We are now many months into this season of the pandemic and, like every other pastor I know, I feel the burden and panic of wondering what ministry in this new COVID world looks like and how to lead a church within such a time.
But I think the first two weeks of realizing “no more worship in the building on Sunday mornings” were the worst.
Panic… and Promise
I was in a full-blown panic. I felt the need to have all the answers as to when we would have church, what it would look like, and how to make it all happen. If I did not get it figured out soon, I was convinced people would leave. It did not help that people giving dropped precipitously low! How were we going to make it? Our survival looked bleak (I admit I can be a bit over-reactive in my own mind at times…).
And yet, a funny thing began to happen. The church… began being the church.
Yes—there was sadness in missing out on our normal Sunday AM worship times. Yes— many questions arose about what the future held for how the church would operate. But some of the people I expected to be most impatient and difficult actually offered much grace and understanding. It was refreshing.
People began taking advantage of new devotional times being offered throughout the week.
People began looking more intentionally who they could serve on their own street. Who needs groceries picked up? Who needs checking on? Who needs a phone call? Who needs a word of encouragement? Who needs prayer?
People began asking what our city needed. How can we support our local leaders? How do we support first responders and health professionals?
People who once decried online worship as a cheap substitute for real worship suddenly depended on that online worship connection as the only form of worship.
New local shepherds rose up among us in our congregation to check in on “their part of the flock.”
People began asking, what is really important when it comes to faith in the church? Is this fast pace with all the meetings and programs really needed to follow Jesus? Is my entire faith journey dependant upon a one-hour time slot in a church facility on Sunday mornings?
People became imaginative and willing to explore new possibilities. New ideas and ways of doing things began to pop up. New forms of digital worship? Yes! Old school phone call trees? Yes! New digital meeting spaces? Yes! Daily devotional offices? Yes! Are as many meetings needed to make the church be the church? No! Is our identity defined only by meeting at the same time in the same space? No! Are there new ways to engage the community? Yes! Should we explore adaptation of existing ministries? Yes!
On top of all of this, giving bounced back and people adopted an even stronger posture of generosity. It was almost like folks said, “Giving is one thing I can still concretely do to make a difference amidst all the changes.” So they started giving!
I would in no way have wished to be forced out of the church building. But I have been reminded that this is really what the church was birthed and equipped for in the Book of Acts. During the first three centuries, the early church movement began and flourished to the point of outlasting the Graeco-Roman Empire. It did this not through institutional, formal gatherings, but in homes and in localized places. The church flourished by listening, identifying needs, building community around those needs, discipling in an informal way, and allowing worship to flow from there. Slowly I have begun to realize and wonder, might the church have this opportunity again? Here and now in the midst of this season of pandemic?The church flourished by listening, identifying needs, building community around those needs, discipling in an informal way, and allowing worship to flow from there. Click To Tweet
It’s one of the reasons I am so grateful for the thinking around contextualization fostered through FX thinking. The core practices of listening, loving/serving, building community, discipling, and worshipping have never been more applicable than they are now.
I will confess, I still panic.
I wonder if our church will ever go back “to the way it was (I doubt it—-nor do I think we should). I still wonder what tomorrow holds for the church. I still have more questions than answers.I am slowly realizing a bit more every day that times like now are exactly what the church—God’s church—was made for. Click To Tweet
But one thing that is giving me ever more hope is that I am slowly realizing a bit more every day that times like now are exactly what the church—God’s church—was made for. The church was birthed and equipped for times just such as this.
And we get to be a part of it. We are followers of Jesus. Which means, we too are made for a time just such as this.
We may not feel we are equipped for this season right now. But God believes we are.
The Reverend Dr. Matthew Lake is the Lead Pastor of the First UMC of Williamsport PA which is a congregation operating with a gathered and sent mindset resulting in multiple forms of traditional worship experience as well as a group of Fresh Expression worship experiences called the Acts Network.