It’s undeniable that COVID-19 has had a negative impact on businesses and nonprofits—especially those that lack a digital strategy. Organizations that depend on brick and mortar, in-person services are suffering the most. Many will be forced to either close their doors within three months or significantly decrease expenses to continue operating. I fear the prediction of many experts is inevitable: This will be an extinction-level event for many organizations.
At the start of the year, no one could have predicted the impact COVID-19 would have on our country. In January, I wrote an article titled, “The Other Reason Christian Institutions Die” where I argued that innovation and creativity are our God-ordained responsibility. I warned that if we continued to deny this responsibility, many good organizations will cease to exist. I concluded that it was mission-critical Christian leaders reject the idea that sees innovation and creativity as theological threats to the kingdom.
If you had asked me how long it would take for my warning to become a reality, I would have confidently predicted three to six years—not months. In uncertain times such as this, we can’t help but ask, “What is God up to?” In the context of survival and growth of many Christian organizations, my response is, “He’s being merciful.”
In a recent Ask Pastor John episode, John Piper was asked, “How do we make sense of coronavirus?” In his response, Piper provided four points, but one, in particular, focused on our theology of suffering and mercy.
Piper says, “God sometimes inflicts sickness on his people as a purifying and rescuing judgment, which is not a condemnation, but an act of mercy for his saving purposes.” Drawing from the principle revealed in 1 Corinthians 11:29–32 regarding the Lord’s Supper, he goes on to make a case that the principle in this passage can be applied more broadly.
Last week, Jackie Hill Perry mentioned a quote by Dr. Piper in her article, “What in the World Is God Up To?” The quote highlights a mind-blowing reality about the works of our sovereign Creator. Piper says, “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.”
Faithful pastors and false teachers everywhere have offered perspectives to the church about what they believe God is doing during this pandemic—some biblical and others heretical. But we can be assured that He’s up to more than just one thing.
What if God is taking organizations through an extremely difficult season that appears to threaten their existence to ensure their survival? What if one of the things God is doing through COVID-19 is using these circumstances to turn mediocre organizations into healthy institutions for God’s glory and the advancement of His kingdom? If my conversations with other ministry leaders this week is any implication as to what’s happening nationally, we have reason to be hopeful and excited about what this pandemic will produce on the other side.
Embracing the Mercy
Unfortunately, many leaders have failed to begin planning for the new normal. They believe this is just something we need to get through and eventually everything will go back to normal.
Recently a Christian leader sent me an article and podcast with Andy Crouch, Kurt Keilhacker, and Dave Blanchard. They warn Christian leaders, “We’re not going back to normal.” The article continues:
If you’re a leader in an organization, it is time to rewrite your vision deck … this is a time to urgently redesign our work in light of what we believe is not just a weeks-long “blizzard,” not even just a months-long “winter,” but something closer to the beginning of a 12–18-month “ice age” in which many assumptions and approaches must change for good. Almost all of us can and should keep the first three or four slides in our deck; everything else needs to be re-evaluated.
The organizations that will remain and thrive at the end of the “ice age” are the ones led by leaders who embrace the mercy that’s been extended to us. Embracing the mercy means accepting the season for what it is—a long, unpredictable, extinction-level event. Embracing God’s mercy requires humility and godliness. Leaders must be eager to learn, quick to listen, and possess a servant’s heart.
In the coming months, it is mission-critical that Christian leaders pray for wisdom to lead faithfully and eyes to see the fresh vision God has for the institutions He’s entrusted to them. The old adage, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is no longer acceptable. Any leader regardless of age, who isn’t ready to learn is no longer fit for leadership.