Four Tips for Christians Navigating 2021

2020 was rough!

People lost loved ones. Individuals lost their jobs. And even the most distinguished among us felt like utter failures in the home if our children were unable to adapt to online education and wearing a mask, ad nauseam. I am in no way trying to trivialize the diverse trials that we have all experienced in this infamous year. I believe 2020 was a tough teacher.

However, I also strongly believe that 2020 was a good teacher. And, if 2020 was a good, tough teacher, class was in session all. year. long. Wouldn’t it be a tragedy to allow the lessons of 2020 to be lost in the blizzard of besetting challenges? So, here are four expert tips we learned in 2020 that we as Christians can readily use for navigating 2021. Now, now, class is beginning.

First, 2020 revealed that “polarizing” is easier than “harmonizing.” Yes, division and polarization are nothing new, but even “newly minted Christians” instinctively knew that 2020 offered something different — something way more intense.

In 2020, people were divided over almost everything. In this proudly self-proclaimed “cancel culture,” some Christians were completely cut off from their constituency — and even friends — for what was posted on their personal social media accounts, or for what was NOT posted on social media. I heard a story of one who accidentally shared his political leaning over a casual cup of coffee with a co-worker, only to later discover that he had been deliberately removed from a long-standing group text and was no longer included in the traditional gift exchange.

Republican or Democrat? Mask or no mask? Disney+ or Netflix? It’s crazy! I’m not sure if 2020 largely created the rift between Americans, or simply exposed the rift, but one thing is for sure: Very few sought to close the growing divide. When did “working apart” replace “working together”? When did ideological separatism replace collaborative teamwork?

In 2021, let’s do better. Let’s build bridges, not fences.

Secondly, we learned in 2020 that one’s vision is only as good as one’s anticipation. Many Christians, just prior to 2020, were completely drunk with vision, and the subsequent 12 months sobered them up. They confidently cast their “2020 vision” (pun intended) before their friends, only to expose that they publicly misreported their “foresight examination score.”

For years, notable conference speakers have been persistently warning leaders of the burgeoning “gig” economy, the inevitability of commercial automation, and the benefits of giving select employees the option to work remotely in order to reduce overhead expenses. The year 2020 came, and these predicted societal shifts made their presence fully known to everyone during the COVID-19 shutdown.

But who was listening? Sadly, a rare, few Christian leaders were positioned to serve their people in these ways, because so many “vision-casting leaders” were not properly anticipating their next steps in light of the greater cultural shifts. Their envisioned steps weren’t intuitive enough, quick enough, or desirable enough for the newly repositioned consumer.

It’s important that leaders understand that 2021 isn’t just the start of a new year, but it’s the start of a new decade. Things will change over the next 10 years. Some changes will coincide with our preferences. Some will not. However, the distinguished Christians of 2021 will be the ones who humbly and accurately anticipate where culture is headed and then envision a future that better serves a society yet to be served, with services that legitimately serve.

The third piece of advice Christians learned in 2020 was that optimism innovates, while pessimism stagnates. Christians with the “can-do attitude” stuck their necks out and did something in 2020. And Christians who couldn’t stomach making a move, did not move. It seems to me that those who humbly moved forward into the unknown are today, by and large, still known — and those who were frozen with the “paralysis of analysis” aren’t just behind the curve, they are buried.

Leadership has never been more obvious. Christians lead. True Christian leaders invite others to follow — especially when times are tough. How can anyone follow a person who is standing still? Wouldn’t that be called “standing”? Yes, I know. Many Christian leaders stepped out too soon, risked too much, and made significant mistakes. But isn’t leadership risky?

Pessimistic Christianity doesn’t have the power to inspire, and it certainly doesn’t have the power to innovate solutions. While optimistic Christian leaders were busy pinpointing opportunities, prioritizing operations, and purifying proposed solutions during quarantine, the world’s pessimistic Christian leaders slowly withered away into irrelevance, while they casually criticized those “impertinent optimists” who dared to try something that may or may not move the proverbial needle forward. Yes, I say again, the astute Christian leaders of 2021 will be the ones who fully recognize that optimism innovates, while pessimism stagnates.

Lastly, the reality is that “the good” shamelessly soldiers on right alongside “the bad.” But very few see it. Last year can’t be all bad. After all, I became an uncle again for the 12th time. I was invited to celebrate former students of mine at wedding ceremonies. My friends were still friendly. Jokes were still funny. And tacos were still tasty. Yes, 2020 has humbled me, but 2020 has also blessed me.

When I was younger, my dad told me that it takes no skill to complain or point out the bad. This comes naturally. However, my dad went on to say that determining to see the glimmers of hope during a raging storm — now that’s hard work. Acknowledging the good during a season of testing isn’t inherently discourteous, as some might think. Rather, finding the good in the midst of the bad is what is most desperately needed to see us through times of adversity.

When will we realize that the good peppered throughout this year is not any less true than the draining details of the same?

Perspective isn’t everything, but it is a very big thing. And, if you can find the good in 2020, you will likely find the good in 2021. Because, where bad goes, good goes, too.

— Joshua Gilmore serves as the director of Baptist Collegiate Ministries at North Greenville University, where he earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees.