Sabbatical Sit Down: Mark Bjorlo

When we think about church (or most other subjects), we tend to think about what we are familiar with, what we experience regularly, what we know. It isn’t often that we expand our perspective to see a bigger picture-there are others out there, in similar settings like ours, but they have a very different way of approaching things than we do, because they have a different set of familiarities, expectations and experiences.

That’s why I enjoy talking ministry with someone like Mark Bjorlo. Mark is Regional President of Converge North Central. His job is to get the big picture perspective of all of the Converge churches in Minnesota and Iowa and to do what he can to help all of us successfully move forward together in our kingdom work. So…that means he not only spends time working with the churches like Eagle Brook and Wooddale, which have attendance numbers in the thousands on a weekly basis, he’ll also spend time talking with little-old-me.

As I’ve gotten to know Mark over the last 2+ years since he’s become the head of our region, I’ve appreciated his enthusiasm, his heart for the lost, and his willingness to share some of his wisdom and insight where it can make an impact.

While we shared a rather spectacular meal at a restaurant near the CNC HQ, I asked Mark where he thought churches were at post-Covid, and what the difference was between those that were doing well and those that were struggling. His answer was, I thought, hugely insightful.

There are a lot of churches that approach things very, very differently, both within Converge and without. As has been pointed out many times over the last few years, Covid response often fell along political and ideological lines – those that fall on a more liberal end of the political spectrum tended to be more restrictive; many of these types of churches stayed closed longer, masked and distanced more, and publicly promoted vaccines. Those that were on the more conservative end of the spectrum often gathered together more, masked and distanced less, and ignored or criticized Covid vaccinations. 

In Mark’s view (and in my estimation as well), both of these categories of churches came through the pandemic well, both in attendance and finances. A third category of church (which I think I would identify my approach with) was the missional church – the mission of the church was the primary focus, and a balance point between following governmental Covid regulations and guidance, and doing the work of loving God in worship and loving others in outreach, was sought. These churches, by and large, came out well.

So what churches are struggling today? What is a common link between those that have emerged from Covid financially struggling and losing attenders? It was those that didn’t maintain a consistent path forward that aligned with the ideology of the church. For example, a liberal leaning church that would reject mandates, or a church that would frequently change their stance without explanation or reasoning.

In other words, the difference between the churches that have weathered the last 3 years well and those that are suffering is…vision.

As a leader, vision is one of the most important aspects to our work. People need to know who we are and what we’re trying to accomplish. That may sound easy, but on top of being one of the most important parts of leadership, its also one of the most difficult. It’s hard to clearly articulate a picture of what a church or organization could be in a way that is compelling and exciting enough for the members of that church or organization to not only go along with it, but help drive the bus to get there.

At River’s Edge, we’ve said for years that traditions and history are great and worth following, as long as it continues to help us accomplish our goals of loving God and loving others well. When they no longer do, then we can say, “those things served us well, but its time to do something different.” The foundation for doing that was always, and will always be, the Word of God.

So when Covid lockdowns hit, we said, “how can we stay safe and still love God and love others.” When we were given mandates and restrictions, and many of us wanted to push back or ignore them, the response was, “Ok. How can we do what we want to do while still honoring Romans 13:1: ‘Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.’?”

The answer to that evolved over time, but we knew the process, because we knew the vision. We are a church that exists to glorify God through fervent prayer, passionate worship, and hands-on community outreach. When we can best fulfill that mission while obeying authorities, great. When authorities get in the way of us doing what we are called to do, we find…workarounds. We honor authorities, but we honor God and His call on us more. The clarity of our vision for what God has called us to do helps us to navigate difficult questions like these.

What’s key is that we keep focus on what is of first-importance: Jesus Christ, the son of God, the atoning sacrifice that makes a way for our sins to be forgiven and our eternity in heaven to be ensured. Everything else is secondary to that.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: