When I first started working with college students, ten years ago, I thought I n...
It is probably not a stretch to say that right now has been the most challenging season to be a pastor. Between individual and group conversations, social media, blog posts, emails, and many conversations with friends and colleagues in ministry, I see the tremendous complexity of leading the local church in this time. I speak on behalf of our entire ECO staff when I say we pray continually for you all in the midst of these challenges and the myriad of ways it plays out in your local context. I am so impressed by the ways God has been working in and through you and how you have led with incredible imagination, creativity and love as you navigate such uncharted territory.
One of the best questions that I have heard that helps uncover how people are approaching this season is, “Do you and/or your congregation view COVID-19 as an interruption or a disruption to church life?”
Let’s unpack the meaning behind that question. An interruption is similar to what occurs when you are watching TV and the news comes on and says, “We interrupt your program to bring you breaking news!” You then get your breaking news and then “return to your regularly scheduled program already in progress.” (I realize that using this analogy dates me… as watching programing on network TV is much rarer than it used to be!). The point is, that an interruption hits a pause button – and then we return to life as normal. So, some will view COVID-19 as an interruption, approaching the challenge by saying things like, “This pandemic caused us to leave our buildings, and cancel or modify programs. We will have a process of reintegrating these ministries, but eventually we will go back to normal.”
Others believe COVID-19 is a time of disruption and will change the way we do things in the future. A major disruption, for example, is the invention of the smartphone. Several years ago, my children picked up a hotel room phone, heard the dial tone and said, “Dad! This phone is making a weird sound!” They had no idea. The smartphone has forever disrupted the way we communicate with one another. Those who view COVID-19 as a disruption do not feel that they will go back to normal, but that this is a time to ask new questions about what God is doing that might significantly alter the way we “do” church. For example, will parents want to go back to a frantic pace of activities for their children? Or should the church scale down programming and focus more deeply on discipleship? Do we need Sunday morning church to make a greater quantity and quality of disciples? (Please hear me – I am not saying Sunday morning church isn’t a vital aspect of ministry! I am just emphasizing that the Church is still the Church even when we don’t have corporate worship – like we haven’t been able to do these last months.) Has your small group ministry been completely revitalized and needs some more emphasis and energy put towards it? How has this disruption helped us shift to care for singles in our church and community? What about seniors? So many questions arise when we pay attention to what God might be up to during and after a disruption.
I believe COVID will be a little bit of interruption and disruption. There are things that have been interrupted that will, at some point, resume to normal. But I also hope we don’t miss the disruptive nature of this season and simply long for a return to normalcy. Remember in Acts 1:8 when the disciples are told that they are going to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Sameria, and to the ends of the earth? Yet, the disciples stayed in Jerusalem. It wasn’t until persecution, which was a disruptive event, that caused the disciples to be scattered into these other areas (Acts 11:19). The gospel then began to multiply greatly and fulfill the initial purpose to which Jesus had called them in the first chapter of Acts.
I wonder what disruptive purpose during this season that the Lord has for your life? For your church? For our denomination? I know we are tired. I know we are hearing so many voices calling us to do so many different things. My prayer is that we would be attentive first and foremost to the voice of the Lord. Let us allow God to use this time to shape our churches for his purposes – and not our own.
I pray with the full confidence that the Lord is indeed at work in the midst of this for the good for those who love Him and are called according to his purpose. I am so grateful for the ways you have continued to listen to God and continued to flourish in the midst of seemingly impossible challenges. I cannot wait to see what He continues to do in and through you and your local congregations.