Unprecedented. Unheard of. Never before.
These are the words that people use to describe this COVID-19 situation. The church has gone online and families adjust to the “new normal” of social distancing and quarantine. What we’ve done before will not work wherever we are now or where we are headed. We can crumple up the road map, because there are no maps where we are headed as a church, because no one has ever been there before! What an honor that God would allow us to steward his church during this season. We are the generation that will lead the church off the map. The questions are endless and the answers are fluid and untested. When there are fewer knowns than unknowns there are a few things to remember:
1) The mission is not cancelled.
First, we have to realize that God knows it all and has seen it all, so when he issued his promises and commands he did it with the FULL VIEW of time. This means that when God made promises to us and commands for us, he did it knowing full well we’d be in uncertain times like these.
18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Jesus said all power and authority had been given to him. There should be great comfort in that statement! But if we claim Jesus’ position in such uncertain times then we have to believe that the command that follows carries even more weight: “Therefore, go and make disciples….” There are zero qualifiers in that statement. Rain or shine, famine or feast the mission is the same. We cannot stop moving forward! The comfort is that Jesus promises that we won’t have to do it alone. He concludes with “I am with you always…” It doesn’t matter what the current circumstance: Jesus reigns supreme, his command is to make disciples, and his presence is promised. The graduations may be postponed, the borders may be closed, but the Mission is not cancelled.
2) There is no GPS out here.
Leading off the map is daunting. No one has ever done it before. If they had, there would be a map! Tim Elmore in Habitudes: For the Journey says it is the difference between having a compass and a GPS. GPS only works if someone has already been there, and no one has been here before! The freeing part of this is that there are no rules, no status quo, no “Best Practices” Handbook. AnyTHING could work and anyONE could have that idea! Because of that, as leaders we have to be open to new norms and realize that the next big idea could come from anyone. How are we creating space at the table for others to pitch their ideas. This is uncharted territory. We, as leaders, need every idea – even the crazy one! If the church is going to advance the kingdom in this new paradigm, it’s going to take every believer and every idea on how to do evangelism and discipleship. What can we make sure our people know they have the power to see the problem, think creatively on how to fix it, and feel empowered enough to do it?
3) Small victories are still victories.
Thomas Edison is quoted in saying that he didn’t fail 99 times at creating the light bulb, he had discovered 99 different ways that didn’t work! Perspective is going to be everything in this new day and age. Celebrate obedience over results. As our ministries try different things there will be some failures. Celebrate the attempt. Remember when your first child tried to walk and fell? You didn’t give up on him. You celebrated him trying! As leaders we need to become the biggest cheerleaders for our folks! Celebrate the baby steps! Celebrate the small things! Did they reach out to their neighbors? They tried to host an online social event? Did a small group make it and go virtual? In this time, as leaders, we can help our people the most when we teach them to celebrate obedience in the face of uncertainty as well as the small victories. No victory is too small to be celebrated! What we do everyday matters more than what we do every once in a while.
4) There are no obstacles, only opportunities!
As leaders we cannot be blinded by the obstacle, we must be the people of opportunity! Sure we can’t meet in person, but now the whole world can see our service! Everyone is quarantined, but everyone has more free time! The Apostle Paul always saw the obstacle as the opportunity for the Kingdom. In Philippians 1:12-13 he writes,
“Now I want you to know, brothers, that my circumstances have actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.”
He says, “I may be in chains, but I have a whole new group to share the gospel!” There are no obstacles in the Kingdom of God, only opportunities! Never before has most of the world been thinking about the same thing. Never before has Facebook been overwhelmed by Christian live streaming! As leaders, we have the opportunity to provide training for our people as they do the ministry in their homes, with their neighbors, and with their coworkers. Our people will never see the opportunity ahead of them if we are too focused on the obstacles and mourning of what we can’t do.
What an honor it is to be leading a ministry in this day and age! What an opportunity for local, everyday Christians to serve and love their neighbors! We stand on the horizon looking at topography that none of us expected to see. Let’s lead with great courage, try new things, celebrate the small wins, and maximize the opportunities! Proverbs 29:18 reads “Where there is no vision, the people perish…” I would add that where there is vision the people flourish! This could be the age when our people walk in freedom, their neighbors hear the gospel, and our communities are transformed by the gospel. The church is ready to be mobilized into this uncharted territory. The question is, are we are going to be bold enough to lead – to lead off the map.