I’ve never felt more uncertain about my leadership than I have during COVID-19. The sheer number of decisions that have had to be made in which there is no clear or easy way to decide is exhausting. I have felt a soul-weariness that is draining spiritually, physically, relationally and emotionally. Ordinarily, I’m not hesitant about leading through change or through difficult circumstances, but the global pandemic has been a different animal. I have experienced “decision fatigue,” discouragement amid criticism, and frustration with the situation in general.
During this time, though, I’ve found encouragement in a doctrine that has been articulated most prominently by our Methodist friends. It is the doctrine of God’s prevenience. Stated simply, this doctrine teaches that God is always prior. Put in the language of Scripture, he is “the God who goes before you” (Deuteronomy 31:8). We like to think that we get things started, that we initiate plans, activity, even our prayers. But God’s prevenience means that God is the one who gets everything started. He is the one who initiates. Whenever we arrive, he is already there, moving and working.
This doctrine has implications for salvation.
Before I ever responded to Jesus in repentance and belief, God first was plowing the hard ground in my heart through the moving of the Holy Spirit, preparing the soil for the work he wanted to accomplish in me. “We love him,” the apostle John says, “because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
This doctrine has implications for prayer.
If God is always prior, if he always begins things, then prayer is not something I initiate, but rather a response to what he initiates. He speaks, I respond. That’s prayer.
But this doctrine has implications for how we lead through the COVID-19 crisis.
This global pandemic caught us by surprise, but it didn’t catch God by surprise. He knew this was going to happen, and even amid uncertainty in our own hearts and minds about the best way forward, we have this certainty: God has been working before we were ever even aware of a coming crisis. Before we knew what was coming, God was there, working beneath the surface to accomplish what he wants to accomplish. In other words, there are no surprises with God. He knew that you would be the pastor of your church during this time. It’s no accident that you are the one leading your church through this. God put you there! God knows what he’s doing in the life of your church members. He knows what he’s up to! And God knows how this story will end.
Pastor, this is a doctrine in which we can rest.
Rest, knowing that God knows what he’s doing, He has a plan for all of this, and he knew you were the one to lead your church through it. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
These words of encouragement come to you as a part of an initiative from the COVID-19 Task Force for church leaders to be “together for the unfinished task” during this time of uncertainty.