We are almost six months into a world changing pandemic, and it’s now clear that many things that are changing will remain changed. So, we have a choice. We can either lament the losses that we’ve encountered, or we can navigate forward, by faith, into a new chapter of our God-given mission. Through the collaborative work of the Send Institute and Christ Together, we have been in coaching conversations with thousands of church leaders over the past months, and the revelations of self-discovery have been both dramatic and encouraging.
The following ten marks characterize the cultural shifts that many of these leaders are moving toward. I thought that you might find these both encouraging and inspiring.
One: Leaders Characterized by a Calming Presence of Faith
Effective spiritual leaders are those who are capable of serenely pointing toward a biblically grounded future in the midst of organizational crisis. When faced with logistical obstacles, leaders will either wallow in fear and frustration, or lead themselves and the church to trust in a sovereign God and the surety of His promises.
Today, more than ever, it’s proving vital for leaders to spend much time sharing realistic, yet optimistic words of hope based on the finality of Christ’s work and His promises to His church. Sure “our normal” may never return, but perhaps “God’s normal” is waiting for a church. The frantic pursuit of excellence has, in many cases, been replaced with a calmer leader who looks beyond weekly statistics to the longer view of what God is doing.
Two: Leaders Shifting from Programmatic to Personal
The myriad of troubling issues facing the church ranging from sickness and death, to grief, to financial woes, to anxiety and depression, demand that leaders now take a highly personalized approach to ministry. Freed from many of the programmatic demands, leaders are now poised to reach out to church members through personal calls or visits in an effort to hear their concerns and find meaningful ways to meet their needs.
Personalized ministry of this sort has always been the bread and butter of healthy, spiritually thriving churches. It both builds trust between church members and their leaders and creates a vibrant culture of care that becomes contagious to those who experience the community of faith for the first time.
Three: Leaders ‘Looking Within’ for Missional Advance
One of the common bottlenecks on mission and movement has historically been the process of equipping leaders. Simply put—we’ve often not done the best job at equipping leaders to maximize their missionary gifts. To further exasperate the problem, many of our structural leadership positions are filled with people who do not value the missionary obligation of the church.
But the COVID-19 scattering has caused missionary leaders to rise to the surface. They are the ones who intuitively are finding ways to advance the mission of the church when the structural programs are no longer possible. Those who actually missionally engage, not simply those who wear a leadership title, are those best positioned to lead the church into its next iteration. Many have been asking for a long time as to where our next teams of church planters come from – the answer will be found within the church.
Four: Leaders Owning a new Urgency for Simple and Reproducible
Whether it be outdoor services or online discussion forums, the need for simple equipping tools has never been greater. In order to equip a scattered/deployed church toward a faithful and contagious walk with Jesus, leaders are developing tools for basic discipleship practices that the average disciple will use in the ordinary rhythms of life. At this point, discipleship naturally shift from curriculum and classroom to relationship and marketplace.
As the pandemic has steamrolled over our unnatural and often ineffective efforts at disciple-making, many leaders are now feeling a spiritual urgency to equip disciples in a simpler and more reproducible manner. By taking advantage of current “deployed-ness” of the body, many missionless ‘small group ministries’ are morphing into ‘missional communities’ or even ‘micro-churches’ as believers engage in a new spirit of sentness. Simplicity and reproducibility become the rails that guide their processes.
Five: Leaders Committed to Mission over Model
The former era of church life gave little margin for creativity or failure. The pressure to keep up was astounding, trapping many churches in models that simply tried to score higher week after week. Overnight that changed. Now that this season of liminality is here, churches have margin to dream and envision different operating norms, models of multiplication, or structure of leadership. Changes that would once have taken years, are uniquely possible in this season.
Early on in this pandemic, I sensed God saying to me, “Speak courage to leaders.” For years I have heard the heart cries of pastors who know a better way, but feel trapped by the inevitability of the ecclesial system. If they lead change, they fear they will be leading alone. But in a few short weeks, God has allowed His church to stop, reflect, and perhaps dream again. And so now, many leaders are courageously choosing ‘mission’ over ‘model’ – and preparing for a future church that becomes pandemic-proof.
Six: Leaders Shifting Teams toward Biblical Functions and Giftings
The simplified and newly streamlined nature of many churches means that many church staff members have shifting roles and responsibilities. This doesn’t mean they are twiddling their thumbs with nothing to do, but it does mean that some of the patterns of work they had adopted are no longer that useful. Activities that once consumed the time and energies of a program-centric church have evaporated.
Churches who are rediscovering mission and movement are taking advantage of this season of transitions to restructure staff teams to suit the wholistic functions of the body as well as the gifts of those on the team. Some are redesigning the staff team by adding new mission roles to round out some of the missing pieces of function and gifts within the church. As, ‘the church as Christ’s Body’ eclipses our former vision of ‘the church as a Sunday service,’ space is created for a broader and more biblically wholistic leadership.
Seven: Leaders Repenting from Competition and turning to Collaboration
With the advent of this pandemic, the local church has never been more local. This enforced ‘localness’ has spotlighted two forms of partnerships that are emerging in the church – both are designed to deepen the church’s investment in their region or neighborhood. First, many churches are finding renewed desire to partner with non-profit organizations in the city who are already doing good, kingdom work. Many of these organizations are suffering as a result of COVID-19 but are often better positioned than the most local churches to address specific needs. Local churches can come alongside of these groups through financial partnership or deploying their disciples in new arenas of missional engagement.
Also, churches are partnering with one another for broader mission. The competitive banter all-too-common among churches gives way to collaborative partnerships that seek the collective good of the city and gospel witness among all peoples. As the physical and spiritual needs within a community grow with intensity, many church leaders are linking arms with neighboring congregations in practical ways to leverage their kingdom impact.
Eight: Leaders Shifting from “Empowering” to “Equipping”
‘Empowering leaders’ was once the great battle cry of the church growth era – it was a necessary tool for an industrial approach to ecclesial praxis. It assumed that power flowed from the apex of the org chart downward, until the lowest of voltages trickled to the volunteer class. The inherent flaw of the ‘empowering’ approach was exposed when the machinery came to a grinding halt. When the empowered tasks were no longer operational, many churches were adrift with the empowered no longer having an assignment.
A post-COVID-19 world requires a more biblical approach to the church’s mission. Leaders that have shifted from ‘empowering’ to ‘equipping’ tap into spiritual genius that becomes internal to the church’s mission-force that is not dependent on the flow of any one leader’s power. The equipped engage the Spiritual power that resides inside them – and are not sidelined when the program falters. This equipping, then, becomes the priority assignment of the leadership.
Nine: Leaders Focusing Energies on the True Church
These days it’s often difficult to tell who makes up the church apart from completed fields in a database. With people gathering in all sorts of forms—from in-person to outdoor to online—the make-up of churches is changing rapidly. In addition, the reality of this moment is that a large swath of Christian consumers has fallen completely off the radar and haven’t attended any church offering since COVID-19 hit.
The purging effect of this pandemic is allowing leaders to more accurately discern those truly invested in Jesus’ mission and work. This analysis focuses equipping to be directed toward those desiring to be a disciple of Jesus. With the “prime customer” squarely in their vision, leaders have shifted from tickling the sensibilities of the lowest common denominator to a much deeper spiritual investment of equipping into an already deployed mission force.
Ten: Leaders Depending on the Supernatural Work of God’s Spirit
Yesterday’s, “the program works if you work the program,” now seems like advice from an encyclopedia salesman. In our fascination with systems, in many cases, we had forgotten the spiritual reason for their inception. So, we have worked the machinery, harder and harder, with measurably less return. We have looked for places to lay blame – but seldom have we looked inside.
But this is changing. Many leaders have grown tired of endlessly filling a calendar that doesn’t require God. There is a growing hunger for faith. They are thirsty for a supernatural power that is obvious within Jesus’ church. We all want to be a part of something that can only be explained by God, and so, in weakness, we now set out on a journey of faith.
We’re all figuring this out together, but these ten practices provide a foundation for mission and movement for the church of the future.