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What Limitations and Lockdowns Have Taught Us About Leadership

We’ve all seen dozens of articles recapping the challenges that COVID-19 losses and lockdowns have brought to our communities. Many are laser-focused on what’s next as vaccinations become more widely available and the economy opens up. But take a moment to think, not about what you’d like to leave behind, but what you’ll take with you as you move forward from this pandemic. How has God used the limitations and hardships of the last year to refine you and those around you? What leadership principles have you leaned hardest on as you’ve shepherded people over the last 12 months?

We asked church leaders across the country how God has been at work in their communities of faith throughout the pandemic. And we learned that as our nation has faced skyrocketing numbers of people struggling with anxiety, depression, and substance abuse, God has been at work mightily through His Church. We hope you’re encouraged by the stories of church leaders who have innovated, adapted, and grown during this season.

“Never underestimate the power of a healthy church.”

“When California shut down in-person church gatherings, we moved quickly to virtual gatherings and never compromised our mission. We exist to ‘help people connect with God and to each other in every neighborhood.’ And that mission is not dependent upon corporate church gatherings. When we were interviewed by local news channels about the state-level lockdowns, we let them know that these edicts did not impact our mission in the slightest. We were still in every neighborhood, serving our city, caring for our community, and putting the gospel on display. Sure, we would prefer to gather to encourage and strengthen one another, but our mission was as robust and effective as ever. We are the Church! We don’t simply go to church.

“One leadership lesson I want to carry with us moving forward: Never underestimate the power and influence of a healthy church! God has been so gracious to us through the years, and we have enjoyed a rich season of health and influence in our city. These times of testing have revealed the true character of the people of God and the resiliency of the gospel as it works through the body. We believe the church is under the leadership of our chief shepherd and it’s His to grow or shrink. Through these past months we have seen our church grow, in large part due to the expressions of health seen throughout our great city. We are so thankful for these trying times. Though we mourn with those who have lost much in these past few months, we celebrate the goodness of God and the progress of the gospel in our city.” — Brad Bell, The Well Community Church, Fresno, California

“It has created new opportunities to make disciples.”

“During the pandemic, our re:generation recovery ministry became a multi-site ministry, and by August, we plan to offer re:generation at six of our campuses. While other ministries in our church lost volunteers, our re:gen leaders persevered through the pandemic and continued showing up, even with all of the challenges. People who serve in recovery often serve out of a debt of gratitude for what God has done in their life, and I am humbled by their courageous perseverance.

“The pandemic has been good in the sense that it has created new opportunities to make disciples. The challenges of 2020 have exposed everyone. Previously, it took time to try and discern where people’s hearts were. Now, everyone’s heart is quickly visible, and this is fertile ground for the seeds of the gospel.” — Jim Taylor, Recovery Pastor, Grace Church, Greenville, South Carolina

“Adversity is often the beginning of innovation.”

“God is always on the move and looking for someone to use (2 Chronicles 16:9), and that has proven to be no less true during the pandemic. Harris Creek didn't have a livestream before the pandemic, and through God’s deployment of both resources and people, we started live-streaming as our state went on lockdown. A faithful team of volunteers help with the livestream every week, and now thousands of people tune in weekly to worship through song and learn from God’s Word. I’m thankful that, with God’s help, adversity is often the beginning of innovation.” — Joe Daly, Executive Pastor, Harris Creek Baptist Church, Waco, Texas

“God seems to be much more patient than I am.”

“The last 12 months have taught our team the importance of honoring ‘the setup’ as we moved toward the full launch of our church plant here in Brooklyn. Our ‘setup’ has involved installing an elder board, continuing to take steps toward financial self-support, launching kids ministry, etc. It has been SLOW. I had no idea the amount of setup work that has to take place spiritually, relationally, and logistically before a neighborhood actually sees a new church service open up down the block. I don’t know why this surprised me…if you start reading in Genesis, there’s a lot of setup before Jesus. Then Jesus spends three years in the ‘setup’ with twelve guys. God seems to be much more patient than I am when it comes to details and the setup.

“I’m thankful for all God has done in keeping us focused on setting up a ministry here in New York. Many early-stage church planting teams like ours have shut down or left the city altogether over the last year. We’re grateful that God has continued to provide the space and leadership we’ve needed to survive and thrive.” — Garrett Raburn, Lead Church Planter, Mission City Church, Brooklyn, New York

“Don’t put God or the church into a box…or a building.”

“When the strange storm called 2020 rolled in, we felt the Lord steady us and give us new direction to continue to accomplish His mission. We reached out to our community and built into our church family in unique ways that we had not done before. The leadership lesson I learned and will carry forward from this experience is: Don’t put God or the church into a box…or a building. My job is to pursue Him moment by moment and see where He is moving and how He is working. Then I’m to courageously and obediently follow Him with faith, trust, and a willingness to challenge my mindset and my comfort.

“I am thankful that God has used the last 12 months to remind me and our local church that He is bigger than any building, and that He works ALL things together for good for those that love Him and are called according to His purposes!” — Sonya Jacobs, Marriage and Care Pastor, Preston Trail Community Church, McKinney, Texas

“There is always a way to accomplish Kingdom work, no matter the challenge.”

“One leadership lesson I relearned in a new way this year is this: With God there is always a way to accomplish Kingdom work, no matter the challenge. Great leadership is about great following because it is the Lord that leads us to accomplish anything of lasting value.

“In spite of all the many challenges we faced as a church, we still saw many marriages experience healing and hope through giving their marriage over to God and making Christ the center of their own heart and relationships. It was so encouraging to see couples in our church not shrink back from loving others, but walk with other couples through their mess and provide care and discipleship.” — Gordon Knapp, Marriage and Parenting Pastor, Pathway Community Church, Fort Wayne, Indiana

“Perfection is often the enemy of progress.”

“Throughout the pandemic, every church has been concerned about livestreaming and communicating the gospel online. Our team seeks to do everything with excellence to honor God and inspire others. But what I learned this year is that perfection is often the enemy of progress. We already had a livestream, but it was lacking. But when we looked at everything it would take to make our existing livestream ‘excellent,’ it was too much. So, we grabbed an iPhone, a $20 mic, and some lamps, and got to work sending out sermons and content. It worked well, and it was a huge leadership lesson for me. We don’t need things to be perfect or sometimes even what I might view as excellent. We do the best we can with what we have. Much the same way that God took a couple fish and a few loaves of bread and multiplied it, we bring what little we have, and God does the rest.” — John Almquist, Lead Pastor, Springs Community Church, New Braunfels, Texas

Do you have a story of God’s faithfulness to you or your church body over the last year? We’d love to hear it. Please send your stories to the Watermark Resources team here.