By Doug Talley
As the new year begins, at least for a while we are dealing with the same COVID pandemic and its restrictions. This is not the way any of us wanted to start 2021. Last March I couldn’t imagine the world being shut down for a few weeks much less over a year. But we still find ourselves facing a dangerous health risk, the mask-no mask polarity, economic uncertainty, physical distancing, political tension, dry hands from washing them so often, over reaction when anyone around us sneezes, toilet paper buying frenzies, and wondering how long before we can eat at our favorite restaurant without putting our lives at risk. And now we add to all that the vaccine and the many elements associated with that.
As you’ve likely concluded, the pandemic and COVID will be with us for at least half of 2021, if not longer. So what does a pastor do? The worst thing you could do would be to put a “hold” on the year and tread water while waiting for 2022 to arrive. I hope you agree with me that just waiting is not an option. Afterall, the church has a mission (or the mission has a church) and, historically, the church has pursued that mission through previous pandemics, tragedies, natural disasters, wars, and other difficulties. And, if we are totally honest, there is probably not ever a “perfect” time to pursue anything, much less the church’s mission of more and better disciples. Churches talk themselves out of pursuing that mission every year – and eventually close. The mission deserves priority no matter what gets thrown at us.
So my encouragement for you is to start 2021 like any other year and ask God, “How do you want me to lead Your church to accomplish the mission this year?” Then listen. Only then do you develop a couple of goals that, if accomplished, will move the church you pastor forward in mission accomplishment.
Developing goals for 2021 is a challenge because there are so many unknowns. If you’ve been around me much over the years, you’ve probably discovered that I am fairly goal driven. (No kidding, huh?) One of the things I hate most about 2020 is how it hijacked my goals to the extent that I had to develop some interim goals and delay the pursuit of some others. As I’ve worked to develop 2021 goals, I am carrying over some of my 2020 goals even though I know they will be COVID delayed in being accomplished. And I am developing some new goals that are more COVID related.
Can I share some of my thoughts about developing church goals for 2021?
- Focus on what you can control. I think COVID has taught us all that we don’t have control over nearly as much as we like to think we do. And because many of us tend to be control freaks to one extent or another, we have found this past year to be incredibly frustrating. Maybe one of the lessons the pandemic can teach us is that there are few things we actually have control over. But don’t let this trick you into thinking there’s nothing you have control over. I have quite a bit of control over how I spend my time. I have control over who I invest myself in. I have control over my attitude. I have control over what I choose not to do.
One of my goals this year is to ask God daily, “How do I lead today?” I realize that is not worded very well as a SMART goal. But it reminds me that leading in 2021 is about today and what I can do today. I need that reminder because 2021 is about leading through the chaos, not about fighting for control.
- Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t. This past year has involved so much polarization resulting from what you can and can’t do, what you should and shouldn’t do. I’m exhausted from it. And that exhaustion leaves me not wanting to do anything. So I am asking God, “What can I do today and this week?” What can I do to make a Kingdom difference now? I can’t move forward in some areas right now, so where can I make progress? I am not trying to set 3-5 year goals right now. Long term planning during a pandemic is 3-5 days. I’m focusing on the week and at times the month, while realizing I may have to backtrack at any moment.
- Focus on being a non-anxious presence. This morning I was journaling about the start of a new year. And since my birthday was December 29, I was also thinking in terms of where I was as a young man and where I am now that I’m not such a young man. While I still have LOTS to learn, it dawned on me how much more experience I have in life and ministry now than I did when I was 25. One of the things I’ve been slow to learn is that leadership is not simply about learning leadership techniques or skills. It is about learning to be a non-anxious presence when then the world around you is chaos. I cannot control the world. But with the help of the Holy Spirit, I do have some control over how I act and react. God is giving me lots of opportunities to work on this goal!
- Focus on discipleship. Right now so many people are being discipled by the news they read and watch. Crazy, huh? But it is happening. This season is a great time to think and act more intentionally about making disciples. After all, it is the heart of the church’s mission. Indiana Ministries is gearing up to launch phase 2 of Mission 120 which focuses on raising up 40 congregations in Indiana that are intentionally developing and implementing a discipleship strategy in their congregation. If you want to know more about Mission 120, contact Jeff Matas.
- Focus on strategy. I think we all felt like we were scrambling and reacting this past year. That is frustrating and energy draining. And it leaves us feeling like we are running in place rather than running towards a destination. Lake Superior University published a list of words or phrases that needed to be banished from the English language due to being overused in 2020. They include “unprecedented,” “pivot,” “out of an abundance of caution,” and “social distancing.” I’d like to add “polarizing” to that list. And not just the word, but all that goes with it.
As one Christian blogger said, the time has come for us “to move from triage to traction.” Though there are still a lot of unknowns, we need to develop a strategy that can flex with pressure and change but keep us moving towards the target. To do this we have to be unafraid of making mistakes or getting something wrong. One of the blessings of a pandemic is that it gives us numerous chances to try something new and then allows us to quickly regroup if it fails. Perhaps one of your goals for 2021 needs to be to fail more. Seriously.
2020 has made us all veterans of a pandemic. It is not something new anymore. We all have almost 10 months of experience with it and how it affects life and ministry. We aren’t novices anymore. Take a moment to write down two or three things you have learned this past year from experiencing your first pandemic (and hopefully your last). Even if 2020 has been horrible for you and has involved some significant tragedy, there are still things you can learn. Now, build on those learnings. Carry them forward into 2021. You aren’t the same person that you were in February 2020. Build on that. And ask God to give you incredible wisdom as you set your coordinates (goals) for the new year!
Thanks Doug, encouraging and challenging…thanks to you and Jeff for all you do. “Intensional” is one of my words for 2021.