As the year comes to a close, many Americans are taking time to reflect on the past 12 months and seek hope for the coming year. Pastors are not exempt from this time of reflection, with perhaps more leaders than usual taking a more pointed approach as they review everything that has happened in 2020 and chart a course for both themselves and their ministry in 2021.
In the most recent ChurchPulse Weekly episode, Carey Nieuwhof invites Craig Groeschel, senior pastor of Life.Church, to share what he has learned as a church leader during 2020 and what lessons he hopes to take with him into the coming year.
People Want to Be Led During Crisis
At the beginning of the pandemic, many pastors were feeling the strain of uncertainty. Without clarity on when safe-at-home orders would be lifted, or even if their people would come back to church, the weight of these questions was crushing. Within those questions aimed at seeking direction for their church and helping their people navigate a difficult season, church leaders were also met face-to-face with some of their own insecurities that they’d perhaps never allowed to surface until this crisis took place.
Groeschel notes that, as a leader at Life.Church for 25 years, he has led the ministry through crisis before. What this specific crisis reminded him, however, was that people want to be led during difficult times, and pastors can step into that role with confidence.
“In difficult times, people want to be led,” says Groeschel, “You have to communicate, communicate, communicate over and over again, you have to bring the why behind everything that you’re doing. You don’t have to get it necessarily right; you just have to lead with a little bit of uncertainty and bring explanation behind it.”
Groeschel also discovered some things about being a church leader that he hadn’t realized before. He comments, “In the early stages, I learned that my identity was more wrapped up in some things that I probably didn’t think it was wrapped up in, and I had to untangle that. … I think the biggest answer is that [the crisis] revealed [my] values.”
God Has Given You Enough to Discern a Faithful Direction Forward
It’s only natural to seek the Lord’s guidance during challenging times, especially when a congregation is looking for their church leaders to offer them clarity.
Groeschel shares that while he went to the Lord for direction, there was a time during the pandemic when he couldn’t hear the voice of the Lord. This extended time of silence allowed him to learn something important.
“I was leading through the most complicated season of my leadership, and didn’t feel like I could hear from God,” says Groeschel. “The odd thing is that it didn’t rattle my faith, it strengthened it. I wanted a word of direction—confirmation—and when I didn’t get it, I realized that I’ve had enough of God’s direction, goodness, conviction and correction in the past that I didn’t doubt that he was with me.”
Groeschel concludes, “I didn’t like [not hearing from God], but I realized that my faith was strong enough to continue even though I wasn’t feeling something in the middle of it all. That was reassuring.”
The Importance of Empathy and Understanding
Before the election year was in full swing, America was already feeling the effects of division. Everything was debated, from COVID-19 precautions to police brutality, with many churches filled with people who had varying views on the host of topics argued about this year.
Having pastored at Life.Church for over two decades, Groeschel reminds listeners that it’s okay for church leaders to have their own opinions on a matter, even if those opinions seem extreme. Leaders—and other Christians as well—must never forget the end goal of Christianity, however, and always keep the mission of reaching others with Christ’s love front and center. Groeschel notes that it’s nearly impossible to reach people if you don’t listen to them with empathy and learn why they believe what they believe.
“There are some extreme [views] that are incredibly frustrating to me, because I would say they’re what I call ‘extremes without empathy,’” Groeschel says. “As a leader, you’re not going to be a great leader if you don’t have some extreme views; that’s the mark of any great leader. We’ve got strong biases, incredible passion and blind spots—all that kind of stuff. But if we’re only listening to respond and never listening to understand, then we can’t have a real impact.”
Groeschel wraps up his comment by stating, “I don’t think you can go straight to the mission without diving in a little bit to the issues and showing empathy and understanding [toward those who think differently than you].”
About the Research
ChurchPulse Data: Barna Group conducted these online surveys among Protestant Senior Pastors from March 20–September 28, 2020. Participants are all members of Barna Group’s Church Panel. Minimal weighting has been used to ensure the sample is representative based on denomination, region and church size.
Data Collection Dates:
Week 1, n=222, March 20-23, 2020
Week 2, n=212, March 24-30, 2020
Week 3, n=195, March 31-April 6, 2020
Week 4, n=246, April 7-13, 2020
Week 5, n=204, April 14-20, 2020
Week 6, n=164, April 21-27, 2020
Week 7, n=167, April 28-May 4, 2020
Week 8, n=165, May 5-11, 2020
Week 9, n=184, May 12-18, 2020
Weeks 10 and 11, n=191, May 19-June 1, 2020
Week 12, n=203, June 26-29, 2020
Week 13, n=256, July 9-14, 2020
Week 14, n=285, July 24-26, 2020
Week 15, n=336, August 13-17, 2020
Week 16, n=315, August 27-31, 2020
Week 17, n=422, September 10-18, 2020
Week 18, n=475, September 24-28, 2020
U.S. adults are U.S. residents 18 and older.
Practicing Christians identify as Christian, agree strongly that faith is very important in their lives and have attended church within the past month.
Churched adults / churchgoers have been to church in the last six months.
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
© Barna Group, 2020