How will we lead in the post-COVID era?

Is it possible that we are all becoming church planters with buildings?

Perhaps that’s exaggerated, but not by much.

If you adopt a church planter’s mental, emotional, and spiritual disposition, it’s an exciting time to lead right now.

Church planters:

  • Live in the realm of the unknown
  • Have no guarantees
  • Are not sure how many people they will have when the dust settles
  • Have a clear and passionate vision
  • Possess unbounding faith and hope

Hmmm… sounds a lot like most of us.

Yes, we have buildings, some resources, and a number of people.

However, most church leaders admit they don’t really know how many people are still part of the congregation, their buildings are not full, and many of their best leaders are not ready to come back.

In this post, I want to talk about leadership in this transition period and in the post-coronavirus era to come.

Perhaps the term church planter is not accurate.

Something like a “new start” or a “second launch” might be better.

The term doesn’t matter near as much as how you think about your church and how you lead into the future.

Understanding the season we are in and focusing on who we become as leaders will be far more important than our specific church leadership methodology.

(There have always been lots of ways to build a healthy church.)

5 Helpful Thoughts on leading in transition and preparing for the future:

1) We can no longer lean on the past to help us navigate the future.

We are taught the principle that we must learn from the past so as not to repeat our mistakes in the future. (Santayana) That is still true.

However, the playing field is not the same, and while we may learn from the recent past, it is no longer the same guide it once was.

No leader has ever been able to fully predict the future, but there were a number of predictable factors, or at least had a relative degree of predictability. That has now changed.

For example, attendance patterns had a certain predictability, and that is no longer true. Not for a while, at least.

The availability and dependability of your volunteer leaders had a degree of predictability, that is also no longer the case, and understandably so. COVID has disrupted people’s lives to a staggering degree.

This means we are in a hyper-learning curve, which requires us to learn in the moment rather than counting on the past. It’s a different kind of learning and requires faster adaptation and change.

2) This season of transition is critical in setting trajectory.

Let me state the obvious. We are not yet in the post-COVID era.

Since the past is gone and the new is not yet here, that means we are in a transition season.

In this transition from pre-COVID to post-COVID:

  • We are anticipating, discerning, and sometimes guessing.
  • We are learning, changing, and moving rapidly.
  • We are preparing, adapting, and praying… lots of praying.

If you try to lock in right now, (in this season of transition,) to what your church will eventually be and how you will lead in the post-COVID era, you will become frustrated now and perhaps discouraged then.

We lead differently in transition than we lead when we understand the cultural landscape.

Transition is about letting go (of the past), adapting in the moment, and preparing to build again in the future.

Trying to hold on to what was or build the new right now will likely be very frustrating.

That does not mean we are all stuck; it means we are leading through transition. The two are very different.

We are making progress, people are getting saved, and lives are still being changed!

3) A spirit of optimism and hope is essential. 

No church was ever planted by pessimistic leaders.

A pessimistic view of the future never redesigned a new start or launched a new church.

As leaders, we must never be guilty of sticking our heads in the sand and avoiding reality, but a perspective of doom and gloom never built anything.

A small measure of strategic defense helps protect what must be protected, but it’s important to be at least 51% or more in strategic offense, or you’ll never gain ground.

Since thinking more offense than defense is difficult in transition, then each decision made now must set you up to build for growth in the future.

That means keep taking the next right step toward what will eventually be a new era, rather than trying to establish it right now.

Genuine optimism and hope are what will take you church through this difficult season.

4) This season of transition and coming new church era requires more effort and energy.

More energy? That sounds daunting. How can we do more?

The main reason that many leaders are exhausted and discouraged is that in comparison to all the work, the amount of measurable results is relatively small.

We are all willing to work hard, but don’t be too hard on yourself, progress puts wind in your sails, and without it, the work is daunting.

Keep reminding yourself; this season will pass. (It will.) Transitions never last forever.

Rather than focus or get stuck on how it could be possible to expend more energy, it’s better to remind yourself why you are expending more energy.

The following truths describe why more effort and energy is required now:

  • Regaining momentum always requires more energy.
  • The more culture shifts in moral disposition and drifts from biblical truth, the more resistance you face.
  • Building something new into a new era will always require more energy than during more peaceful and common times. (You are leading change during change.)

5) The name of Jesus will define and declare each church as never before.

The name of Jesus has always marked the delineation and definition of a biblically evangelical church.

So what is different?

As I inferred in the last point, culture is shifting how it defines what is good, right, and moral. It is drifting from long-standing biblical truth.

In fact, truth has become individualized and personalized rather than what God declared as a standard.

The more each person defines their own truth, the greater we experience division.

The greater the cultural division, polarization and resulting tension, the more the name of Jesus will stand out as its own definition. (Even there, the temptation will be to personalize the message of Jesus and the truth connected.)

For example, in John 14:6, “Jesus answered, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

The idea that Jesus is the only way to heaven is already greatly challenged.

This brings us back to who we are and how we lead.

We may be challenged by culture to stand by what we believe at a cost, that’s part of our preparation in this time of transition.

Your leadership is needed now more than ever. What a great time to get to lead!