Each life is shaped by a series of defining moments. Sometimes, these crucial episodes are a single, unpredicted hour within our lives. Sometimes, they are seasons.
It is true that every day of our lives matters, but they do not all have equal weight in shaping the person we will be in the future. For good or ill, our lives are marked by a handful of significant moments.
The same holds true for churches. Each church is defined by key events or periods of time that have uniquely impacted the shaping of the values, beliefs, and practices that it now embodies. The church that you lead has been deeply imprinted by a few defining moments of the past – many of which have little to do with the present, and nothing to do with the future.
But it is an exceedingly rare occasion when both people and institutions all face the same defining moment together. A moment like that calls for a courageous church leadership to become ruthlessly honest about its current state, equally frank about the conditions of the mission field, and then audacious enough to ask the most candid question of all: “How should this shared moment prepare us to become Jesus’ church for the present-future?”
Since we know that this is a defining moment, and we know that this moment is changing both us and the churches that we lead, let me ask a more approachable question: “What do we want to take into the future from the present crisis?”
We at the Send Institute, with our colleagues at Christ Together, have been leading coaching cohorts with over 1,500 churches of numerous denominations across North America, and additionally, dozens of global networks, in order to assist pastors and network leaders in navigating the present crisis into future Kingdom opportunities. Our rubric that underpins the discussion are four strategic stages in navigating a cultural crisis: stabilize, normalize, mobilize, and finally, futurize.
1. Stabilize. This first phase of the COVID-19 crisis was marked by the frenzied, and often frenetic, activity which dominated all available energies in instantaneously creating a new reality on a dime.
For most, this was the process of virtualizing things always thought to be physical. Facebook Live, Zoom, Google Hangouts, Push-Pay – things considered by many as periphery – now occupied most every church leader’s attention. Best efforts were given—sometimes awkward, clunky efforts—in order to bring some kind of stability to a congregation that could no longer congregate.
Things once considered secondary to the Sunday headcount suddenly became primary: missional communities, missional impact within neighborhoods, missional training. The stabilizing season is coming to an end for most churches.
2. Normalize. Once some semblance of stability has been achieved, we naturally enter into the phase that most churches find themselves in right now – normalizing our new reality. Easter is over, high-speed upgrades are tweaked and working, we are semi-comfortable with our tech. So now what?
Many have noticed that the gospel upside to the cataclysmic collapse of our ecclesial praxis is that the basket containing or extinguishing the Light has been crushed—and Light is leaking everywhere.
What day in history has had more ears tuned to the gospel message than this Easter Sunday as it was livestreamed into the living rooms of both the spiritually curious and devout alike? When have neighborhoods had more Christ-followers from various tribes joining forces in prayer-walking, needs-meeting, and gospel sowing than these past weeks? When have more disciples been driven to their knees on behalf of the spiritual and physical condition of others?
Latent within the spirit of Jesus’ disciples is a Kingdom impulse of otherness that is surfacing. It isn’t requiring coaxing and cajoling from sacred professionals to emerge; it is spiritual fruit borne from the Holy Spirit in some of the most unlikely places and people.
And a question starts to fascinate our spiritual imagination: “How will believers who have tasted the mission of Jesus ever again be satisfied with a consumer-centric version of church?”
3. Mobilize. So, we’ve shored things up as best as possible. Ecclesiastical minimalism is something that our circumstances have forced upon us. But in that simplicity, we have been discovering a spiritual verve that we haven’t seen in years. Normalizing the Kingdom priorities and mission of Christ seems to be happening without our usual levers and campaigns.
New and unlikely leaders are emerging with passions and spiritual clarity that are both intoxicating and intimidating. Many do not fit our old forms. We can’t imagine them sitting through our committee meetings, but we also cannot imagine how the whole church could bring the whole gospel to the whole city without spiritual leaders like these.
And then the penny drops. Maybe our Sunday-centric version of church neuters the passions and extinguishes the possibilities for much of the body of Christ. Maybe the body of Christ should more closely resemble the person of Christ in its missionary sentness, prophetic voice, evangelistic power, shepherding instincts, and equipping functions.
Perhaps in this season of simplicity and change, we have the freedom to celebrate new leaders, new voices, and new ways.
4. Futurize. After we stabilize, normalize, and mobilize, then we begin to re-structure ourselves for the future. In an inexplicable way, every existing church has an opportunity to relaunch  – much like a new church plant.
For many spiritual leaders, this shared moment in history has been exceedingly clarifying. Things that once occupied our priorities now seem like a life-sized game of trivial pursuit. The mission of Jesus’ church has been refined in our minds and it is so much larger and more exhilarating than producing endless Sunday extravaganzas.
Corporate worship will always be a rallying point, but the gospel mission of the body will require all of the body. We are interdependent. There are no spare parts. No spectators. No unimportant days. No second-class callings.
With metrics recalibrated toward Kingdom impact, the church’s future  becomes one of power and redemption. We now have a moment that we can take into the future. May we be leaders of conviction and courage.
 Dr. John Davidson, Director of Discovery and Development – AOG, spoke about the opportunity for every church to “relaunch” in the wake of this pandemic. John is a missiologist and part of the Send Institute’s Missiologist Council.
 I wrote a new book published by Exponential called, Venal Dogmata: A Parable of the Future Church, which, in God’s timing, came out this month. In a narrative fiction, I weave 10 missiological problems within evangelicalism that is keeping it from missional advance – illustrated through an inner-city Philadelphia church that closes – and from its ashes is born a global movement.