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Keith Stanglin questions panelists Jeremie Beller, Carson Reed and Jim Martin.
Inside Story
Photo by Bobby Ross Jr.

‘This is not God’s first pandemic’

Center for Christian Studies presents seminar on 'Leading the Church in Tumultuous Times.'

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AUSTIN, Texas — It’s a stressful time to be a church leader.

From racial strife to rising inflation to pandemic culture wars, various factors conspire to divide congregations.

“It’s never been easy to be a leader in the church. I think it’s just become so much harder.”

“It’s never been easy to be a leader in the church,” said Keith Stanglin, director of the Austin-based Center for Christian Studies. “I think it’s just become so much harder.”

The center, which Stanglin leads along with associate director Todd Hall, organized a recent seminar hosted by the Brentwood Oaks Church of Christ.

“Leading the Church in Tumultuous Times” was the theme of the event, which Stanglin said aimed to provide encouragement and strategies for leaders.

Related: Faith and COVID-19

Jeremie Beller, The Christian Chronicle’s opinions editor and congregational minister for the Wilshire Church of Christ in Oklahoma City, was one of the three featured speakers. I hitched a ride with him and enjoyed catching up on his life and ministry on the 800-mile round trip.

The other speakers were Jim Martin, vice president of Harding School of Theology in Memphis, Tenn., and Carson Reed, executive director of the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry at Abilene Christian University in Texas. 

About 50 ministers, elders, deacons and Bible class teachers from all over Central Texas attended the seminar. 

I enjoyed meeting several elders of the Brentwood Oaks church, a healthy congregation that oversees a thriving K-12 Christian school on its campus.

All three speakers offered helpful insight.

Two years ago, COVID-19 disrupted life as we had known it, but Reed stressed that God was not caught by surprise.

“We’ve heard the word ‘unprecedented’ an unprecedented number of times,” Reed quipped.

But he noted, “This is not God’s first pandemic.”

Related: Worship in PJs or pews?

God has been there, done that. He’s got the whole world — and its future — in his hands.

“This can feel like a time of defeat where we’re losing,” Martin said in his presentation.

Overall church attendance is down. Many ministers are burned out and joining “The Great Resignation.” A lot of members seem more devoted to their political party than their home congregation.

What’s a leader to do?

Practicing spiritual disciplines — such as prayer, Bible reading, silence and journaling — can be helpful, Martin said.

Among his other advice: 

“I can bemoan the fact life isn’t the way it was or ask, ‘Lord, what are you trying to do right now in my life, in my church?’”

Return to your central purpose and mission (“Why am I serving in this capacity? Am I a minister because nobody else was hiring or because I believe I was called by God?”)

Acknowledge the trauma (“You don’t want to be flippant about somebody else’s pain. … A flippant comment about COVID may not be funny to someone who lost a loved one.”)

Look for what God might be doing (“I can bemoan the fact life isn’t the way it was or ask, ‘Lord, what are you trying to do right now in my life, in my church?’”)

Learn to rest (“Frazzled people who are exhausted are not going to do much good.”)

Check out Martin’s full talk and a panel discussion with all three speakers.

At my request, Beller adapted part of his presentation into a Views column (“Preaching to be heard: Why it matters so much”). Read it online now.

In this stressful time, keep the faith, my friends. Stay focused on the Lord. I’m praying for you.

BOBBY ROSS JR. is Editor-in-Chief of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].

Filed under: Austin Texas Center for Christian Studies church leadership Coronavirus COVID-19 Inside Story National Opinion pandemic stress Texas Top Stories

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