This year the NBA took the championships to “the bubble,” where teams competed in isolation. And though the NBA attempted to rebrand itself as a “whole new game,” virtual fans watching on the jumbo monitors knew that wasn’t the case. As usual, some teams flourished, while others floundered.
The context for the game, however, had changed dramatically. Athletes who were dependent upon synergizing the energy of the crowd for optimal execution found themselves pressing deeper into their mental game than ever before. The game itself may not have changed, but how players and fans participated in it had.
The church has had to make adjustments, too, in the midst of the pandemic. This year has also brought forth questions, tested motives and sifted the environment for spiritual leadership. Making meaning from our moments requires that we reflect, consider and digest what we have learned and who we have become.
Northwest District Supervisor Dave Veach puts it this way: “In basketball, your pivot foot must stay grounded as you move in any number of directions. Likewise, the church is learning to stay grounded in their mission of making disciples while pivoting. Although they may face criticism for moving in a direction, those who pivot and experiment with the Holy Spirit’s leading are accomplishing their mission.”
Several of our district supervisors chimed in on this topic, and their insights below unveil important lessons and principles for all of us church leaders striving to stay on mission in the midst of the pandemic.
Adaptability is the name of the game
When the context changes, it can disorient and disrupt while allowing you to become sensitive to the whispers of the Holy Spirit and even to see the place of your calling with fresh perspective. Disruptions can become gifts to the leader who is adaptable. Peter Bonanno, supervisor of the Northeast Atlantic District, notes that a key lesson is “developing Spirit-led insight together by prayerfully seeking the Lord’s will, holding onto things loosely, and planning with the ability to quickly pivot (1 Chron. 12:32).”
Identity is foundational
As limits have been placed around leaders, it has pressed us to answer these questions: “Who are we?” and “Why do we exist?” “As a result,” shares Juan M. Vallejo, supervisor of the Distrito Hispano del Suroeste (Southwestern Hispanic District), “churches are learning to prioritize their values, and creating new ways to ensure those values continue.”
When everything else is pressed, who you are, whose you are, and why you exist bubble to the surface in tangible ways. The intangible expression of the life of the church “prompts and presses local churches to re-evaluate their deepest values,” says Pam Wold, supervisor of the MidSouth District.
“The context has changed. While some await the return to normal, others have embraced that normal is a moving target, and adaptation to what is, is key.” —Wendy Nolasco, general supervisor of The Foursquare Church (U.S.)
Sam Rockwell, supervisor of the Gateway District, shares: “Paul was not ‘organizationally skilled’ but rather skilled at ‘organizing.’ That is, he was not managing people as much as he was actively present in the field with caring, personal envoys, house visits and personal discipleship (Acts 15:36) where ministry developed and took shape. Paul planted churches in four key provinces of Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia and Asia. He did this in a 10-year span, and was directly and personally involved. Underground leaders are always starting new outposts, scouting for new people in new places, and facilitating the messy work of organizing small settings for community and learning.”
Culturally intelligent mindset
“In Romans 16, Paul mentioned 30 of his friends by name. These folks are worth researching because it is a very diverse group by race, language, gender and social status,” continues Sam. “The ‘apostle to the Gentiles’ was never merely growing a church but always multiplying the church across cultures, languages and geographies. Just reading some of the names mentioned in Acts and Romans—Archippus, Claudia, Damaris, Linus, Persis, Pudens and Sopater—speaks of the richly textured social worlds that Paul navigated. Leaders are always discovering and absorbing new cultures and ethnicities so the gospel can go to them and be enriched by them.”
The context has changed. While some await the return to normal, others have embraced that normal is a moving target, and adaptation to what is, is key. The qualities that arise in leaders during a crisis are what have been forged in anonymity—often dormant, cultivated in obscurity, and only revealed in the light of pressure. Pressure builds resistance, and that resistance forms resiliency. Resiliency is a skill everybody needs for the days ahead. Resiliency to stand upright for truth, broker reconciliation with adversaries and contend for peace in all our ways (Matt. 5:9).
Leadership today is less about charisma and more about character. They are not mutually exclusive, but one cannot outpace the other. As you lead, navigating uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, be reminded of the words of the Psalmist: “He cared for them with a true heart and led them with skillful hands” (Ps. 78:72, NLT).