By Michael C. Mack
Great leaders have a blend of humility—they know that they don’t know everything—and a curiosity to discover answers. They are constantly learning from a variety of sources, beginning with God’s Word, but also through books, mentors, failures, crises, and personal struggles, to name just a few. Perhaps John F. Kennedy summarized it best: “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”
The pandemic and all of its interconnected effects have provided a wellspring of important learning opportunities for us. In this issue, our writers highlight many of these. Here are four I believe are especially worth considering.
1. The Lord’s Purpose Will Prevail. No human leader knows what the future holds (Ecclesiastes 8:7), but the Lord gives us hope for that future (Proverbs 23:18; 24:14; Jeremiah 29:11). Shutdowns, reopenings, more shutdowns, and much waiting associated with this hokey-pokey pandemic has revealed impatience in many leaders and, among some, a lack of trust in God. He is working in our times of waiting . . . but we must recognize that his purposes for all of this may not align with our human plans (Proverbs 19:21; see also Psalm 94:11; Isaiah 55:8-9). A top priority of leaders, therefore, is to spend time with God to see his vision and discern his purposes before moving forward. We need to pray bolder, God-sized prayers and have bigger imaginations for the “immeasurably more” God can do.
2. The Nimble Will Survive. Nimbleness and flexibility are keys to survival and success, especially in seasons of struggle. Organizations unfettered by bureaucracy and tradition for tradition’s sake are better positioned to shift strategies when needed. Kent Fillinger’s survey findings seemed to bear this out. Independent Christian churches fared better, at least in giving, than the average denominational church. (See “The Financial Impact of COVID-19 on Christian Churches.”)
3. Those Who Are Ready and Willing to Change Will Thrive. I recently researched the term status quo and was surprised by the number of references in articles to religious people and establishments. Perhaps that’s due to how secular writers perceive our orthodoxy, our belief in a God who does not change (Psalm 55:19; James 1:17), our reliance on Scripture, the ancient practices in which we engage, and other such matters of our faith. Yet, we must be willing and ready to make adjustments in nonessential matters of form. We can remain orthodox in biblical functions while not becoming irrelevant, unduly formal and traditional, inflexible, and unwilling to change how we do ministry. Churches more committed to sustaining the status quo than reaching lost people will struggle, especially in fast-changing times.
4. There’s No Going Back . . . or Maybe There Is. The response of some churches to the pandemic, an economic downturn, demonstrations over racial justice, and more have reminded me of the 1970s song, “The Way We Were.” Barbra Streisand sentimentally sang, “Can it be that it was all so simple then, or has time rewritten every line? If we had the chance to do it all again, tell me, would we? Could we?” Can we go back to the way we were before the pandemic hit? Can we return to our memories of a pre-COVID-19 ministry world and turn back the calendar to that “normal”? Many leaders say no.
But perhaps this is an opportunity—a “divine appointment”—to go even further back than February 2020 . . . back to the basics in how we practice our faith and carry out Jesus’ mission . . . back to all believers seeing themselves as a kingdom of priests/ambassadors/ministers rather than as members being served by professional clergy . . . back to oikos ministry that naturally occurs in and out of Christ followers’ homes through personal relationships . . . back to a focus on going out to make disciples rather than “going to church” . . . back to the church as Jesus envisioned and built it.
If we had the chance to do what the New Testament church did again, tell me, would we? Could we?