Leadership Amid a Pandemic

When I sought the election as bishop in 2016, I never imagined the degree of disruption (the pandemic, denominational issues, racial injustices and political turmoil) we would have experienced this last 18 months. My plan to lead the Missouri Conference to relentlessly lead our churches to become outwardly focused and spiritually centered Christ followers has been greatly impacted by these outside forces. Suddenly we were learning how to lead in a multifaceted crisis and planning for a very difference post-pandemic world with a church undecided about its future as a denomination and seemingly no way to decide because of the pandemic itself.
It is as if we are caught between what was and what has not yet come to pass. I’m reminded of the story in John’s gospel, chapter 14, verses 1-4 (The Message)

“Don’t let this rattle you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking.”
I’ve always been a big fan of Thomas’ honesty. In verse 5 Thomas says,

“Master, we have no idea where you’re going. How do you expect us to know the road? Many of us may have this same question today regarding our present circumstances. Where are we going and how do we get there?”
I love The Message version of this story. It begins by saying, “Don’t let this rattle you.” And follows up with “You trust God, don’t you? Then trust me.” Trust is hard for us in uncertain times and nearly impossible to maintain when all around people are losing patience.
Most of us have heard about the postponement of General Conference again this year.
The General Commission simply couldn’t get everyone safely together in-person or guarantee that local infrastructures across the globe would support a virtual meeting and electronic voting. So, here we go again like a merry-go-round; hurry up and wait.
I love the response Jesus gives to the disciples and especially, Thomas. “Trust me. I am the way, the truth and life;” or, as The Message says, “I am the road, also truth and also life.” Yet, still not satisfied, Phillip said, “Just show us the Father.” in other words, “Show us the map.”
The Message reminds us the road is Jesus, the map is Jesus, the truth is Jesus and only trusting your future to Jesus will we find life. In fact, Jesus makes one of the biggest promises of the Bible in John 14:12.

“The person who trusts me will not only do what I am doing but even greater things because I am going to the Father.”

Greater works than Jesus? How? Jesus says, “because I’m going to the Father and I’m in you,” and then goes on to teach about the vine and branches (chapter 15), instructing us to stay connected. Connectivity is the key. Connectivity to Jesus and to others. I believe this connectivity to Jesus and to each other is how we’ll emerge from the pandemic, the denominational turmoil and anything that follows.
I intend to use our extra time before General Conference to strengthen our connection with God and each other. Connectivity between churches, colleagues, friends and the mission field. If we all focus on Jesus Christ and on our mission fields, we can become outwardly focused and spiritually centered Christ followers. I don’t know the shape of the future. I want to know, but I’m reminded by Jesus to trust in Him through the unknown.
In Christ,

Bishop Farr, Missouri Conference
of The United Methodist Church