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5 Principles for Leading in Unchartered Waters

unchartered territory

We’ve all been in uncharted waters for the past six months.

Uncharted waters include:

  • Unfamiliar territory
  • Little to no experience navigating those waters
  • Can’t foresee what will happen

No leader is immune.

Young leaders are wide-eyed, and veteran leaders are weary-eyed, but we are all in the same COVID boat together.

We’re navigating:

  • An uncertain economy
  • A COVID environment
  • The upcoming elections

When the waters are choppy, what do you hold on to?

My Father-in-Law, Pete, was a Master Chief in the Navy and served our country well. And if you know much about the Navy, the Master Chiefs were the leaders who made things happen on a day to day basis. “Pop,” as we call him, spent a lot of time at sea and gained great wisdom about navigating rough waters. He says it’s all about people and sticking together to get the job done.

That’s good advice.

What are you holding on to in these uncharted and rough waters?

Before we cover the 5 principleshere are 4 practical thoughts that serve as anchors to hold on to:

Family and close friends
When times are tough, it is family and close friends you can count on.

Quiet time to think and pray
Your soul will never be at peace if you never slow down.

Deeply held values and convictions
What’s important to you? Make sure you know the shortlist and lead by those values and convictions. Don’t be distracted by things that don’t matter.

Simple things that bring joy
What brings a smile and makes your heart light?

Holding on to trustworthy anchors in uncharted and often choppy waters is essential to steady your soul, but moving forward is needed to fulfill your purpose.

In these days, when strategy can change rapidly, principles help direct you as you lead.

5 principles for leading uncharted waters:

1) Your peace can’t be dependent on what you can control.

Under stress, we attempt to control more than usual to compensate for the lack of ability to actually control anything of substance.

The more you attempt to control what you cannot control, the more peace will elude you.

In fact, we unknowingly attempt to control little things, which robs our peace even more, because, at some level, we know that doesn’t really change anything for good.

Soul level peace that produces a non-anxious presence comes from knowing that God is in control and our job as leaders is to focus on what we can change, not fret about what we can’t change.

The peace we all long for, even in stressful times, is a result of letting go, not grasping tightly. That doesn’t mean you don’t care; it merely acknowledges that peace is a state of being, not about possession or achievement.

Your relationship with God and focus on the fruit of the Spirit (peace) is core to the peace you desire as a leader.

2) Your confidence can’t be based on knowing the answers.

We know that leaders are not expected to have all the answers, but that doesn’t change how we feel about it in the moment. It can place doubt in our confidence, at least for a short time.

Our desire as leaders is to solve problems, make progress, and help people grow in their faith. That requires ideas and solutions (answers), which we largely express in the form of decisions.

Sometimes even under the best intentions, great thought, wise counsel, and prayer, we make a decision that doesn’t work. Or we make a mistake.

Don’t let your confidence be shaken by one-off situations that don’t go well.

You can’t possibly know all the answers, and that is especially true in uncharted waters.

Let me encourage you; no one knows “the” answers right now. In fact, be somewhat wary of anyone who tells you they do.

Build your confidence, starting with the fact that God is with you, and you are called and gifted. From there, you can believe in yourself and grow in experience and skill.

3) Your success can’t be based only on traditional scoreboards.

Traditional scoreboard stats like attendance, offerings, and first-time visitors will always be important, but they don’t tell the whole picture. And things have changed.

In fact, traditional “scoreboards” leave out some important factors, plus culture has shifted, which causes us to think about how we pursue and define success.

Let’s start with what we know; life change is the most important measure of success for the church. Then, you might prioritize how you think about that. For example, salvation and baptism are likely at the top of your list.

There are many more examples of life change, such as freedom from addiction or a redeemed marriage, and kids and teens making good decisions.

Current culture has shifted first to attending church less in general, which has been happening at a noticeable level for at least a couple of years or more.

Now, in these uncharted waters, we are all navigating the pros and cons of digital church. Each church will choose its own approach, but one thing we all know is that it’s here to stay.

Digital church is not an option if you want to reach people where they are. From there, depending on how you choose to prioritize it, you can encourage people to attend in person when they are ready.

People will want to come back, but it will take time.

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Dr. Dan Reiland serves as Executive Pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as Executive Pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as Vice President of Leadership and Church Development at INJOY. He and Dr. Maxwell still enjoy partnering on a number of church related projects together.