by Gary Johnson
I have lived in Indianapolis for 31 years. The month of May here is all about the Indy 500: a festival, a mini-marathon, parades, celebrations of all kinds, practice sessions and Carb Day, all culminating in 33 cars vying for the world-famous checkered flag on Race Day. This year, race officials looked ahead, through the impact of the COVID pandemic, and rescheduled the race to August 23rd. Looking ahead, they took necessary steps to make the race happen.
Are we doing the same in our local church? Are we, as elders, looking ahead and making plans for the steps necessary in light of all that has been happening? Are we working with the church staff to determine how we are going to address our summer schedule, change our ministry methods, and more? Let’s consider three essentials in taking our next steps. This is part of strategic planning – a skill that elders must cultivate in leading the local church. Below, we have included a link to our e2 Talk on Strategic Planning. It’s free for the time being on our YouTube channel and may be a benefit to you.
In the news cycle’s dominance by COVID-19, one story came and went quickly, but still caught my attention. It told of how teens had completed driver’s education, but because of social distancing, were given waivers on their road tests.
That story brought back memories of my driving test. After pulling out of the parking lot and going through all the paces, the examiner had me pull onto the expressway. It was both exciting and unsettling. I remember glancing in the rear-view mirror to see who I left behind as I sped off.
Teens are not the only ones who have learned to drive during this pandemic.
As elders, many of us have had to put the proverbial pedal to the metal. We were forced to the on ramp of leading ministry in ways never experienced and for which we were not prepared. It was unsettling for many of us to merge onto the virtual church expressway. We worried and were greatly unsettled about who we were leaving behind while racing down this new ministry path.
We suddenly found ourselves bumper-to-bumper with every fellow American church on the digital highway. We learned to drive virtual worship gatherings, hold leadership meetings and life groups, pursue student ministry, etc., all on screens. We have now spent more than two months barreling down this virtual highway, often simply hoping that we would not run out of gas. We urged people to help refuel the church by giving digitally, and fortunately, many chose to do so.
After being forced to drive the virtual expressway, did we look in the rearview mirror, trying to catch a glimpse of where we had been prior to COVID-19? Did we look back and wish we could do a U-turn to pre-COVID days? If we hope to navigate this new road well, we cannot keep looking back. With steeled determination and Spirit-given courage, we must drive the Church forward – and to do so, we must think forward.
Through all of this, God has been, and will be, our faithful Provider. One of His many gifts to us is the ability to think. Being “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14), we can think and reason, having been given “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16).
To what degree are we using these minds God has provided? Are we taking time to simply think? Dr. Thomas Edison would sit for hours at the end of his dock in Fort Myers, Florida. The good doctor did not like people bothering him while he fished; so much so, that he often did not bait the hook. He simply wanted to sit and think, with absolutely nothing to bother him – not even the fish!
The COVID crisis has intensified our need to think critically and strategically. God expects us to ask Him for His wisdom (James 1:5). There are at least three ways this challenges us and for which we need God-given wisdom.
A New Perspective
COVID-19 has forced us to adjust our ministry worldviews. We have all merged onto the expressway of virtual church. While many of us were not early adopters of “streaming church,” here we are now. Remember, the sons of Issachar had “minds to understand the times and they knew what Israel should do” (1 Chronicles 12:32). We must understand our culture and know how to respond; what next step to take. Have we been seeing obstacles or opportunities these last couple months? How you and I answer that question has much to say about our perspective.
Thinking – and asking – the question “what’s next?” is a discipline of leadership. Elders must develop this as a regular practice. Thinking forward moves the church forward. If we fail to think about the future strategically, the church is in ‘park’ or ‘neutral’ while we simply rev the engine – making a bunch of ministry noise and spending resources to capture the attention of people, but making little or no measurable progress. Thinking “what’s next” helps us develop and implement a strategic plan for the church. God provides us with minds to cultivate this perspective.
A New Platform
The coronavirus shut down the traffic in Lane A, forcing everyone to merge into Lane B, where everyone did ministry on a digital platform. With Lane A reopened or soon to be, do not go back! Merge, instead, into Lane C, where we do ministry in a “both-and” world. We can be an embodied, gathered church, and a church with global, virtual reach.
God provides us with minds to understand that technology is the way the world works. We even have wearable technology that syncs to our other devices. We must make use of digital platforms to preach and teach the Word, to disciple others, to conduct meetings, plan events, receive donations, and more. The list of possibilities is endless. Church is not relegated to Sunday only in a specific building. Our digital platform opens wide the door of the church 24/7. God provides us with His wisdom to leverage this platform in myriad ways for each unique congregation.
A New Place
Gathering physically for church will never be outdated, but cyber church is also here to stay. Retail stores with a strong internet presence move people from clicks to bricks; from their websites into their store sites. We can do the same. What will it take for us to move people from just viewing to actually visiting the church? Will we invest in our virtual campus, hiring staff, buying necessary equipment and more? Think with me. People from all five living generations are online, from websites to Facebook to TikTok. We must meet them there with the Good News.
Before, during and after the crisis, God was, is, and will be faithful. He provided for all that we needed and more. Being that God doesn’t change, He has been, and will always be, our Provider.