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This blog was written by Carey Nieuwhof and originally appeared here.

While you’re probably amazed you’ve (almost) survived 2020 as a leader, if you’re thinking ahead like most leaders, you realize 2021 is just around the corner.

How on earth do you plan in an environment like this?

While no one knows the future, that doesn’t mean you can’t prepare.

And while I have no greater insight into the future than you do, here are 7 things I’m planning around as 2021 approaches. I’ll also share a short action step with each insight.

2020 hasn’t turned out how anyone thought it would, and wise leaders won’t be quick to assume that 2021 will be any better, as much as we’d all love it to be.

I really hope this helps. Note: While the first three feel negative (and we’ve all had enough negative), please don’t skip them. There is hope.

Here’s the promise: Leaders who prepare to lead in the real world tend to find greater success than leaders who prepare for an ideal world that doesn’t exist.

With that in mind, here are 7 things every leader should be preparing for now as 2021 approaches.

1. Uncertainty

Being a recovering control freak myself, I love predictability. Right now, nothing is really predictable.

Leading through uncertainty—in this case, prolonged uncertainty—requires a whole new skill set.

If you want to position yourself to lead well in the midst of uncertainty, develop your agility and flexibility.

Those two attributes will help you respond as things continue to change.

2. Instability

Uncertainty is one thing. It removes your ability to see what’s ahead and around.

Instability is different. Instability means that the present circumstances are volatile and unsteady. They just keep changing all the time.

Think about the return to church for most leaders. Most church leaders thought people would surge back to in-person worship. That hasn’t happened.

And now most church leaders who have reopened for physical gatherings find themselves caught in the trap of having inadequate resources to do both online and in-person services well. Worse, you’re trying to figure out where everyone went.

One of the best ways to lead through instability is to pour more resources into what’s gaining traction and removing resources from what isn’t.

The best way to create future momentum is to pour resources into anything that’s producing current momentum. That’s why restaurants are beefing up takeout and drive-thrus, Hollywood is releasing direct to your devices, gyms are moving to outdoor classes and churches are investing more and more in online experiences.

In an unstable environment, when you find momentum, fuel it. And keep experimenting.

3. Economic Strangeness

I wanted to call this economic ‘volatility,’ but that would be too charitable.

The economy right now is just, well, strange. It’s been a very uneven year. The poor have gotten poorer, the rich have become richer.

People are spending like there’s no tomorrow on luxury goods and real estate and also saving money at historic highs, while others on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum go broke.

Downtown cores are seeing commercial real estate vacancies soar, and the stock market is soaring to record heights. while whole sectors of the economy are on the verge of disappearing.

Who knows what’s going to happen next? And the US Presidential election just throws an extra measure of unpredictability into the mix.

My thought? We need to prepare for a season of deep savings and deep charity.

In 2021, organizations with good cash reserves will have the buffer both to keep going and to keep giving.

If you’re curious, I’ve asked many leaders on my Leadership Podcast what a decent cash reserve is, and the consensus is three to six months of expenses in the bank.

You can’t give what you don’t have.

4. Opportunity

In the midst of all of this is opportunity.

Great innovation is born out of great crisis.

Crisis is an accelerator, and many of the changes we’ve seen (the emerge of the home as the new hub for fitness, schooling, work, shopping, entertainment and church) were coming anyway, they just got here faster.

The very obstacle you’re fearing might be the greatest opportunity you’re facing. It all depends on how you look at it.

As Bobby Gruenewald shared at the Online Church Engagement Summit, YouVersion, the free bible app, was born out of his frustration of wishing he could read the Bible more when he was on the road (or in line at the TSA). 443 million downloads later, history is changed because of his solution to that problem. You can watch the ninety minute Summit on demand for free here.

So, what are you seeing? Obstacle or opportunity? The future belongs to those who find the opportunity.

5. Model Reboot

Along with finding the opportunity comes rebooting your model.

The longer the uncertainty and volatility continue, the more outdated your previous model as an organization becomes.

Long before the pandemic, the existing church model of in-person attendance in buildings was showing signs of ineffectiveness. You can look at this 2018 church trends post for more on that.

The crisis is accelerating both your opportunities and your need to change.

If there’s ever been a moment to rethink how you do what you do, it’s now.

Now more than ever, churches that love their model more than their mission will die.

6. Staff Reallocation

My guess is your staff and volunteers are positioned to lead in the old reality not the new reality that’s emerged.

But as what we all thought might be a temporary blip becomes a protracted crisis, it’s probably time to rethink how you allocate your staff. The half time ‘tech guy’ isn’t going to get you into the future. Nor is the tack on of  ‘website and social media’ to someone’s already full-time job description.

One way to think through the model reboot and staffing allocations is to ask yourself, “If we were launching today, what would we do?” Then go do it.

In a prolonged crisis, every organization that will prevail is acting like a start-up. So, act like a start-up.

7. Deeper Personal Reserves

I realize posts like this can blow up your life and make your already insufferably long to-do list longer. And many of you don’t even have the energy to think about doing this right now.

I get it.

I saved the most important until last, but the best thing you can do is deepen your personal reserves for the season ahead.

Maybe you’re thinking that time off will heal you (at Christmas, in February…whenever). I doubt it.

Time off won’t heal you when the problem is how you spend time on. When every day grinds you into the dust with long hours, you won’t make it to vacation.

The cure for an unsustainable pace is to create a sustainable pace.

For me, that means mastering the art of saying no, clearing my calendar, deciding to quit doing the things that aren’t working and building in margin to the every day.

If you think you can’t afford to do that, you’re wrong. You can’t afford not to do that.

Having burned out years ago, I know the pain burnout causes.

So here’s to deepening your personal reserves. (This will help). If you have deep reserves, tackling everything else in this post becomes not just easier, but doable.

Cheering for you.


Is it time to add a to your staff team? We created JustChurchJobs.com to connect you with qualified candidates. You’ll save money (we’re much cheaper than the other guys!), we’re networked with ministry professionals in healthy churches (our team is made up of pastors and church planters), and your job posting will never expire until you fill the position. Find out more at justchurchjobs.com/postajob