Welcome to 2021.

A few might think, “What’s actually different from last week?”

A new year is always different.

God created life with patterns and rhythms, seasons and days, and newness internally and externally. New beginnings are part of creative and redemptive nature. It’s up to you what you do with it.

With the start of a new year, we give ourselves mental and emotional permission for a fresh start. That’s normal and healthy. In fact, it’s powerful. Too powerful to waste.

In some ways, you may want to leave 2020 in the dust, never to look back. But that’s not possible; last year is part of you. You’ve learned, grown, and changed.

Take the best of 2020 forward. Learn from your struggles and lead with the best of you.

What about church?

We know so much more than we did six months ago.

For example, you know now more than ever before that church can be effective both online and in-person. That’s the new reality. BOTH. In 2021 we’ll all be learning how to do both well. What an incredible opportunity.

  • Crisis has imposed this window of newness and opportunity upon us, and it’s good.
  • Crisis has triggered innovation and change. That is really good.
  • Crisis has knocked the stuffing out of anything comfortable or routine. That’s very good.

I’m not blithely suggesting that the pandemic is something wonderful, and we should all be grateful, far from it. But it is reality, and the best leaders will make the best of it.

The following are a few thoughts to help you jump into 2021 as strong as possible.

5 Steps to Lead Strong:

1) Conduct a personal soul audit.

Your spiritual stability and vitality will greatly mark the quality of your ministry more than ever before.

The condition of your spiritual life has always been a significant factor in your leadership, but crisis removes margin and reserves. The rough edges become exposed. Tending to your soul is critical right now.

Don’t over-complicate this. 

You can do a soul audit in just an hour or two because you already know many of the answers. It’s the solutions that take some time.

IMPORTANT NOTE: It’s best to keep the audit brief, but permit yourself to take the time you need to tend to your soul this year. Don’t make this a task; allow it to be about personal renewal.

You can use your own questions, but these will serve you well.

  • Are you experiencing an inner peace or inner anxiousness? Why? What is your path to greater and more consistent peace?
  • Is your prayer life fresh, and do you sense God’s nearness? What is God saying to you? How will you get closer to Him?
  • Are your primary relationships healthy and enjoyable? What needs your attention?
  • Is there any known temptation you need help with? Who can help?

It may be helpful to process your thoughts with a close friend or spiritual advisor.

2) Let go of any baggage from 2020.

Loss. Hurt. Questions. Destabilization. Frustration. Anger. Isolation.

Do any of these resonate with you?

Most of us did not realize the progress we anticipated last year, but remember, results determine your progress but not your value.

It’s important to let go of any baggage that will weigh you down and maybe cause you to get stuck. Your church needs to be freed-up to move forward.

I got stuck for a while last Spring in “loss.”

While we were shut down from meeting in-person, I foolishly started to focus on what seemed like the loss of an entire congregation rather than focusing on who we could serve online and what could be done to reach out and re-connect.

Seems simple now, right?

It’s not simple in the moment, especially if you get stuck on the losses or try to minimize the losses rather than focusing on what you can do to build.

One is defense, and the other is offense. You can’t lead from defense.

My baggage was loss.

What was yours?

Can you leave it behind?

3) Be clear about your starting line.

Start where you are and with what you have.

Don’t waste time obsessing about where you thought you’d be right now. Face reality and dig in with a mindset to build again.

Your opportunities overcome your limitations. Be honest about your limitations, but focus on your opportunities.

You will be thrown a few more curveballs this year, but here’s the good news. You are now better prepared to know what to do. You’ve got some incredible experience under your belt.

We can be done with the concept of “unprecedented.” Our problems are not over, and we don’t have all the answers, but we do have experience.

Your starting line is not a blindsiding crisis. You do have a strong sense of the strength of your team and your congregation.

One of the most important factors of a clear starting line is knowing where you’re headed. For example, what is your plan regarding online and in-person?

That leads us to strategy… your plan to make it happen.

4) If “scramble” was the word for 2020, “strategy” is the word for 2021.

Pivot, innovate, adapt, and change were the official words of 2020, but it felt a lot like scramble.

React quickly and hope for the best seemed to replace strategy at times last year.

We can move past that now, not entirely, of course, there are still unknowns, but we can move from triage to traction.

Strategy will take center stage now.

Now that you have a strong idea of the playing field, you can determine your strategy for 2021.

When it comes to strategy, learn from others, but be careful not to blindly imitate. Your values and interpretation of what is happening in current culture will be different than other leaders. That will affect your strategy and how you execute it.

Make your plan. Make it simple and clear. Base it on your vision and values.

Move forward, and don’t be afraid to make a mistake.

You can’t think and talk strategy without considering your team. They are the leaders that will make it happen.

If you are not in touch with what your team is thinking and feeling, you are likely in for some surprises. 2020 changed us all. Some more than others, some for the better, and others are struggling.

Re-connect with your team, ask questions, find out how they are really doing.

5) Think like a church planter.

Scrappy. Determined. Full of faith.

Those terms describe many of the best church planters.

Church planters are all in and willing to do whatever it takes. The important thing is that they don’t consider it a burden. It’s a privilege.

We would all be wise to do what we can to adopt that mindset.

Cultivate your willingness to work harder than ever before, even if it’s in the face of more modest results.

Your mission is just as important now as it was a year ago. Candidly, I think it’s more important. Division, suffering, confusion, and anger are rampant. The world needs the gospel more than ever.