Opportunities to Seize
& Challenges to Address
“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face” – Mike Tyson, American Professional Boxer
How to engage your church in reaching your community effectively.
The challenge is that many people feel a little paralyzed by the season we’re in with this pandemic. They feel like they’ve been punched in the face, they’re stunned, and they don’t know what to do. Some say we need to pivot; they don’t know how to do it. They don’t know where to pivot toward.
How should a church leader respond when they are punched in the face?
American professional boxer, Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” That’s a great quote and a great analogy because that’s what it feels like for pastors right now. We as pastors and church leaders have been punched in the face with this pandemic. All of us came into 2020 with sermon series about having clear vision, 2020 vision, knowing what this year was going to be about. Then we all got a punch in the face. We can feel stunned by it, and it can bring paralysis if we’re not careful. However, nothing is more important when you’re punched than to come back with a good counter punch.
“nothing is more important when you’re punched than to come back with a good counter punch”
I’m talking about the spiritual; Ephesians 6 says that we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood, but against spiritual powers. We are people who are to fight our battles with spiritual weapons. So, this is an important time for us as the church to say we’re going to fight our battles in a spiritual way. Really not just be stunned and paralyzed by this moment. When we think about spiritual fighting, we should consider how an eagle fights a rattlesnake. If he’s taking on a rattlesnake, he doesn’t fight that snake on that snake’s turf, right? Because that snake has an advantage. He grabs the snake and takes it really high up into the sky, where that snake can’t get his bearings, and he has no ability to fight back. He’s just kind of dangling around in the air, and then he just lets go and drops him to his death.
That’s a good illustration of what we have to do. We have to say we’re going to fight this fight with spiritual weaponry the Lord has given us. We need to be people of God’s word, people of prayer, and people of worship.
If so, then we’re going to hear from the Lord, we’re going to be people that serve like the Lord’s invited us to serve our communities. That’s a super important part of where we’re at right now.
TWO PRIORITIES FOR PASTORS WHO HAVE TAKEN A PUNCH
1. Opportunity to seize
The opportunity to be seized is to engage in serving our communities. We talk a lot about community engagement here at Canyon Hills, and believe community engagement is a number one indicator of church health and church growth.
There’s never been a more important, opportune time for community engagement, because people are hurting. In our communities, people are looking for help; they’re open for help.
There’s an awareness that people are in trouble. So that’s a huge opportunity to be seized. If we as pastors are so stunned by the punch, the hit of the pandemic, and are floundering then we will miss the moment of a lifetime in terms of ministry.
2. Challenge to address
There’s really never been a more challenging moment for pastors in terms of leading our congregations. Pastors are wondering how to lead going forward. We don’t have the same services that we’ve had in the past; everything’s changed.
OPPORTUNITIES TO SEIZE: COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT
Opportunities have a shelf life. So, as opportunities come, if you’re not ready you could be missing out on a great way to let your community know that your church exists.
One of the biggest things we’re learning at Canyon Hills and Canyon Hills San Luis Obispo in this time is we have become aware to a lot of people who have never attended our church. I cannot tell you how many times the news stations came out and did a couple of really great stories. Ever since that kind of coverage, and of course social media, we’ve been amazed at how many people have responded and shocked that a church is active in the community, and meeting needs. It’s something they’ve never seen before.
We’ve even had people in a form of generosity, that do not attend our church, that didn’t even know our church existed, give generously to help us accomplish the mission of meeting needs in the lives of people.
Canyon Hills San Luis Obispo has been doing this with the Farmers to Families Food Box Program every Tuesday to meet the need of hunger. We’ve ran out of boxes three weeks in a row–15- to- 20 pound produce boxes that we’re giving out. I didn’t realize there was that big of a need in our area because San Luis Obispo is pretty affluent. In fact, there is so much need that in our second week we had to turn 30 cars away because we ran out of food. But we get to tell them to come back next week.
The other side, though, is community engagement, which is phenomenal. We also need to equip people in our churches to be on board with that.
I’ve been so amazed at the volunteers of our church that I’ve just said hey, we’re ready to roll our sleeves up here, and we’re ready to serve, and they can’t get enough of it.
At our churches we have a list of people that we call, even if they’re not called, they’re still showing up to be a part of meeting needs. So, I think the awareness that it brings within your city is telling the community your church cares.. We’re not just catered to our four walls, our services, our programs–the things that we put in place when you come to us. We’re more concerned about going out and meeting hurting people where they are.
The beauty part of it too is we have people that come every single week that grab boxes to go and do door-to-door ministry with the elderly, the sick, and people who don’t have vehicles.
So I think people have begun to notice that when you meet the needs, your church becomes known. It then sets up the next step of people remembering your church being generous, knowing where to go for prayer and other spiritual needs.
Many times churches are known more for what they’re against than what they’re for. As you engage in your community and serve people in need, you are saying we care about you. That has got the attention of community leaders. At Canyon Hills San Luis Obispo even the mayor has come out to serve the community with us.
That’s the gospel. That’s living out the gospel in your community. It’s a powerful thing because you’re earning the right to be heard in your city.
There are people that are supporting the church that would have never been engaged, because they’re seeing something different. That’s moved them closer to receiving Christ if they’re not believers because of the kindness of the church. Because it’s the kindness of the Lord that leads people to repentance, and that’s what’s happening and taking place there; it’s a pretty powerful thing when lived out. It’s pre-conversion and discipleship.
Because it’s the kindness of the Lord that leads people to repentance, and that’s what’s happening and taking place there; it’s a pretty powerful thing when lived out.
You’d be amazed when you do something, because of the social media world that we live in, how quickly word spreads. And if word spreads in that way, it also spreads with the local community and news. We are known for what we are doing to people in the community who don’t even attend church. There are cars backing out of the parking lot, around the corner onto the main street, and people are wondering, “What is this?” We, as a church, sometimes minimize the awareness that we can come from kindness.
Then here are church people, putting a food box in a car, making contact with that person, and just smiling. It’s not just a one-time deal; we’re going to be here as long as you have a need.
Hundreds of people that weren’t aware of our church, now know exactly who we are, where to find us, and they know what you stand for. They know that we care about the people in the community. And because the need is so great they are even showing up after our outreach times. Our distribution is from 10am-1pm, but we still have people showing up at the church at 3 or 4pm asking if there are any more food boxes left. It’s amazing.
The Farmers to Families Food Box Program is not just a temporary patch to a problem, but it sounds like it’s a real catalyst for a cultural shift in your church.
How do you think this is going to change things for years ahead?
When needs arise again, there’s going to be a trusted source for them to go back to. It’s the same in all of our lives when we find ourselves at a place of need, and God lines something up, and we know where to go when something comes up again. There’s also the side of trying to help our city.
For those people that have a place within the community and a place within the city, you become a resource to them. I think at some point too, the verbiage goes from hey, what do you think? Because last time this happened, you guys had an answer for that. So now here we are as a city going hey, we’re facing something else, man I would sure like to know what the church down the street actually thinks about this.
I think the conversation will begin to switch as you have a place at the table in city leadership.
If you keep humble about it, and you keep people the main deal, I think you become a place of influence within your city.
Because you can sniff out agendas, but when you’re just saying we want to serve I think it gives you a seat at the table to present change in a city. So I think the conversation will change eventually.
It does seem to me like one of the things the Lord’s trying to do during this time is get the church out,
like the salt out of the salt shaker. Get the church out of the building and into the community.
What do you say to a pastor that has taken a punch in the face and is trying to get his bearing as he or she seizes an opportunity?
This is what we’ve been waiting for.
This is what we’ve been waiting for. I know that sounds, like who sits at home and goes, man, I’m ready for things to fall apart, so I could do something. We’ve always said we’re in the business of people, that’s what everything’s about.
So if that’s really what it’s about, then when this opportunity comes, in whichever way that it comes, you got to trust God enough to know that when it comes, he’s going to highlight it in your life. He’s going to give you the strength, the wisdom, the ability, the people, the volunteers to make this thing happen. But I’m just sitting back going like this is our hour. We can’t miss this. We can’t mess this part up, and so if we put our trust in the Lord and we’re in prayer saying God, “we want to be used in a way that helps people,” then we can’t be surprised.
Because God says, I can work with that, with the person who says I’m available. So I would say yes, it may feel like you’ve been punched around a little bit, but God is going to sustain you. I think God is going to put something in you and you just got to be ready for it.
The Lord is trying to bring the church to a place of having greater resilience right now. To be people who are more agile and flexible and responsive.
So that’s the opportunity to be seized, and I think that’s what pastors and leaders need to be thinking. What’s the opportunity to be seized? It’s community engagement, and it can take all kinds of forms. Farmers to families is a great opportunity because literally, hundreds of thousands of dollars of resources will flow into your city because as a church you are willing to say, Lord, we’ll be a part of that. So there’s the opportunity to be seized.
Challenges: Defining Your Task Forces
The other side of the equation, though, has some complexity to it. There are some challenges to address, because moving forward we all need to know how to pastor a church.
The analogy of being punched in the face is spot on. It did feel stunning at the beginning. Knowing there were many questions and things that needed to be changed all at once could feel paralyzing. So early on, within the first few days, our team and some key ministry leaders got together. We spent a day praying together, and just putting all the questions on the table, and asking the Lord how we should move forward. By the end of the day, we came out with four task forces that had been developed to address the needs going forward.
I think developing a strategy that’s scalable no matter what size church you lead is important, to have a just clear agenda, a clear strategy so that you are not constantly flipping back and forth.
So those four task forces for us were:
- Church Services & Communications
- Congregational Care
We knew that outreach is important; there’s definitely an opportunity in our community to reach out to people and see them come to know the lord.
Church Services & Communications
There’s also a heightened level of need within our church and in our congregation. So we wanted to be mindful and address it. So church services and communications was a key task force for us. That group needed to move all of the services online in short order, so they got to work doing so. They also were responsible for communicating with the church and making sure that all the changes that were being made were clearly communicated to the church. Whether your church is ten people or 10,000 people, clear communication is critical, and it’s key, especially during a time like this when everything felt like it lacked clarity and was changing.
We knew there were some people who couldn’t tune into social media or couldn’t find our services online, and that’s a large group of people in our church and in our community.
We felt like since they can’t come to us and come to church, we need to go to them. So our congregational care task force started making calls to over 20,000 families that were connected to our church to ask them how are you doing? Are you okay? How can we pray for you? We would pray with them over the phone. I can’t tell you how many testimonies we heard of just the call coming at just the right moment when somebody was in need.
When we began to make these calls, and as we called the people in the church, it was really clear there were some issues that came up repeatedly.
So our group’s task force listened to some of these needs that kept bubbling up to the surface, like:
- My marriage is in trouble.
- We lost our job, we’re financially insecure.
- I am quarantined with somebody and I didn’t realize they had an addiction.
- I’m suffering from anxiety and depression and I need help.
- I’m isolated and I need connection.
Our Groups task force, they not only kept the groups going that were existing already because the connection to a group is so important. But they also, during this time, launched Hope Groups specifically designed to address some of these key issues that kept bubbling up to the top.
People could find community in a time where people felt so isolated, they could engage and connect and find community.
So those are the four task forces that we launched right away. And we just feel like it’s such an important time.
I don’t know if you saw the Barna research that came out just in the last couple of weeks. But it says that
one in three Christians have completely disconnected from church. one in three Christians have completely disconnected from church.
They’re not watching online, they’re not connected. They have completely disconnected. That should be scary for us. As leaders that should be sobering and not something to take lightly.
We shouldn’t be fooled into thinking when things go back to normal, and we open the doors to our church, everything is going to be just like it was before, because it won’t. Things have changed forever. As leaders, we have to be intentional about not just waiting for people to come back to church, but how can we go after them.
So all four of those things had to be shifted in terms of how it gets done in the church. Pastors need to invite other people into that solution, not just do it by themselves. There are people they need to invite in to help them, no matter what size the church is.
Even on our team, I thought that it was really interesting. We had people from our business office who joined the care task force, and they were making calls and checking on people. Everything shifted, and those four things became the priority for us. I think it’s paralyzing when you feel like you have to address everything, and I think it’s important for leaders just to get clarity on what we need to focus on presently. Those four things were key for us–Outreach, Communications, Congregational Care and Groups.
The Counter Punch
We’ve all taken a punch in the face, but we’ve got a counter punch. The things we need to know right now is that there’s an opportunity to be seized, and there’s a challenge to be addressed. The opportunity to be seized is outside the church; the challenges to be addressed in many ways are inside the family of God, inside the church.
The opportunity to be seized is outside the church; the challenges to be addressed in many ways are inside the family of God, inside the church.
If we can think in those two ways, those are our priorities right now.
We can’t allow that punch to keep us from doing those two things. We need to trust the Lord to give us wisdom so those two things can be powerful.
The Mike Tyson quote reminds us of Matthew 16:18 when Jesus said “I will build my church, and the gates of hades will not overcome it.” Build my church; it’s punching. In boxing it’s strange when one boxer is getting beat repeatedly. It seems so unnatural for a boxer who just sits there and just gets beat, and we’re like “Throw in the white towel!” “Throw in the white towel!”
It’s so unnatural to watch the church, the body of Christ, for overcomers to sit back and take punch after punch after punch, where you’re almost,“ Are we going to throw in the white towel?” We have one in three that aren’t coming to our church; we have to get out on the street and bring them to church.
“Are we going to throw in the white towel?” We have one in three that aren’t coming to our church; we have to get out on the street and bring them to church.
So what would you say to a pastor out there going I just don’t know if I can pull this off?
Use the reference of Ephesians 6, where we wrestle not. Then if you read and you go on further, it talks about how we fight. Well, you’re really talking about a wrestler, and you’re talking about a soldier.
Wrestlers, one-on-one back in the day, they oiled themselves up, and they would fight to the death. He’s not asking us to wrestle; he’s asking us to fight. So then you think about that movie gladiator, and what they say? He says if we stick together, we’re going to win this deal.
I would say to that pastor you’re not alone. I mean two questions I’m always asking in any season, what do I have, and who do I have? When I can define who I have with me, I realize it’s okay, I don’t have to carry this by myself. And even if it’s just two or three people, pastors might be listening to this going like okay, I don’t have a staff. You don’t need to have a staff.
Do you have two or three people that you can pull and say here’s what we’re going to do first? We’re going to pray; we’re going to start there. We need God; we need his wisdom, we need his power, we need his spirit, let’s do that, let’s let him speak. And let’s pop the whiteboard out and let’s get this thing figured out, and then let’s do it together. So I would encourage that pastor you’re not by yourself in this deal, that’s what I would say.
Pastors really are connecting, and they’re calling each other and leaning in. We’re having zoom calls with lots of pastors almost every day because pastors want to connect right now. We are asking each other, “What are you doing? How are you doing it?”
It’s really one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen come out of this is the collaboration among pastors from different churches, different denominations who are coming together, and they feel a love for reaching their city together. And they’re not going down without a fight.
A.W. Tozer said, “when it looks like things are out of control, behind the scenes there’s a God who has not surrendered his authority.”
God, he hasn’t surrendered His authority. It may look crazy around us, but he hasn’t surrendered his authority. Many times the chaos around us, God can use that to bring clarity within us, right? Many times, the chaos around us, will really allow clarity to be birthed within us.
Many times, the chaos around us, will really allow clarity to be birthed within us.
We’re all doing some serious soul-searching right now. We’re all saying God, how do you want me to go forward. So let the chaos around you bring forth as you seek the Lord a new clarity within you is going to emerge. You need to know that when you refer to Jesus as Caesarea Philippi where he makes that declaration, I’m going to build the church, and the gates of hell won’t prevail against it.
He was standing right in front of this amazing backdrop to the god of man. And saying, and that’s where we get the word panic actually, it’s from that story. He was saying it doesn’t matter the craziness of this world; it doesn’t matter what the enemy may throw at you. I’m giving you the keys to the kingdom. I want you to know that it doesn’t matter what you may face.
Another quote by A.W. Tozer that is appropriate right now is, “A scared world needs a fearless church”. It is time for us to be people of faith and not be people who are living in fear.
We also can’t allow ourselves to be pulled into all of the foolish debates that are going on right now, and the rhetoric that is happening. With all the arguments that are taking place, rise above it and let’s fight this fight with the spiritual weaponry that the lord has given us.
Let’s serve our communities in the power of the Holy Spirit, and watch a reformation that’s coming to the Church.