Voices: Four frames for leading off the map

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Unprecedented. Unheard of. Never before.

These are words people use to describe the coronavirus pandemic.

The church has gone online, and families adjust to the “new normal” of social distancing and quarantine. What we’ve done before will not work wherever we are now or where we are headed. We can crumple up the road map, because there are no maps where we are headed as a church, because no one has ever been there before.

What an honor that God would allow us to steward his church during this season. We are the generation that will lead the church off the map.

The questions are endless, and the answers are fluid and untested. When there are fewer knowns than unknowns, there are a few things to remember. I credit Tod Bolsinger, author of Canoeing the Mountains, for many of these insights.

The mission is not canceled.

First, we have to realize God knows it all and has seen it all. When he issued his promises and commands, he did it with the full view of time. This means when God made promises to us and commands for us, he did it knowing full well we’d be in uncertain times like these.

In telling us to “go and make disciples of all nations,” Jesus said all power and authority had been given to him (Matthew 28:18-20). There should be great comfort in that statement.

If we believe Jesus’ authority in such uncertain times, then we have to believe the command that follows carries even more weight: “Therefore, go and make disciples …” There are zero qualifiers in that statement.

Rain or shine, famine or feast, the mission is the same. We cannot stop moving forward. The comfort is Jesus promises we won’t have to do it alone. He concludes with “I am with you always …”

It doesn’t matter what the current circumstance. Jesus reigns supreme, his command is to make disciples, and his presence is promised. The graduations may be postponed, the borders may be closed, but the mission is not canceled.

There is no GPS out here.

Leading off the map is daunting. No one has ever done it before. If they had, there would be a map.

Tim Elmore in Habitudes: For the Journey says it is the difference between having a compass and a GPS. GPS only works if someone already has been there, and no one has been here before.

The freeing part of this is there are no rules, no status quo, no “best practices.” Anything could work and anyone could have the idea. Therefore, as leaders, we have to be open to new norms and realize the next big idea could come from anyone.

How are we creating space at the table for others to pitch their ideas? This is uncharted territory. We, as leaders, need every idea, even the crazy one.

If the church is going to advance the kingdom in this new paradigm, it’s going to take every believer and every idea about how to do evangelism and discipleship. How can we make sure our people know they have the power to see the problem, think creatively about how to fix it, and feel empowered enough to do it?

Small victories are still victories.

Thomas Edison is quoted as saying he didn’t fail 99 times at creating the light bulb; he discovered 99 different ways that didn’t work. Perspective is going to be everything in this new day and age.

Celebrate obedience over results. As our ministries try different things, there will be some failures. Celebrate the attempt.

Remember when your first child tried to walk and fell? You didn’t give up on him. You celebrated him trying. As leaders, we need to become the biggest cheerleaders for our folks. Celebrate the baby steps.

Celebrate the small things. Did they reach out to their neighbors? Did they try to host an online social event? Did a small group make it and go virtual?

In this time, as leaders, we can help our people most when we teach them to celebrate obedience in the face of uncertainty, as well as the small victories.

No victory is too small to be celebrated. What we do every day matters more than what we do every once in a while.

There are no obstacles, only opportunities.

As leaders, we cannot be blinded by the obstacle. We must be the people of opportunity.

Sure, we can’t meet in person, but now the whole world can see our service. Everyone is quarantined, but everyone has more free time.

The Apostle Paul always saw the obstacle as the opportunity for the kingdom. He wrote: “Now I want you to know, brothers, that my circumstances have actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ” (Philippians 1:12-13).

He says, “I may be in chains, but I have a whole new group with whom to share the gospel.”

There are no obstacles in the kingdom of God, only opportunities. Never before has most of the world been thinking about the same thing. Never before has social media been overwhelmed by Christian livestreaming.

As leaders, we have the opportunity to provide training for our people as they do the ministry in their homes, with their neighbors and with their coworkers. Our people will never see the opportunity ahead of them if we are too focused on the obstacles and mourning what we can’t do.

Going boldly into the unknown

What an honor it is to lead a ministry in this day and age. What an opportunity for local, everyday Christians to serve and love their neighbors.

We stand on the horizon looking at topography none of us expected to see. Let’s lead with great courage, try new things, celebrate the small wins and maximize the opportunities.

This could be the age when our people walk in freedom, their neighbors hear the gospel and our communities are transformed by the gospel.

The church is ready to be mobilized for this uncharted territory. The question is: Are we going to be bold enough to lead off the map?

Clayton Bullion is the director of the Baptist Student Ministry at Tarleton State University in Stephenville and the co-founder of the Campus Multiplication Network. The views expressed are those solely of the author.


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