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Leadership in a brave new world

May 04, 2020


Just 90 days ago we began a new year. 2020 seemed rich with possibility. This was going to be the year my congregation, Trinity United Methodist Church in downtown Savannah, launched a financial campaign to finally address the ongoing interior needs of the 172-year-old building. As a church, we had grown from the brink of financial despair to more health. And this was going to be the year we parlayed that growth and enthusiasm into leaving a mark on this historic building for the sake of the next generation.

And then COVID happened…

We went from excitement over improving the physical space we gather in to worship to becoming a 100 percent online-only congregation — in just 90 short days! It’s mind-boggling to look back on this now.

We all have different versions of this story, but can all bear witness to the fact that life as we know it has changed. There’s no going back to the way things used to be. We are now living in a brave new world — one that has not fully revealed itself to us yet. And, in our fear and confusion, we must muster up the courage to ask the ever-important question: What does leadership look like in times like this?

In a recent podcast, I discussed three types of leaders emerging in this crisis: No Leaders, Slow Leaders, and Go Leaders. I’m assuming if you’re reading this column you’re not locked in a closet or curled up in the fetal position hoping you’ll wake up from this nightmare. So, you’re not a No Leader. But the other two types of leaders are important to discuss. Both will survive this crisis. But only one will thrive.

A Slow Leader is the leader who is embracing this new world, but only begrudgingly. Online worship is fine, for now, but it’s not something a Slow Leader will continue to embrace when we’re able to meet in person again (heck, it might be gone the moment permission is given). The Slow Leader is just biding time, waiting for the old world to return in all of its glory. The Slow Leader is guided by fear and insecurity because this new world is unfamiliar. It’s not something we’re comfortable leading in. And, while it’s okay to feel afraid in a crisis, it’s not okay for leaders to reject the future in the hopes that somehow we might one day be able to go back in time to the world as we once knew it.

That’s where a Go Leader differentiates themselves. The Go Leader is already (or at least soon will be) thinking about the world on the other side of this crisis. The Go Leader is asking big questions like, “How can these new changes become a part of who we are as a church moving forward?” A Go Leader doesn’t just try to survive from one Sunday to the next. They seek to create new opportunities for people to encounter God, even in the midst of crisis.

Below are a few questions I encourage you to bring to your leadership teams:

  • Who could we reach by doing more online after we’re meeting in person again?
  • What can we continue doing online after we’re able to meet in person?
  • How could we measure things like engagement, both physical and online engagement?
  • How could our church begin to see itself as a church for more than just our immediate geographic community?

Most of all, a Go Leader leans into the truth that connection is more important than contact. It’s no longer about getting people to be physically present in our buildings and on our property. Merely counting worship attendance or views online barely scratches the surface. It’s about fostering connection that can exist (and even thrive) beyond physical proximity. It’s about creating space for real engagement, lives to be changed, and disciples to be made. In other words, this brave new world we’re encountering might be the best thing to happen to the church in the last hundred years!

The Rev. Ben Gosden is senior pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in Savannah. He can be reached at ben@trinity1848.org.

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