2 People Every Church Leader Needs To Be Talking To Right Now (and 1 They Don’t)

This week, I’ll be publishing a series of 5 blogs titled “5 Days of Difference” in which I will outline 5 ways ministry has changed (perhaps permanently in some instances) because of the coronavirus crisis.  In this first edition, we’ll consider the people we need to help guide our ministry strategy in these uncertain days and the people we need to make sure do not influence us.

Ministry is changing so quickly right now. In the past month, my church’s strategy has been evolving weekly. On Monday, we evaluate our engagement from the previous week and create a new strategy. Tuesday through Friday we work to solve the technical aspects of implementing the new strategy and the next Monday we again evaluate and change. We always intend for our strategies to last for a month or more, but so far we’ve always had to change the strategy after a week. Looking back, it wasn’t so much that we had to throw out our previous work. Occasionally we were just wrong about something and needed to acknowledge it, but most of the time what we really were doing was building upon the progress we made with the previous week.

This rapid rate of innovation led me to conclude that right now the 2 most important people any church leader needs to be talking to right now are:

  1. An innovative church leader of a congregation just a little bit bigger that yours. And…
  2. A innovative church leader of a congregation just a little bit smaller than yours.

Here’s why. A congregation a little bit bigger than yours is probably several steps ahead of you in addressing the adaptive challenges of ministry during social distancing. They already had technical infrastructure and staff know-how in place to do some of the basics of digital church that you had to spend several weeks scrambling to acquire. So they’ve also had more time to focus on engagement and disciple making strategies you have not yet gotten around to because you’re going 100 miles an hour trying to solve more basic problems. They can be one of the best sources to help you prepare for what’s ahead if, and this is a big if, they have (an) innovative leader(s). However, if they don’t have innovative leaders, don’t take any cues from them because are they aren’t agile which means they may not be big for much longer.

It’s also important to be talking to innovative church leaders of churches just slightly smaller than yours and not just so you can pay it forward by blessing them with what you have learned as a larger church. You need to be talking to these leaders because their lack of resources will drive them to find efficiencies you never would have found and to be discover creative ministries solutions you would have overlooked. At one point, Netflix was running out of money and begging Blockbuster to buy it. Blockbuster declined the acquisition. Netflix found some cash. And the rest is history. Sometimes being small allows you to see things larger organizations overlook.

So how can you find innovative leaders in ministry? Well they’ve got some common characteristics.

  • They are energized by this crisis even while acknowledging its terrible consequences. Leaders crave challenges that require the highest level of leadership and crises provide just that. These leaders do not have rose colored glasses. They are well aware of how this crisis can exacerbate the inequalities in society, its toll in human lives, and the dangers of economic collapse. But they don’t spend their time bemoaning the situation or pretending everything will soon go back to normal. They roll up their sleeves and get to work.
  • They are convinced they will learn things during the crisis which will help them be effective in ministry long after the crisis is a memory. They know some things will never and should never go back to the way they were before. And they feel a sense of urgency to take advantage of this unique moment in history to learn how to minister in those new ways.
  • They are not afraid to fail. They know some of their guesses about the future will be wrong and some of their new initiatives will fall flat. Failure is the cost of progress and they have accepted that. They love the fact that right now all their new ideas are not immediately shot down by the “we’ve never done it that way before” crowd and they are secretly plotting how to prevent this crowd from regaining influence in their organization when society stabilizes again.
  • They are generally eager to help you and genuinely desire to learn from you. They are not usually aloof. They fail too much for that. But they are wary of wolves in sheep’s clothing who will ask them for help and then drag them down by shooting down all their new ideas without providing any ideas in return other than worn out strategies which are no longer effective. For this reason they may come across a little cool until you give them reason to trust you because they have already been burned more times than they can count.

Now that you know how to look for innovative leaders, it’s time to learn to avoid the folks who will only steal your energy and bandwidth for ministry while providing little of value in return. So, who is the one person you need to intentionally not allow to influence your ministry strategy?

It’s the person who is just waiting this crisis out. They are convinced everything will return to normal soon enough if we just sit tight. They are not interested in learning new ways to do ministry. Instead, they have something snarky to say about anybody who is innovative and any success that comes from innovation. Often they justify their criticism by smugly implying the successful innovators are guilty of violating some fundamental theological doctrine of the Christian faith when, in fact, they themselves are the ones guilty of the idolatry which comes from mistaking changes in style for changes in substance and falling more deeply in love with their preferred methods than the mission.

I’ve never met a good fisherman who blames the fish for not taking the bait. A good fisherman changes lures. A bad fisherman blames the fish for not biting and blames the successful fisherman for cheating, all while refusing to changes locations or lures themselves. We cannot afford to allow those who blame the fish for not being caught to influence how we try to catch fish. Now is not the time to quit fishing. Now is the time to use every lure in the tackle box and see what works best.

If you have good friends who sadly fit into the category of “fish blamers”, I am not saying that you cut off your relationship with them entirely.  Actually, there is a very important conversation you need to have with them. It’s about grief which may well be the reason they are stuck in denial and consumed by negativity. The need for all of us to intentionally process our grief before it sabotages our souls will be the topic of tomorrow’s blog.

Today, identify innovative leaders with whom you want to establish on going conversations. Before you contact them ask yourself what you have to offer them as well as what you hope to gain from them. Then start making calls, sending emails, and getting the conversations going.