While pursuing the enemy, a 1st-century battalion of Romans soldiers moved into what was then unknown territory. Mapmakers of that era drew sea monsters and dragons to designate the lands beyond their travels. The commander was uncertain whether to forge ahead into the frightening unknown or retreat to familiar land. Paralyzed with uncertainty, he sent a dispatch to Rome: “Please send new orders. We have marched off the map.”
In March 2020 we marched off the map. As Baptist pastors we had no Rome to look to for orders. Reality quickly sank in. It was on us to lead our people into unmapped territory. After temporarily canceling services, we had no idea what was next. The weight of responsibility was heavy.
This pandemic has created some incredibly difficult leadership challenges. It’s like running in mud. Fortunately or not, I had a warmup for it in 2019. I endured some pretty serious health issues that left me wondering if I’d ever see 2020. In some ways they prepared me for this year. Health restored and facing a new challenge, I’m applying a few lessons I learned.
More than anything I leaned on God’s promises and prayer. I’m so grateful my college director taught me to memorize Scripture, because I’ve reminded myself more times than I can remember to “be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). That peace was, and still is, priceless. I continue to pray to God through this and other biblical promises as the coronavirus tests my patience and threatens my peace. What’s your Bible go-to promise for 2020? Go to it often.
Last year I learned I don’t have to be in control for the church to move forward. Even though I’m back in the pastor’s seat I may have even less control this year. Then and now I realized it’s OK to ask for help. It’s OK to empower others to make decisions, to let others step up and lead. The proverb I took to heart years ago—“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22)—still works today. Who are your many advisors? You’ll realize you’re not alone when you run your plans by them.
From February to November 2019 I experienced anxiety I’d only witnessed in others. I wondered if I’d ever feel good again. I just longed to feel normal. But in that pain I remembered my hope was in something far greater than a feeling of normal. And I realized my trials gave me a platform to share that hope with others who were hurting. COVID-19 is our platform for now. Embrace it with the hope and confidence God will use you to share his peace with people who find themselves living in the land of uncertainty.
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.