Church Leadership: Leading and Loving During a Pandemic
“Unprecedented” is possibly the most overused word in 2020. But what other word can we use to describe what is taking place this year? Our lives have been turned upside down. A year ago, who could have imagined that many of us would be working from home for some or all of the last six months? Or that we would need to become experts in 9th grade algebra or how to effectively explain verb tenses to a 3rd grader? Who would have thought you would need a detailed plan and strategy to find basic necessities like toilet paper? In addition, we have all been learning new ways to communicate using technology, shopping for the most comfortable face coverings, and attempting to stay current on the ever-changing landscape that has our entire country debating the best and most appropriate way to respond to a new virus that is impacting everything we are doing, including how we “do church.”
As one of the Lead Elders at Bethel, I want you to know that we are also facing circumstances that have never been experienced. We are learning new ways to shepherd the flock while the flock is scattered and unable to meet in large group settings. So, what is it like to lead and love our church during this unprecedented time?
This is Difficult
In Titus, it says that if someone aspires to become a church leader, they desire good work. What it does not express as clearly is that the work will be difficult at times. Don’t get me wrong, being an elder has been one of the most humbling and rewarding experiences of my life. I often get a front-row seat to see God at work and how he masterfully uses every one of us for his purposes, but to say the work is easy or the burdens are light would not be accurate. Ask any elder and he will tell you one of the most difficult responsibilities we undertake is to protect the flock from those who contradict sound doctrine.
The Bible clearly defines who can be an elder and what their responsibilities are; yet it does not give detailed instructions on how to lead during a pandemic. While we are charged to protect the flock, we must do so while also ensuring vibrant teaching and preaching ministries take place. I cannot even imagine the outcome if a decision we would make or a policy we would set in motion ultimately led to a situation where one of our church family members was forever impacted in a negative way. When we gather to discuss how to responsibly worship during a time when real people, actual members of our church, have been personally touched by this terrible virus, it comes with great responsibility.
I ask for your patience and understanding.
We Cannot Please Everyone
America is founded on democratic principles and we are always ready to defend them at all costs, but did you know that this is not how God organized the church to be governed? I know, that just sounds so contrary to everything we have been taught, as good American citizens. As we have recently learned in Romans Chapter 13, God gives authority to all governing bodies, and this includes your church elders. We strive to be the most effective and humble servant leaders possible, yet we cannot possibly please everyone all the time, nor should we try. John Maxwell says in his book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, that “mature leaders listen, learn, and then lead.”
All of the men I have the privilege of serving with on the Elder Board absolutely have the heart of a servant and work extremely hard to ensure the needs of our congregation are ministered to, even when that means we cannot practically meet with over 1500 in one building at one time.
We Are Not Prophets
Each of the men I serve with on the Elder Board possess amazing gifts of the Spirit. Certainly, the gift of administration and teaching are present in all. Other gifts such as mercy and service are evident in many of these gifted men as well, but I honestly do not believe that any of us have the gift of prophecy. I wish we knew when a vaccine would be developed, or when we would return to “normal,” but we don’t have that answer, and I suppose you don’t either. What we do know is that God is in control. In Revelation 1:17 Jesus reminds us “Fear not, I am the first and the last” (ESV). He is in control of this present situation. Nothing surprises him. He knows how and when this will end. When we truly put our faith and trust in him, then we can confidently await to see how he will use this for his glory.
I recently read that this pandemic is already one of the top 10 technological disruptions to worship; a list that includes Gutenberg’s printing press. Will we ever be satisfied again with a Sunday service that does not include a livestreaming aspect? What other inconvenient situations thrust upon us today will become ways that God’s Word and ministry will be magnified tomorrow because of this present pandemic? Isn’t it exciting to begin to imagine?
We Covet Your Prayers
As I have expressed, leading in this confusing time is challenging. However, we know that many of you are with us each day. How is that possible when it is hard enough to just meet for a cup of coffee? Many of you make it a habit to pray daily for your elders. Thank you; we feel your prayers. It is so comforting to know there are daily prayer warriors who are lifting us up, asking our Lord to help guide us and give us the wisdom needed to effectively lead in this challenging time. James writes in chapter 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”
We are earnestly seeking wisdom in how to best lead our church at this time, and we genuinely covet your prayers to join us in asking God to show us the way.
The Greatest of These is Love
One of my favorite chapters in the Bible is Chapter 13 of 1Corinthians. I know what you are thinking; you didn’t know I was such a romantic. I’m sure my wife might be just as surprised. This chapter has such a poetic tone to it. Paul so masterfully uses these words to dance delightfully across the pages. When I finish reading this chapter, I am so energized. Love—true love—has a way of doing that. For those who are married, can you remember back when you just started dating your future spouse? You would go out of your way to ensure their needs were met. You paid special attention to the little things. No sacrifice was too big if you knew it would bring joy to your beloved.
Shouldn’t that be the same attitude we have for our Christian brothers and sisters when it comes to adhering to the needs of many during this pandemic? Maybe you feel assured that you would not succumb to this terrible virus, or you think the science behind mask-wearing is suspect. Or possibly this entire mess will miraculously disappear after the election? Yet others at our church feel just the opposite. Are they wrong for feeling this way? Are you wrong for feeling the way you do? I really do not know. What I do know is sometimes you go out of your way just because you love them. As Paul writes, “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
Even if we all can’t agree on how best to tackle this pandemic, can we at least all agree that we will love each other and put other’s needs before our own?
What a privilege it is to serve you. The other elders and I are deeply committed to seeking God’s will in how to best lead and love his church. Thank you for supporting our pastors, supporting our campus elders, and deacons, as well as our staff and our community in this challenging time.