Did 2020 feel like a lost year to you?
If so, you’re definitely not alone.
But it wasn’t a lost year. Not if we don’t let it be.
One of the positives is that it forced us to define what is and isn’t essential in ministry. Most of the pastors I know dropped old habits that no longer work like they used to. If life during lockdown forced you to drop some bad habits, don’t pick them back up after the pandemic is over.
Here are 12 to watch out for:
Bad Habit 1: A Focus on the Church Building
This is one of the main differences between churches that have adapted well during the pandemic and those that have not. Churches and pastors that consider their church building as essential to worship and faith have been devastated by not being able to meet in it. Many have had to close for good.
On the other hand, the congregations that have not just survived, but thrived during this season have recognized that our buildings are not as essential as we’ve made them out to be.
When this is over and we’re allowed to go back into our church buildings, don’t fall back into the habit of relying on them for all our ministry.
Let’s focus on doing ministry from the building, not just in the building.
Bad Habit 2: An Obsession with Attendance and Numerical Increase
Most churches saw losses in attendance and offerings in the past year. It was unavoidable.
But that was never the best measure of church health and strength, anyway.
Thriving churches learned to see health and growth by what the church (as in the people) did, not just how many people gathered.
Let’s not go back to obsessing about butts in the seats ever again.
Bad Habit 3: Thinking We Have a Clue About What’s Coming Next
Those “2020 Vision” sermons didn’t age well, did they?
I’m not against planning, organizing or casting a vision for the future. But this year we learned to hold loosely to our plans.
Churches with adaptability built into their strategy fared better than those with strict plans. This is a reality that will be even more true going forward.
Let’s keep praying, planning and strategizing. But adaptability needs to remain a high priority.
Bad Habit 4: Not Paying Attention to What’s Coming Next
This is the flip-side of the previous point. While we can’t predict what’s coming, we mustn’t make the mistake of throwing our hands in the air in hopelessness, either.
In 2020, we had to pay more attention than usual to the changes that are happening all around us. And so many churches did such a great job at adapting so quickly!
If the pandemic and lockdowns shook you and your congregation up, don’t be in a hurry to go back to being too comfortable with the way things are. We’ve learned to watch, listen, and adapt. Keep at it.
Bad Habit 5: Not Pacing Ourselves
Change happened so quickly at the start of the pandemic. From in-person services one week to online-only the next, then back inside, then outside, then…
In the first weeks and months, most of us jumped into sprint mode as we tried to keep up with all the changes. Then, as time went on and we realized this was no longer a matter of weeks, but months and probably years, we had to switch into a slower, steadier marathon mode of leadership and adaptability.
In the coming months there will be many temptations to jump back into sprint mode. Don’t do it!
Ministry is a marathon. Pace yourself for it.
(For more about moving into marathon mode check out my previous article, When A Sprint Becomes A Marathon: Pastoring In A Long-Term Pandemic.)
Bad Habit 6: Ignoring Our Health, Families and Souls
This is one of the main reasons to pace yourself in ministry. When we stay at a sprint pace it always costs us something. And those who pay the price are usually our health, our family, and/or our souls.
The pandemic shutdown forced many of us to spend more time with our families and ourselves. Sometimes with bad results. But if these changes have allowed you to pay more attention to the principles that keep you and your family healthy, build on that.
Bad Habit 7: Not Equipping the Church
Maybe the biggest mistake I’ve seen my fellow small-church pastors make in this season has been an extension of our biggest overall ministry mistake – not following the Pastoral Prime Mandate of “equipping God’s people for works of ministry” (Ephesians 4:11-12).
During this challenging time, many of us have leaned on the help of our church members more than we’ve been used to. Keep fostering that spirit.
Don’t go back to doing all the ministry yourself. Build on the foundation of increased volunteerism by training, mentoring and equipping church members in continued ministry.
Bad Habit 8: Expecting Anything to be Business-as-Usual
This pandemic hasn’t brought change to the church. It’s just accelerated the pace of change and made it more obvious than ever before.
Don’t allow yourself to slip back into the mode of business-as-usual again. Change is relentless. Our ability to adapt to it is essential.
Bad Habit 9: Hanging on to Dead Programs
You know those church programs you used to do, but you had to stop because of the pandemic? Don’t be in a hurry to restart them.
- First ask “is anyone really missing them?”
- Then ask “would it be a real loss if we didn’t restart some of them?”
There will never be an easier time to simplify your church’s ministries than now. Don’t let the opportunity pass you by.
Bad Habit 10: A Longing for the Past
There’s no “back to normal” any more.
Even if the past you’re longing for is how things were just last year, you’re still looking in the wrong direction.
Resist the habit of looking in the rear-view mirror.
Bad Habit 11: An Obsession with Being Trendy
This is the flip side of habits 8 through 10.
While some churches have learned to make necessary changes, others learned that nothing will ever replace the essential need that people have to meet together, sing in worship, receive communion and other perennial aspects of being the body of Christ.
Chasing trends feels wasteful and nonsensical during a pandemic. It will be just as wasteful and nonsensical after it’s over.
Bad Habit 12: Taking Anything for Granted
I never thought we’d have to go for weeks without opening the church building for worship. Or go for weeks without being able to offer nursery care even after we opened the building up. Or not be able to gather family for the holidays even though they live in the same city.
If the past year has taught us anything, it’s not to take the most simple joys of life, family and faith for granted.
When life does settle down again, let’s never settle for that.
(Photo by Tegan Mierle | Unsplash)