“We’ve been thinking through the lens of Jesus’ teaching on new wineskins and trying to identify what that will mean for this new wine.”
LESSONS FROM 2020
No one would argue with the assertion that this has been a year of unprecedented challenge for the church. Outreach magazine wanted to learn directly from leaders on the front lines about how their churches have been innovating, meeting people’s needs and serving as a force for healing.
Here, Mike Baker, senior pastor of Eastview Christian Church (Fastest-Growing No. 30, Largest 51) in Normal, Illinois, relates his thoughts on the global pandemic, the recent and ongoing racial tensions and how leading the church is changing.
Our partnership with organizations in town put us on the front lines of care, love and service. To date, we have raised over $350,000 for our Ridiculous Love Fund; and have given away over 3,000 boxes of food, 4,000 meals and tons of toiletries; made masks; given sanitizer to health care facilities; and more. We also have helped over 110 families pay bills along with several small businesses in our community.
The fact that we started an online campus over two years ago played in our favor. We have been consistently working on resourcing and ministering to our online community, so that when the coronavirus hit, we simply multiplied it and encouraged people to lean in. Recently, we have maintained a daily pastoral video devotion that over 1,500 watch daily. Along with this, we have helped 300 small groups continue meeting virtually. And finally, we encouraged folks to sign up for a week of baptisms where they registered online and came to our church for outdoor baptism.
We’ve been thinking through the lens of Jesus’ teaching on new wineskins and trying to identify what that will mean for this new wine. Church will always be a hybrid now. Membership class online. Attend in-person some, watch online some. Give online. Small groups online and live.
One major leadership lesson is a new culture of speed and planning. Decisions will be executed quickly. Programs and ideas will start just as quickly. Long-term, visionary planning is out. A lot of short-term entrepreneurial attempts to see what works are in. Incredible ministry agility will be required of staff. And finally, an increased percentage of staff will be dedicated to online/video/tech/virtual ministry.
Prayerfully, our actions are stronger than any word we’ve ever spoken. We have served and loved and lived in the most financially challenged parts of our community. We run an after-school program for underresourced kids, have feeding programs for food-insecure kids and provide funding for at-risk youth in our town.
Making a difference in a community is our entry into someone’s spiritual life. We give bread so that we can share the bread of life. We have always done this, but literally moving into a part of town that has the greatest need has changed the narrative on what kind of church many used to think we were. We are not a country-club church on the east side of town—we are a church that also lives on the west side. Our dual addresses have literally answered the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Because now we literally are neighbors in the neighborhood of those we love and serve.
In November 2019, our leaders sensed the Holy Spirit telling us it was time to do some pruning. We had gotten good at growing branches and leaves, without considering fruitfulness. Last February, we challenged our staff to begin pruning everything to bear more fruit, and within weeks, God had done the pruning for us. There is no way we could have accomplished this as he did.
Today, you had better know what you believe about the gospel you are preaching and whom you are trying to please. If you don’t, this culture will force you to say what it wants you to say, when it wants you to say it, so that those living in it will give you their approval. Leaders lead, they do not poll everyone, count likes, follows and retweets. Today’s church leader better be on their knees more, seeking God’s word for a messed up culture in order to please him.
No matter what happens in the election, and no matter what happens in this world, there is a kingdom that is superior and over it all. It is this kingdom in which we live. It is this king whom we serve. It is this kingdom we pray will come in us. We will do everything we can to point our people to the kingdom of God, not the politics of our country.