In many ways the pandemic is accelerating for the church significant dynamics that have already been set into motion by the fourth information revolution in human history-the digital information age.
Reggie McNeal, notable author and Methodist pastor
The best way out is always through.
(God says) 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 rivers in the dessert.
Isaiah 43: 19
Your local congregation, our denomination and the wider global Church have been through many changes and challenging seasons in the two millennia it has existed. I am hard pressed to think of any of these changes that has moved as quickly as dealing with the global pandemic of COVID-19. Thank you, pastors, and all those working with you for stepping up to the challenge and now working to keep it going and growing.
In a recent Charge Conference one leader expressed the longing for going back to worship as we used to do and being able to stop the additional work of taping services and online Bible Studies. Another on that Zoom meeting shared, “Please, we can’t stop it; my daughter and her family have connected now through our online service! We need to work to reopen and find ways to keep our online ministry and invest in it too!” I highlighted what I believe is the key word in her comments, the word AND! Moving forward, there is no real turning back to “how it used to be;” we have moved into a new era or as some have called it a “new normal” that doesn’t yet feel that normal. Ministry today and moving forward need to be “BOTH live AND online”!
Each congregation needs to find ways to stay connected to people online and find ways to reopen buildings and return or as you have returned already to live worship, keep going and growing both live and online ministry!
INVEST TIME and RESOURCES: This is not going to be a short season, and then things will go back to how they used to be. You and I are living through a major, once every several hundred years global shift. It is important that each local congregation start to think about
- How do we build a team to work with the pastor on technology, keeping and developing even further your online ministry?
- What new part-time and/or volunteer positions are needed for helping tape and edit online worship, work with the church website, etc?
- Is our local congregation investing time and finances into this major shift in how people engage with ministry and our congregation?
- Are there new line items in your 2021 budget for technology, higher speed wi-fi and some staff support?
- This is an excellent time to reach out to your young adults, your grandchildren, your younger neighbors, people want to make a difference and help; they understand technology and could connect with your congregation as they feel valued for contributing. They will also feel you understand them as you “speak their language” digitally.
COLLABORATE & LEVERAGE OUR CONNECTION: This is a time to leverage our connectional ministry-“We are in it together!” Pastor and congregational leaders, sign up for courses on the awesome, newly redesigned and online LEADERSHIP ACADEMY. Reach out to the United Methodist congregations near you: can you share offerings for online Bible Studies, etc? Does one of your local congregations have better facilities for taping worship/sermons or devotionals? If so, then work together to share resources or schedule times for another church to also tape in your facility. “WE ARE STRONGER TOGETHER!”
REFRAME as you REFORM: The prophet Isaiah shares with the people of Israel and us today an invitation…. “God is doing a new thing! Can’t we see it?” This moment in history is certainly filled with many challenges AND also great opportunities. Throughout the pages of the Bible, Walter Brueggemann has noted there is a cycle of orientation (when times are structured and stable) and then something happens with war, famine, sickness…and there is disorientation. Finally emerging out of the disorientation is a new season and reorientation and even resurrection. During this pandemic it has not been all bad! Families have reconnected, sharing more meals together. Friends and family have taken time to share with other more often via online or creative outdoor, social distanced ways. Congregations have connected with new people via their online ministry, and neighbors in need have been fed or cared for through many new or ramped up hands-on ministries. In so many ways you all have reformed your ministry for such a time as this. We want to encourage you to keep moving forward, reforming your ministry as you reframe this time of crisis and discover the opportunities that are emerging. “Never let a good crisis go to waste” (Winston Churchill…and others with various adaptations of the quote).
FINALLY, pace yourself; this is more of a marathon than a sprint
Pastors and leaders, most importantly pace yourself and take care of your spirit, mind and body. We are in this for the long haul. Make certain that you in your local congregation are caring for each other and encouraging time to rest, renew and then work together as you grow teams.
Jesus said, ‘With God all things are possible’ (Matthew 19:26)! As you move toward Thanksgiving and Christmas, don’t get discouraged, reorient toward God, reframe and focus on the possibilities and invest time in prayer and new ways to connect as you reform your ministry for both live and online. God is with us. Let’s go grow disciples and transform the world together!