COVID-19, Cooperation, and Church Leadership: Seven Questions for Church Leaders

by Jeff Mingee November 11, 2020

In February 2020 our church was enjoying a stride and a momentum that we hadn’t enjoyed in the past eight years. At least, that’s how I remember it. Memory can exaggerate. Pandemics and quarantines probably don’t help.

As our church has returned to meeting in person for corporate worship and is beginning to resume certain activities, I’m struggling to help us regain that momentum. Whether the success of February was as good as I remember or not, right now it feels like our tires are spinning but we’re not gaining speed. There’s activity but not momentum.

I’m not alone in this leadership difficulty. Other pastors and leaders are lamenting the lost traction as well. I’ve spoken with pastors and leaders in my own region, with those in Northern Virginia, and recently processed these questions with a group of ministry leaders throughout Europe. It’s an international impediment. Here are seven questions church leaders can ask as they regain momentum.

Seven Questions Pastors Can Ask to Regain Momentum

1. Do you have urgency for the mission of the church?

Great leaders in the Bible displayed a sense of urgency. Upon hearing of Jerusalem’s broken wall, Nehemiah moved quickly from mourning to storming heaven with bold prayers of resolve (Neh 1:5-11). Paul displayed urgency as he pleaded with the Roman believers of getting the gospel and the church to unreached places (Rom 10:1-17).  Mordecai implored Esther with a sense of urgency to inform the king of Haman’s hateful plot (Esther 4).  These leaders were driven with an urgency for the mission and the moment.

One of the ongoing tasks of leadership is keeping your finger on your own pulse in regard to the urgency of the mission. You cannot lead your church without a sense of urgency. The common example of the on-flight instruction to secure your own breathing mask before assisting others applies here as well. Leader, when your urgency for the mission of the church wanes, leadership lethargy is sure to follow.

Christian leaders must return often to the biblical passages and stories which have been fuel on the fire of their ministry. When God called you into ministry, what passage did He use to grip your heart and your will? Many church leaders can recall the place and the time that the particular passage jumped off the page. It may have been in a personal Bible study or sitting in a pew during a sermon. Meditate on that passage again!

One of the negative consequences of crisis is that it can drain us of our energy and urgency for the mission of the church. As leaders, we spend so much sideways energy that there’s a loss of momentum in the direction we want to go. Leader, as you seek to regain momentum, pay attention to your urgency for the mission of the church.

2. Do you have clarity on the mission of your church?

Urgency is good, but without clarity it’s wasted. Many leaders have urgently led their churches in the wrong direction; like the frantic father who rushes his vacation bound family through the airport only to realize they were headed for the wrong departure gate! Clarity is the nozzle on the hose that creates force and direction.

Can you state your church’s mission statement? Without looking? “Catalyst Church exists to be a healthy local church within walking distance of CNU that helps people everywhere marvel at Christ in all of life.” I promise I didn’t look. I’ve led numerous church planting teams through this exercises. The lead planter has gathered his leadership team together. These team members have sacrificed for the mission. They’ve labored for the mission. They’ve bought in to the mission. But when they are asked to write the mission down; they can’t do it. The team inevitably comes up with three or four different, if not competing, missions.

Ed Stetzer and others have warned us about mission drift. Mission drift goes into overdrive in seasons of crisis. The mission becomes to survive. But the church was never meant to be in survival mode. Your church was never meant to be in survival mode.

A deep sense of urgency and clarity regarding your mission is critical to navigating crisis well. Okay, so you’ve lost the momentum that you had before COVID… how do you get it back? Urgency and clarity.

As you seek to regain urgency and clarity regarding your mission, remember those you are seeking to reach. Think of one individual in your community who is far from God. Imagine how God might use your church to reach them for Christ. Lost people’s faces and names will be a great help to you in regaining the urgency and clarity of your mission.

3. How did COVID challenge your urgency and clarity?

COVID challenged urgency and clarity for each one of us. There’s no denying that. But, we would do well to clarify how. We can’t correct problems we don’t identify. So, how did COVID challenge your urgency and leadership. Did it distract you? Did it discourage you? Did the quarantine make member care difficult? Did it derail your leadership pipeline? The more clearly you can identify the challenges the better suited you will be to respond to them.

Did COVID (and the quarantine and mandates) make ministry easier for you or harder? How so?

4. What did COVID reveal about your leadership team and structure?

Not only did it challenge our urgency and clarity, COVID revealed some things about our leadership team and structure. In some ways we were prepared for the pivot. In many we were not. I imagine your leadership team was similar.

Teamwork matters when we face difficulties. Great teams distribute pressure where poor teams multiply pressure[1] Moments of crisis magnify that principle.

In our setting, we were able to pivot to Zoom leadership meetings pretty quickly. We actually found that it forced us to begin some habits of leadership meetings that we had let drift. So, every other Monday we jumped on a Zoom call to talk as leaders. We would check in, address needed adjustments, and plan ahead. They were great meetings, until we stopped. So, I know my next leadership challenge!

As you reflect on the past few months, how has your leadership structure helped you lead well? How has it hurt? What changes do you need to make? God has positioned you as a leader. Now, go lead!

5. Who is one person on your team that has been an encouragement recently? How can you publicly celebrate them?

The apostle Paul was a master at celebrating people. Read Romans 16. The concluding chapter of his theological magnum opus is a list of names! Read Philippians 2:19-30. Paul held nothing back as he celebrated and honored Timothy and Epaphroditus.

As you’ve struggled to lead through this season, hopefully some people have stepped up in encouraging ways. Someone has sent you an encouraging text. Someone has seized the opportunity to meet and engage their neighbors with the gospel. People have continued their financial support of the church. Volunteers and church members have serve with one another and served one another in this season. Celebrate these evidences of grace!

If you, as a leader, regularly celebrate people you will skyrocket to the top of the list of ‘great leaders’ in the minds of those you lead. Very few leaders are good encouragers. They probably aren’t getting celebrated at work. If they volunteer their time as a little league coach or umpire, they’re probably not being celebrated there. Unfortunately, they probably aren’t being celebrated at home either.

Celebration is an act of leadership. Especially in seasons of crisis. So, who can you celebrate?

6. What leadership lessons can you learn from the early church?

The early church lived and breathed crisis mode. They never had political favor or cultural majority. But they had a driving resolve to advance the gospel in all circumstances.

Luke recorded the books of Luke-Acts so that Theophilus would “have certainty concerning the things [he had] been taught.” (Luke 1:4). He showed him the leadership of Jesus and then the leadership of the apostles. He displayed moments of great success and moments of great hardship.

As you work to find traction for your church, Luke offers you some characters for companionship in the book of Acts. In Acts 1 the disciples ask what Jesus exposes as the wrong question. In Acts 4 they respond to political pressure. In 5 they deal with sin in the church. Church leader, Luke’s account of the early church gives you a glimpse into their life and leadership. See how Paul responded to uncertainty. See how Peter led. See how they dealt with relational divisions and cultural tensions.

The early church was not the perfect church. Neither will your church be. But come alongside this fledgling fellowship and see how God works among imperfect people in less than ideal circumstances.

7. What is one thing that God is calling you to do as a leader going forward?

Here’s the deal with leadership: you have to lead. You have to do something. Make some decisions. Pursue some vision. Take some action.

I have a tendency to think that it all needs to be done right now. Instead, perhaps we would do well to focus on the one next step that God is calling us to take as a leader. So, what is that for you?

Here are some examples:

  • Get your leadership team meeting regularly again
  • Renew our sense of urgency by praying for the lost
  • Get back to that expositional sermon series that you punted because of COVID
  • Change an aspect of your leadership structure
  • Reemphasize the importance of church membership
  • Relaunch small groups

Great leaders ask great questions. They continually wrestle with how to do what God has called them to do to the best of their ability. I hope that these seven questions have stirred some God-given thoughts and prayers and plans that He will use as you lead forward in your local church.

[1] Jeff Mingee, Called to Cooperate: A Biblical Survey and Application of Teamwork, 50.