Voices of the Network

An Opportunity For Thoughtful Design

The last few years have been a whirlwind for me and my family. Just over two years ago now, my older daughter Erin was diagnosed with a brain tumor. After it was removed, it revealed a rare form of brain cancer. After several months of radiation, we returned home to a new normal. During those same months, I also lost a dear friend of many years to a cancer fight of her own, and one of my best friends to a heart attack at the age of 51. As we navigated those losses and began to move forward, less than 8 months later we would experience a pandemic that disrupted all of our lives. Who could have imagined that our churches would go virtual, many for over a year?

I’ll be honest with you. The last 26 months have been some of the toughest I’ve ever experienced, both personally and as a leader. Now what? What’s the way forward from here?

Over the last year, I’ve heard a lot of people, and not a few pastors, express their desire to return to life as it was before COVID. “If only we could get back to what things were like last February!” “When will things get back to normal?” “I’m so ready to get back in person and get things back like they were before.”

I came across a quote a few weeks ago from Amy Edmondson, the Novartis Professor of Leadership at Harvard University. It captured some of what I’ve been feeling and what we’ve been discussing around our leadership tables at the church where I’ve served for nearly 17 years. She wrote, “Too many are asking whether we will go back to normal. To me, the problematic word is “back.” There is no going back to pre-COVID times. There is only forward - to a new and uncertain future that is currently presenting us with an opportunity for thoughtful design.”

That last part is what we’ve been discussing for nearly a year now at Southview. This has been a season of tremendous loss and difficulty for so many. And the church has stepped up and stepped in like I’ve rarely seen. I’ve watched as food pantries have been filled, children have been cared for, the poor have been served, and teachers, nurses, and first responders have been honored and blessed in tangible ways. I’ve watched as hospitals have been provided with things they need, as homeless shelters have been stocked with supplies, and as school supplies have been collected and distributed. We have not allowed what we cannot do to stop us from doing what we can. And in that, I find great connection with Edmondson’s words.

“An opportunity for thoughtful design.” I love that phrase, and I’m resonating with it at a deep level. After a difficult, trying season, those words are echoing in my spirit.

I’ve been asking our leaders for months - “what does the church you want to attend look like? What would it feel like - sound like - smell like? If today you were choosing a church to invest in, describe it. And let’s build that.” I’m inviting our teams to re-dream the dream. We have an opportunity for a fresh start as we “reboot” our physical campus - what needs to stay the same? What needs to change? What do we need to keep doing? What do we need to stop doing?

The Old Testament prophets have always been one of my favorite parts of Scripture, and I find encouragement and hope so often in their words. Isaiah 43:18-19 has been on my mind and lips a lot this year. “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

It’s been a tough season. No doubt. But God’s not done. He’s making a way forward. We have an opportunity to lead God’s people in fresh ways. The only thing stopping us is us.

We have tremendous freedom in this season to try new things, to explore new ideas, to attempt what we never have before. We will fail at times - no doubt! But we might also find that God takes our efforts and does something with them that is unmistakably Him. Something remarkable.

I’ve been a student of leadership for over three decades, and I’ve taught and coached leaders for over two of those. I’ve seen leaders fly, stumble, fall, and get back up. Right now, so many of the leaders I talk to are just tired. I get that. It’s been a tough, tough season to lead through. Please hear me, leaders - take the time to rest and rejuvenate. Sabbath is a gift from our Heavenly Father, never to be seen as a legalistic burden, but as a gift given in love by One who cares for us more than we might have ever imagined. Take the time to rest and find the strength that rest provides. It’s how God wired us.

As we enter a new chapter, post-pandemic, I want to challenge you, leaders - don’t miss the wonder and invitation of Edmondson’s quote. We have, right now, “an opportunity for thoughtful design.” How will you thoughtfully design your leadership going forward? It doesn’t have to look like it always has. The world has changed. We have changed, you and I. And we can step forward differently. Let’s be intentional about that design - thoughtful - prayerful. And when we are, let’s see if God doesn’t do something remarkable in the days ahead.

William Attaway is Lead Pastor of Southview Community Church and is an Executive Coach with Catalytic Leadership LLC.


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Plants that Preach

On a recent hike through the woods of a nearby park, I was reminded how infinitely imaginative our Creator God truly is. I caught a glimpse of the beautiful, migratory Yellow-Rumped Warbler, and it stirred in me a desire to praise God, “Lord, You know the origins of this beautiful bird and how far it has flown from South America, and You know exactly where it is going from here. You are amazing, God!”

Then I came upon the most unusual looking plant. On each stem were three leaves. (For those of you who recall the expression, “leaves of three, let it be,” no, it was not poison ivy.) What made the plant so unusual was its flower.

The flower was green like rest of the plant, had a tubular shape, and was covered by a broad, leafy flap. Out of curiosity I gently lifted the flap and was delighted to find what I expected—the preacher! The plant as a whole resembles a preacher in the high pulpit of churches years ago and is commonly called “Jack in the Pulpit.” At that moment, I felt both gratitude and conviction, because this plant was a stark reminder of my responsibility and privilege as a disciple of Jesus: to make disciples by preaching and teaching God’s Word and proclaiming the gospel of Jesus.

As I hiked my way out of the woods, I began to think about other plants in our part of the country that “preach.” The Dogwood blossom symbolizes Jesus’ crucifixion with a red marking on each of its four petals to represent Jesus’ blood as He hung on the cross in our place. There is also the Passion Vine, so named because its intricate, purple flowers can be used to describe the Passion of Christ.

It is not just the plants and their flowers that “preach.” As Romans 1:20 clearly states, all of God’s creation reveals Him and His attributes. Psalm 19:1-4 describes how creation declares the glory of God without saying a single word. Since I too am created by God, what does my life reveal about Him? When people see me, what do they discover about God? Just seeing me is not enough for them to understand God’s purpose for them. Those around me must also hear about God from me, for it is not the responsibility of plants to preach, but mine.

I emerged from the woods that day challenged by the plants that preach and affirmed by God to never cease to be an intentional and active disciple-maker for Jesus.

Are you interested in a hike, doing some bird watching, or better yet, learning how to be a disciple of Jesus who personally makes disciples of Jesus? I invite you to join me by contacting me at .

Erik Wilkins is the Next Steps Pastor at First Baptist Church of Woodbridge and is currently on the NorthStar Board of Directors.



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Take the Trip! - Israel 2022

NorthStar pastors (Senior, Associate, and other ministers) are being invited to go on a trip to Israel in January 2022. If you would like all the information and application to join us, please email Mary Beth Inman.

I personally encourage all who have read about this planned trip and wondered if you should go. I say, “If you are thinking about it then the answer is definitely YES!” Why? I took the trip two years ago a bit afraid and nervous and returned energized and delighting in reading the Bible as I had never been before. Why? I saw the places in the Bible with my own eyes. I touched the mounts that the prophets touched and where they did battle with the prophets of Baal. I saw the ruins of past Roman occupation. I walked through Herod’s summer palace and viewed his swimming pool. I walked the ruins of Masada. I traveled on a boat across the Sea of Galilee. I saw where Jesus taught his disciples in Capernaum. I saw the Mount of Olives and prayed in that garden. I swam in the Dead Sea. I saw how the 1st century people buried their loved ones, such as Jesus. I prayed at the Temple Mount and left a prayer on the Western Wall. Being there is so different from reading about it.

It all made the Bible “come alive,” as the saying goes. I finally understood why there are some things in the Bible that are such a big deal. Water, for instance. In our country we have water at the touch of our fingers. We don’t have to pray for rain unless we are farmers, or we have a yellowing lawn. But our throats are not dry, nor our energy wilted from dehydration. So, when Jesus talked about water, especially living water, it was a big deal for the people he lived with.

Drew Hill is a wonderful leader for this trip. We read from the Bible the passages that applied to the location that we visited. We had time to meditate. We celebrated communion in a garden. We were at Ein Gedi where David wrote, “as the deer pants for water so my soul pants for you.” (Psalm 42:1). We saw the road to Damascus. We visited Yad Vashem, the extensive Holocaust History Museum. And of course, we visited Jerusalem and Bethlehem. In January, the tourist travel is low so there is very little crowding at the various sites. And the temperature is good – not hot.

And one more thing: the flight is direct from Dulles to Israel – no stopover at any other country. My trip stopped in Turkey; yours will not. A direct flight means no conflict with possible COVID conditions in that other country. The people of Israel are doing well with their vaccinations.

The organizers have gotten the very best price they can get during the January off-season. If you are uncomfortable, that is good. Please use that discomfort to move yourself out of your comfort zone. Make the time. Other pastors or Leland pastors-to-be will gladly help with a Sunday or two pulpit time. This is one of those “trips of a lifetime!”

Anne Smith is a Chaplain at Regan National Airport, a member of the MACBF (Mid-Atlantic Cooperative Baptist Fellowship) Clergy Covenant Group, and member of Calvary Hill Baptist Church in Fairfax, VA. She is currently pursuing a Doctor of Ministry in Pastoral Care and Chaplaincy with McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University. She joined NorthStar on their Pastors' Trip to Israel in 2019. 

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