ministry will look like in a post-Covid-19 world.

With all major change, we need to grieve what was in order to accept what is and dream of what could be. All grief has commonalities, and the five stages of grief is a helpful tool to understand that journey. It can help you gain awareness empathy for what you, your church, and your team are experiencing.

As a leader, you are journeying these stages personally. You are grieving a way of doing things that you were very competent at and stepping into a new methodology and a different culture (digital is different) where you aren’t as comfortable or fluent. It is a loss and one that can be disorientating and discouraging.

Second, consider the stages as a team leader. Journeying the stages together doesn’t always mean you will journey it faster or healthier. Sometimes people can experience an arrested development in the grief journey. Therefore, be cautious that your team isn’t getting stuck together in one of the stages. Also, stay on the lookout for misunderstandings with each other as everyone processes grief at different speeds and in different orders.  

The Five Stages of Grief

The following are the stages of grief that I think pastors and church leaders are currently processing and journeying. As you read through them, consider where are you and your team are in that process.

Shock and Denial

Overnight, the comfortable way of doing things changed. We went into crisis-mode. We moved online with pragmatic naivety, believing that we could just do everything digitally in the same way we did it in-person. We were mistaken. We were in denial.

I think some are stuck here, hoping things will get better or get back to “normal,” unaware or unwilling to admit that 2019’s version of normal is not coming back. The way we did ministry pre-Covid-19 is not returning just like the way people shopped, exercised, watched movies, and learned will not. This is not a bad thing! In fact, it holds many opportunities for those willing to embrace them. If nothing else, it has pulled us out of our complacent slumber of apathetic ineffectiveness.

Anger

After the initial shock and denial comes anger. This emotion and feeling can be quite substantial. Your family and staff have probably felt this from you. You have probably sensed this in your team. We get frustrated, feel out of control, feel overwhelmed, and start blaming when we grieve the loss of what/who we love. Don’t underestimate this and the impact of this stage on your life and ministry.

Bargaining

The next stage is bargaining. This is the stage where we try to bargain our way out of our loss. Instead of moving to acceptance, we try and find another means to bring back what we love. This may manifest as a false hope that everything will be over soon, that things will just go back to “normal,” or when we try and justify that things are working when all indicators tell us they are not (for instance counting 3-sec views as equivalent to a person in physical attendance).

Depression

After bargaining comes depression. Once we realize we can’t bargain what we lost back into existence, we begin to accept the reality of the loss and the change at hand. As a result, there is often a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness. The future is unknown. You are unsure of what to do. You question your competency and can feel overwhelmed by the situation. This stage can grab people and hold them tightly. Be aware of this in your life and in your team. Although hope exists (on a spiritual level (Jesus will lead us) and practical level (there are methodologies and new approaches that are and will be effective)) it can be hard to see them at first.

Acceptance

The final stage is acceptance. This is where we begin to accept the loss of what was and start to see the hope of what could be. In terms of the church, this where we begin to acknowledge that our old methodologies of preaching, community-building, evangelism, disciple-making, leading, and interacting won’t work anymore but something new can. Acceptance begins to dream, have hope, and move forward with faith and innovation.

Where Are You?

Where are you in these stages? Where are your teammates? Where is your team as a whole? Maybe this framework helps you understand how you are feeling and what you are experiencing. Perhaps it gives you something to discuss as a ministry/staff team as you work through the stages together.

Don’t rush through the grieving process! People journey grief at different speeds and the stages aren’t always linear.

Remember: You need to grieve! Grief is healthy! You need to grieve the loss of what was so you can embrace what can and will be. 

Lean into grief but don’t get stuck in it!