Our leadership team here at the South Carolina Baptist Convention usually reads and discusses a book or two each year that will help sharpen our leadership skills and challenge us in how to better serve our 2,100 churches. The book we chose at the beginning of 2020 was Canoeing the Mountains written by Tod Bolsinger. Little did we know that this book, written in 2016, would prove to be prophetic in many ways for what we faced in 2020. Bolsinger uses the familiar story of the Lewis and Clark expedition as a framework of learning to lead “off the map” and through “uncharted territory.” There is no doubt that every minister has had to learn how to lead “off the map” and through “uncharted territory” this year. The one statement made throughout the book that provides the single greatest leadership challenge was the world in front of you is nothing like the world behind you.
If that is true, and I certainly believe it is, then the question leaders are now facing is: What will leadership look like in 2021? While I can’t say I know how to answer that question for every leader in every ministry context, what I can say is that the multiple challenges faced in 2020 should drive a few timeless principles that can, and should, influence the way we lead in the future. Here are a few for your consideration.
Methods change, but the Mission of God, the Great Commission, never changes.
The pandemic forced many changes in the way we do church. Thankfully, technology allowed for on-line connections that were certainly not available during the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918. Our team heard countless reports of churches who quickly adjusted methodology allowing for on-line worship, giving, and small group connections. Those methods may continue well into the future, but the good news is that the focus is still the Great Commission! Making disciples, sharing the Gospel, and equipping the saints are all part of fulfilling the Great Commission. Every pastor and church leader should take everything they learned in 2020 and figure out how to make 2021 the greatest year of Gospel advance ever!
Ministry always travels along the line of relationships.
While we have always known this truth, having to be socially distanced has reminded everyone of the need to stay connected to each other, even if done virtually. We have been reminded of the fact that God created human beings to live in community, not in isolation. It is certainly important to be wise in exercising safety precautions and protocols, but the need for meaningful connections in small groups has never been more important. Those relational connections may look different than ever before, but the need is the same. Wise leaders will take this into account in the coming year.
Our cooperative way of doing ministry as South Carolina Baptists has been reaffirmed.
You may have grown weary of hearing people say “we are in this together,” but it is true. The multiple challenges of 2020 left no one exempt, but as days turned into weeks and months, there came a growing appreciation for our historic way of working together to accomplish more for the Kingdom. Our churches continued to pray, give, and support to keep our global mission force on the field. State Conventions and local associations worked feverishly to provide resources to help pastors and church leaders know what to do next with each new challenge. Virtual prayer gatherings kept leaders connected and provided much needed spiritual and emotional support. None of that would have been possible had it not been that we are standing on a long history of doing ministry cooperatively!
We have a great evangelistic opportunity right now.
Back in the early days of the pandemic, someone said “we are all in the same storm, but we are not all in the same boat.” I had to process that at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I understood its truth. There are several storm stories in the New Testament when Jesus calmed the winds and stilled the waves. Any preacher worth his salt has preached on having Jesus in the boat when facing the storms of life. Sadly, countless millions of people continue to go through today’s storm without Jesus in the boat. There are over three and a half million lost and unchurched people in our state. Many of them are our neighbors, coworkers, and family members. While the pandemic will likely have a severe impact on the number of baptisms reported in the coming year, God continues to work, and we are praying 2021 will be a banner year of seeing people coming to Christ. With so much fear, anxiety, and uncertainty, we have the privilege of sharing Jesus who is the antidote to those concerns. Jesus is peace . . . He is hope . . . He is love!
While none of us know today what the coming months may bring, our comfort is in our God who is still seated firmly on the throne of HIS universe. Our team has adopted the phrase, ADVANCE ANYWAY, and we are excited to anticipate what God is going to do. As South Carolina Baptists, let’s join hands and hearts and trust God to help us see thousands more come to Jesus in 2021!