In a matter of weeks, (almost) everything has changed. COVID-19 has transformed pastors across the country (and parts of the world) into digital-church-planters. We are learning and living on the fly, adjusting to a new normal, figuring out how to be the “church” in an exclusively online world. A part of this new reality is acclimating to serving and leading our church communities while sheltering in place. Our homes have become our workspaces—but they are also still our homes. While this poses a challenge, it also offers some opportunities.
Initially, the mandate to work remotely from home was welcomed by some as an opportunity to work on long-delayed projects or get ahead on ever-expanding task lists. Culture’s infatuation with efficiency and accomplishment immediately took center stage. Less than a month into our newly domesticated reality, these aspirations are laughable for most of us. What we are finding now is that the real opportunities before us in this time are surprisingly antithetical to the always-on, never-stop, do-more values of culture—non-pandemic version, of course. It seems global pandemics have a way of forcibly slowing us down and demanding we give our attention to the things of substance rather the stuff of style. Along these lines, for church leaders and pastors, two crucial shifts come to mind.
First, in this time, it is of utmost importance that we think deeply before we think ahead. In crisis, most leaders I know (and I’m including myself here) immediately default to problem-solving. This is usually a good thing because, usually, time is of the essence. But this novel coronavirus is not usual and has thrown a wrench into that approach. Our lack of knowledge has made time fluid. When will this be over? Could be weeks, months, maybe even years. In the face of such uncertainty, thinking ahead—prognosticating, strategizing, problem-solving—while necessary, can be counterproductive if done too soon. What we must do first is think deeply. As we hunker down in our homes, physically distant from the communities we serve and love, what we owe them most in our leadership is depth, nuance, and clarity. Because of the web of emotional, mental, social, and spiritual complexities of our current moment, those who lead without first thinking deeply, will find themselves moving faster than most but moving headlong into a series of wrong directions. But those who first think deeply, will find themselves leading their communities slowly, steadily, and patiently down the path toward wholeness and revitalization.
Second, in this time of uncertainty, anxiety, and fear, we must lean in before we lead out. Here’s a confession. What I am most comfortable doing as a leader is casting vision, inspiring, and waxing poetic about future possibilities. The moments and spaces I am least comfortable in are ones which require vulnerability and significant personal connection with one or a handful of people. But amid the growing loneliness and isolation our church communities are experiencing right now, what they need most is not for us to lead them out into uncharted missional territory, pushing and prodding them to take ground for the kingdom. There has been and will once again someday be a time and place for that. But in this time, the greatest gift we can offer our churches is the gift of leaning in, doing our absolute, creative best to overcome the digital walls which divide us, and show up as much as possible, as disembodied as our presence may be for the time being. Leaning in means coming alongside our people, as vulnerably and personally as we can, at the ready to admit, in the recent words of Anne Snyder, “I have no interpretations, only a searching sight.” And to invite them to search alongside us.
Jay Kim serves on staff at Vintage Faith Church and on the leadership team of The ReGeneration Project. He is the author Analog Church, which explores the challenges and opportunities churches face in the digital age.