One of the most memorable days of my ministry occurred in late August 2006. The late Rev. George Power, former pastor of Calvary Temple, Charlottetown, PEI—the church where I was then serving as Lead Pastor— invited me to spend the day on his sailboat along with him and three mutual friends. To start with, I was a novice sailor, and I had never experienced ‘tacking’ in any context, let alone in a 60-km August breeze off the North East coast of PEI—Tacking is a maneuver by which a sailboat’s bow is skillfully turned toward the wind so that the direction from which the wind blows changes from one side to the other, allowing the vessel to make progress in otherwise unfavourable conditions.
Having experienced a dreadful sea in a relatively small sailboat, I can now identify with the Acts 27 narrative at a significantly deeper level. Luke described the event in detail. It seems that the event left a meaningful impression on him. Storms have a way of doing just that: imprinting details upon our consciousness that otherwise would just be lost in the rush of the journey.
I believe such is the case for those of us who have provided leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. Certain elements of our experience will inform our journeys from here onward. At this point, three of my most significant takeaways are:
Skills learned and honed during fair weather have the potential to become second nature in the storm. Therefore, it is critically important as leaders that we never stop growing. Every new skill acquired will find an application at some point in our journey.
Never underestimate God’s ability and His willingness to create resources necessary to facilitate His mission. Expect the miraculous; after all, Jesus is right beside us in the storm. He promised to “never leave or forsake us.”
While quitting sometimes feels expedient, perseverance is much more rewarding. The sweet aroma of the spoils of victory are incredibly rejuvenating.
I was a novice at the tender age of 17 when I formally started leading people. The Town Council of Cottlesville – NL., appointed me ‘Supervisor’ for a Canada Summer Jobs program for a group of 11 students. From the get-go, minimal stimulation has equaled high motivation; the slightest ray of hope has resulted in significant output; a ‘no’ is simply a ‘maybe’ which can most likely be skilfully massaged into a ‘yes’. These qualities have served me reasonably well for the greater part; however, on a few occasions, it has landed me flat on my butt. Shortly into our ministry at the Family Christian Centre, I experienced just that—a hard butt landing.
"When matters we have entrusted to God are out of our control, they are most certainly under His control."
Over a period of nearly two years, we sustained significant losses. That season was marked by interpersonal conflict, stalled corporate growth and the deaths of precious team members. In retrospect, Rhoda and I emerged from that storm with one BIG takeaway: When matters we have entrusted to God are out of our control, they are most certainly under His control. We learned to lean into the Holy Spirit in a BIG way. The result was that we emerged from a crisis of leadership, affirmed, confident and matured. As Brueggeman points out, “We cannot rush through the stage of disorientation too quickly lest we fail rightly to re-orient as we come through.”
During early December 2014, we were wrapping up a $10.1 million expansion to our Ministry Centre. The team had moved into a long-awaited suite of offices. Our Family Ministries had a whole new ministry environment, and we had opened a state-of-the-art Childcare Centre. The difficulty was we were $1.5 million over the initial budget and even our most optimistic estimates indicated that we were going to end the year nearly $800 thousand short. Several mornings I found myself prostrate before God, praying for a major financial miracle.
Mid-January 2015, we received the year-end numbers from our accountant. We ended the year with nearly $200 thousand in our current account with all outstanding invoices cared for. To this day, I have never been able to fully compute what transpired to make that happen. No one or ten individuals donated large sums of money over and above what they did in previous years. However, a series of small and notable financial transactions cumulated into a miracle.
As we entered the COVID territory, our finances were relatively healthy; however, carrying a $45,000 monthly mortgage payment, a payroll for 36 full-time staff, maintaining a nearly 60,000 Sq/ft Ministry Centre, supporting 10 mission stations and several significant community ministries require astute financial management in the best of times. Add to that the fact that our plans for 2020 included adding staff and increasing ministry on several fronts. From the onset of the COVID-19 crisis until the time of this writing, Rhoda and I have continually reminded ourselves that when matters are mostly out of our control, they are most certainly under God’s control. As result, the joy and energy we have experienced during this season has at times seemed almost juvenile.
"Our role is to put our feet into the water, He will provide the wind and create the way forward."
Fast forward: During 2020 we created four new full-time positions and filled them. We have expanded several aspects of our ministries and are ending the year with more than twice the surplus we ended 2019 with. Our revenue was up on every significant line. Once again we have been reminded that we ought to never underestimate God’s ability and willingness to create the resources needed to facilitate His mission. Our role is to put our feet into the water, He will provide the wind and create the way forward!
I recently spent an afternoon with a good friend of mine, Rev. Mark Usher, Lead pastor at North Life Baptist Church in Fort McMurray. Mark is an experienced sailor; most of his sailing experience has been in the unpredictable waters off the coast of southern British Columbia. I posed the following question to him: ‘Have you ever been overwhelmed with fear when you have been caught in a gale force wind?’ His answer: ‘I am so in the game at that point that I don’t have the luxury to focus on my fears. I just do what comes naturally.’ So, I posed a follow-up question: ‘What do you mean by your statement “what comes naturally”?’ His answer: ‘I have spent so much time honing my skills in normal conditions that what I need in critical times just seems to rise to the surface.
Although Paul was completely helpless against the frightening backdrop, there stood the sovereign God who had committed to Paul that he would testify in Rome—Acts 23:11. A promise restated to Paul by an angel while he was in the heart of the storm—Acts 27:24. Luke’s account highlights the fact that God’s purposes prevail, even under the most severe of circumstances. He is in the storm with us. Covid-19 will not thwart the purposes of God for our lives or ministries.
"Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Don’t assume that you know it all. Run to God! Run from evil! Your body will glow with health, your very bones will vibrate with life!"
Proverbs 3:5-8 (MES)