BIG Questions on Pastors’ Minds in the Post-Pandemic & BIG Answers
22 Nov 2022
As we open up into a post-Pandemic era, it is fraught with uncertainties, caused by:
- Virus X or future Pandemic
- Inertia of people coming out of 2 years of Pandemic fears & lifestyle
- Economic downturns caused by wars & supply-chain disruptions
- Social movements & pressures, eg. LGBTQ+, Climate concerns\
- Intergenerational differences within the church
While some of these have been around for a long time, they have resurged after the Pandemic with a vengeance. Some of which are exacerbated by lockdowns and the fast pace of change caused by the Pandemic disruptions.
At such a time, leaders need to know landscape and listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying to them in their church leadership. Every church is different & may be called to different emphasis. My hope for pastoral leaders is that they know which issues resonate with them and clearly feel God’s direction in their leadership as is their inheritance from Jesus’ promise:
When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” (John 10:4-5)
These questions are some curated from pastors interviewed. The answers are gleaned from research of the top Christian voices in the current setting, as well as my processing & thoughts. I hope you find this helpful as a resource to your leadership direction this season!
Q#1: Should I continue In-Person or Online Ministries?
“In 2022, many church leaders will likely realize that the best lane for information is online, while more transformational, transcendent experiences are more likely to happen in-person. (Carey Nieuwhaff).”
Many sources (both religious & secular) assert that online platforms are here to stay.[i] 2 years of acclimatizing has made this an acceptable engagement in culture and at work.
This could be viewed as an opportunity to have an additional platform for ministry and the gospel.
Hybrid Church Will Simply Become Church “…church online is both a necessity and an opportunity.” [ii]
What seems to be one underlying concern for this acclimatization is whether a Covid-safe environment can be maintained in the event of on-going variants of viruses.[iii] While some countries have transited to an Endemic practice, there are still concerns for the elder and young children, of which it weighs on the conscience of members of the entire family.
If you choose to focus on one or the other for the mid to long-term, you should curate it well to make it an effective platform for ministry. But key writers put the key trait for In-Person vis-à-vis Online ministry is that of the feeling of being “personal”.
“In 2022, many church leaders will likely realize that the best lane for information is online, while more transformational, transcendent experiences are more likely to happen in-person. They’ll design their online ministry and in-person experiences accordingly.” – Carey Nieuwhoff [iv]
People would desire good teaching and worship curated for their needs online. But if they were to go onsite, they would hope for personal attention, pastoral prayers and connection, which is difficult to create online. Some ideas could be:
|CURATION||– Service leader that addresses congregation|
– Live worship team with good sound system & visuals
– Handshakes & greetings to each other
|– Online Service Leader to address those online|
– Showing videos / resources that show well in online setting
– Guidance on how to make online worship / sermon engaging, eg. attention, environment, equipment
|PERSONAL-NESS||– Warm handshake, personal greeting|
– Inquiry into how they are doing
– Laying on of hands, anointing oil in prayers
– Conversation over a meal
– Introduction to new friends & networks
|– 2-way engagement, eg. Zoom hosting with chat / iconic responses|
– Response surveys
– Breakout rooms with small groups
Q#2: How far should I push to go online or onsite either way?
This is a question on pastor’s minds with a plethora of opinions from members. This may be sensitive, and I could only proposed some perspectives to consider.
i. The Leadership Perspective
“Courageous leadership is required to lead to something new or out-of-the-box. I believe that this is a season when leaders need courage to lead through transitions, and their leadership will decide whether the church stands in the next 10 years.”
How strongly do members feel about this?
How much empowerment is given to the pastoral leader over this?
If the former is low, and the latter is high, the pastoral leader could develop convictions to push it partially or all the way. However, if the former is high, and the latter is low, then it would be unwise to push it.
Either way, it requires resources and investment, hence it should be made with prayer and consideration.
ii. The Inter-Generational Perspective
Do the younger generation have a preference or opinion vis-à-vis the older generation?
Does one generation “call the shots” due to their position & power?
Is there frustration because of the above?
In some congregations, the younger generation may be quite passive and happy to follow along. In others, there is a strong sense of frustration amongst the younger.
I know of Senior Pastors who believe the church of the future is one that addresses the challenges top on the young people’s hearts, but they are unable to move strongly because they are also called to lead the older generation who have stable and status-quo preferences. This creates angst and frustration in the Senior Pastor!
Courageous leadership is required to lead to something new or out-of-the-box. I believe that this is a season when leaders need courage to lead through transitions, and their leadership will decide whether the church stands in the next 10 years.
What it needs is honest dialogue between generations in a way that builds family and unity, to chart a course that leads both young and old into the future.
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then…I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel… (Philippians 1:27)
Q#3: Is there anything to be concerned about as I go back to mission-efforts & the mission-field as travel opens?
In a survey of over 20 pastoral staff, when asked what efforts had been given to mission the last 2 Pandemic years, the answer was—zero%. There was such a significant redirection of resources to urgent nurturing and worship needs that the outcome was a neglect of both evangelism and missions.
Indeed, missions is an arena we need to get re-connected to! However, as I consult directors of Missions organizations, this return to missions needs to be thought through.
If Missions is a core life-blook of the mandate to make disciples all over the world, then each local church needs to be aware of possible future blocks to this mandate:
- a resurgence of Pandemic conditions
- wars that cause closed or dangerous borders
- governments becoming more self-sufficient & protectionists, closing doors
- US role as economic power may be waning, with implication of travel / doors being affect for missions access [v]
If the local church seeks to make long-term, robust & sustained impact in discipling across nations, (& not see efforts drop to zero again for periods of time), then some considerations would be appropriate:
- The platform of missions could be changed.
Missions by traditional trips & visits may be upended for a variety of reasons & therefore may bring missional efforts to zero, is so defined. Digital missions that bring teaching, training, & coaching online may be a viable alternative. If well curated & strategically sustained it will serve even through times when borders close.
- The training of leaders in missions should be intensified.
The windows of our impact and connection may be limited if the mission-target country goes through crises, eg. Sri Lanka through political & economic upheaval, Myanmar through military takeovers, etc. Digital missions that usually saw participants from these countries fell significantly through these seasons.
While windows are open, training to build up leaders of courage, resilience, skills, initiative & creative thinking should be paramount as part of on-going developmental curriculum.
- The equipping of believers in the field for life witness should be intentional.
For the same reason above, believers if the mission-target country should be equipped for evangelism, marketplace impact and parenting discipleship. These 3 tenets are the core of impacting a nation from ground up. When believers in the land engage these arenas as Christian witnesses, they will become salt & light in the nation, even if missionaries are closed off from access.
- The movement of resources should be swift, with strategies for good times & crises times.
For the reasons of possible swings between open times and crises, I have noted that equipping and training are well received in times of stability, up to times of moderate challenges. When season move into crises (eg. Persecution, political / military upheavals) the stress makes equipping and training unviable. At such times, resources of finance, food, clothes may be the only way to resource. This swing occurs so often in developing countries / regions that local churches involved in missions should consider such alternate strategies.
Q#4: In the still-uncertain post-Pandemic era, how can I build a vibrant, overcoming church?
In the pre-Pandemic era, the landscape was perceived to be more stable (although many issues were already brewing!) Church health and growth were based upon many time-tested frameworks and methods.
The Pandemic upheaved much of the landscape & also threw up attention to fissures and brewing issues. This has caused us to enter a time of transition in the post-Pandemic era. It may take 5-8 years before these issues stabilize into clear frameworks & methods for successful church health and growth.
In this transition period, how can we build & prepare the church to be vibrant & overcoming? Here are some thoughts for consideration:
i. Remember that this is God’s church, HE gets to shape it the way He wants.
Pastoral leaders need to capture this heartbeat & educate their leaders so as to hold more loosely to present church forms and platforms. Leaders need to encourage the openness to listening to God and change, rather than solely return to familiar forms.
ii. Be flexible in strategy, find new ways to engage the surrounding community & needs in this season & commit at least a part of resources towards that.
“The Pandemic has somehow thrown up the fissures of these issues reaching even into the church. Leaders should intentionally commit a part of their resources and platforms to engaging and being a witness of Christ to these issues. Otherwise, the church will truly be an ivory tower while the world moves on around her.”
The landscape is now rife with issues from elderly care to LGBTQ+, to climate-change, to economic downturns, to metaverse…the list goes on. The Pandemic has somehow thrown up the fissures of these issues reaching even into the church. Leaders should intentionally commit a part of their resources and platforms to engaging and being a witness of Christ to these issues. Otherwise, the church will truly be an ivory tower while the world moves on around her.
Train leaders & people to focus on principles yet be flexible in forms. This type of creativity and innovation will matter much in transition phases of uncertainty.
[The church] can reach more people, and different people as well, and [she can] reach them in new ways [she] would never have been able to do before. –Anthony Hilder [vi]
iii. Lead cross-generations well.
More than ever, the concerns between Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z are becoming marked.[vii] The way they see what church should look like and the challenges they face in their generation are different. If unaddressed, what will ensue is a migration of certain generations, or tensions between generations. There needs to be dialogue between generations facilitated by sincere leaders to help generations understand one another, carry each other’s burdens & champion one another to be a united spiritual family.
iv. Mentor the right kind of future leader.
In the next 10-15 years, the core congregation will likely not be the present core congregation. What will the core-congregation be in the next generation? What type of church do they desire? What are the challenges to Christian witness will they face? Yet, likely while that congregation becomes core in the next 10-15 years, the present core-congregation will likely still be around perhaps as a more peripheral influence. That means that the future leader needs to drive vision for the future core, and yet have a heart to lead the generations.
Leaders are not made overnight, nor are they ready-made. Who would be a good future candidate? How would you help them develop what they lack, in skill and heart? How would you build a team around them that is cross generational?
v. Build overcoming believers that can weather the storms of the future.
We have just gone through a global 2-year storm.
But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:26-27)
We are now in-between storms, not knowing when the next storm might be, but it will come! This is the time to build robust ministries that disciple overcomers for the next storm. The church can do this by learning lessons from the previous storm—the Pandemic—and build ministries to sustain and withstand it. Giving members conviction and hope in making sense of the purpose of the Pandemic is vital to helping them move forward, otherwise apathy or silent abstinence may set in.[viii]
Some thoughts for your consideration in doing this:
- Focus on strengthening Small Groups.
They are versatile and mobile to tide through Pandemic or Persecution.
- Build Quality-Leaders for Groups.
As churches strengthen their de-centralization, the experience of their discipleship may rely hugely on the spiritual atmosphere owned by the leader on the ground—the SG leader. Hilder has described ineffective leadership development as one of 8 main problems in churches.[ix]
- Teach, equip and train members to have an Overcoming Spirituality, even if isolated.
These would include learning to hear God’s leading, connecting with & encouraging others as priority, journeying with pre-believers in community to be a life-style Christian witness. The latter is critical in living a lifestyle of connection, engagement, friendship towards pre-believers.
“Until Christians can be seen by the world to practice what they preach, why would anyone listen to us …. why would our opinions or our convictions have any weight with the unbelieving world?”[x]
This transition from Pandemic to normalcy should best be seen as an interlude–possibly an interim window of opportunity–to learn our lessons well and build strong. When Jesus described the 2 scenarios of the house built on sand vs. the house built on solid ground, there were 3 commonalities in both: the wind, rain, floods that beat. Whether we are prepared or not, the storm will come. The question is: will the church be built on sand or solid ground when the next storm comes.
Rev. Dr. Philip Huan is the Principal Consultant at ChurchLife Resources, and is passionate about helping churches and leaders become strong and healthy!
[i] Church members share a preference for online discipleship resources, while pastors admit that digital staff skills are pivotal for church ministry this season. ‘Top 10 challenges facing pastors in 2022’, Subsplash, 1 August 2022, Accessed 25 August 2022, <https://www.subsplash.com/blog/pastor-problems>
[ii] ‘12 Disruptive Church Trends That Will Rule 2022 (And The Post-Pandemic Era)’, Carey Nieuwhof, 2022, Accessed 25 August 2022, <https://careynieuwhof.com/12-disruptive-church-trends-that-will-rule-2022-and-the-post-pandemic-era/>
[iii] Churches need to be equipped to broaden the demographic of volunteers and to offer appropriate, effective training which includes the ability to offer care within a COVID-safe environment. ‘Churches, COVID-19 and Communities’, Centre for the Study of Christianity & Culture, University of York, March 2021, Accessed 25 August 2022, <https://churchesandcovid.org/sites/churchesandcovid.org/files/2021-04/Churches-Covid19-communties-full-report.pdf>
[iv] ‘12 Disruptive Church Trends That Will Rule 2022 (And The Post-Pandemic Era)’, Carey Nieuwhof 2022, Accessed 25 August 2022, <https://careynieuwhof.com/12-disruptive-church-trends-that-will-rule-2022-and-the-post-pandemic-era/>
[v] Mandryk believes we are currently witnessing the decline of the world’s economic superpower in the US, which has serious implications for global missions. ‘The Church needs to pay attention to these 7 global shifts’, Lang Tien, thir.st, 7 January 2022, Accessed 25 August 2022, <https://thirst.sg/the-church-needs-to-pay-attention-to-these-7-global-shifts/>
[vi] ‘Eight Common Problems Facing The Church Today’, Anthony Hilder, 8 May 2022, Accessed 11 Sept 2022, <https://anthonyhilder.com/church-problem/>
[vii] ‘5 Challenges Faced by Church in the Post-Pandemic Era)’, Steve Sun, China Christian Daily, 13 May 2022, Accessed 10 Sept 2022, <http://m.chinachristiandaily.com/news/opinion/2022-05-13/dialogue–five-challenges-faced-by-church-in-the-post-pandemicera_11453>
[viii] ‘Study: Pastors Say ‘Apathy’ Is a Major Challenge Facing American Churches’, Relevant, 13 May 2022, Assessed 10 Sept 2022, <https://relevantmagazine.com/faith/church/study-pastors-say-apathy-is-a-major-challenge-facingamerican-churches/>
[ix] In a bid to deepen discipleship over such diverse landscapes, the shift has moved away from numbers to leadership development. ‘Eight Common Problems Facing The Church Today’, Anthony Hilder, 8 May 2022, Accessed 25 August 2022, <https://anthonyhilder.com/church-problem/>
[x] ‘The Church needs to pay attention to these 7 global shifts’, Lang Tien, thir.st, 7 January 2022, Accessed 25 August 2022, <https://thirst.sg/the-church-needs-to-pay-attention-to-these-7-global-shifts/>
Photos by Diana Viagas and Joshua Hanson on Unsplash