The PAN(dem)IC Opportunity For Churches
June 3, 2020
Dear Church leaders,
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, I started to seek the Lord asking,
- Where is He at work right now?
- Where is He inviting us to grow, stretch, and deepen?
- What were areas may He want to address out of His Redemptive Love and Purpose for His Bride?
As I read and examined the issues, heard the struggles, found my own life and work impacted, a sense of hopeful urgency arose and a few core concerns weighed upon my heart. This article is not a prescription. We hope it can be instructive and inspire us all to arise with courage to lead our flock into the new season ahead, by acting now.
Pre-COVID Church Scene
God’s eternal plan has always been to mature his people to become a united, mature and glorious Bride for His Son.
We have been aware of some glaring concerns in our churches, which I feel has become truly tested in this virus season.
- Pastors and leaders who have grown weary, even at the verge of burnout.
- Weak spiritual leadership at home, which contributes to faith crises in the next generation and a lack of lay leadership in church.
- An over-dependence on programs to disciple believers.
The opportunities for growth and maturity in these areas are before us if we will prioritise and pivot our resources.
Overnight, all the ways we were used to get the job done had to change. We have to find new ways to visit the sick, host a meeting or mourn with those who grief. Looking ahead, large group gatherings will unlikely resume soon. There is already the spectre that things like going to the cinema, restaurants and conventions will be a thing of the past.
We underwent a season of shock and loss, and the reverberations continue as things unfold, to confirm that we may have to live and work very differently from hereon.
What is God’s heart for us? Many believe God’s intent is not for us to simply shift logistics online, and shift back when the pandemic is over. This ascription should be our aspiration:
And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them. – Psalm 78:72
With time saved from commute, pastors can develop a healthier balance, re-examine work habits, establish healthier boundaries, invest afresh in their own families, and experiment with observing the Sabbath more intentionally.
Many pastors in the city have had to grapple with learning new skills, serving the needs of the community and dreaming up new ways of doing things. It has forced us to break up the fallow ground of routine and dependence on large ecclesiastical systems. It has cast us afresh on the power of prayer, and the relational heart of ministry. It is making us examine our calling, convictions and commitment.
Courageous and strong leadership sits atop self-leadership. This season of searching purifies our motivation and refires us to renew our passion to follow and serve Christ. To do so, leaders have to re-set disciplines, navigate challenges, and barrel through personal weaknesses. With time saved from commute, pastors can develop a healthier balance, re-examine work habits, establish healthier boundaries, invest afresh in their own families, and experiment with observing the Sabbath more intentionally. These are ways to re-align to God’s priorities for their lives and their flock.
This pandemic has caused countries to impose movement restrictions and driven everyone back home. For the church, it has taken us back to the New Testament way of doing church – based in households.
However, it would be naïve to believe that we are instinctively able to be and behave like the church in the home. The truth is any gathering of believers requires leadership, intentionality and commitment.
This situation causes us to confront the reality that many of our families and homes are not spaces where spiritual life is vibrant. The environment may have lacked leadership and a form of strategic effort to nurture.
Our efficient churches may have unwittingly contributed to this with our attractive programs for different age groups, and inadvertently deepened the crisis. Add to that our consumer mind-set, and church easily becomes a place and a program one goes to, rather than a body we help build by being an active, contributing member of.
Yet herein lays the opportunity. This is a season to invest in, and raise the bar for spiritual leadership in Christian homes.
Parents are the leaders of their home. Pastors can gather the heads of household for specific encouragement and equipping. We cannot presume that dad knows how to lead a family in devotions, manage the faith questions they will be asked or has a vision for their families.
Where the constitution/policy of churches allow, parents can be empowered to administer communion at home. This does not take away from the role of the clergy. In fact, as the clergy use this opportunity to train fathers to learn the spiritual power and significance of the Communion, and the dynamics of spiritual formation, whole families will be transformed.
This situation causes us to confront the reality that many of our families and homes are not spaces where spiritual life is vibrant.
This growth will have many ripple effects. One such could be that singles who stay in non-Christian homes can be welcomed to join these communities online or nearby (when circuit breaker measures are eased), and participate in the fellowship of the church body.
Everywhere, we hear reports that attendance increases because no commute is involved. If more dads are equipped, encouraged and supported to lead church at home, what could happen to the church at large? This can be a powerful movement that transforms the future of the church.
The work of the Holy Spirit to convict and renew us towards freedom and fullness in Christ, happens both quietly within the individual and also through the dynamics of community. We are to speak truth to each other, wash each other’s’ feet and bear each other’s’ burdens. We are to love each other and showcase the love of Christ.
Our over-reliance on set programs can sometimes hinder this organic and mysterious process. Typically we have a very predictable order to our small group, leaders’ meetings and so forth. While a basic structure is required to guide everyone and move things along, very often, getting through the program ends up as the goal instead.
The marvellous outcomes we hear of Alpha is instructive here. Alpha uses a basic framework but leaves the actual details really fluid, by allowing for the relationships to steer the experience. In a non-predetermined way, people experience a measure of freedom to explore and encounter the truth.
This season as members are exhorted to persist with gathering, albeit online, we can all learn together the finer points of listening, engaging, and allowing the Holy Spirit to flow his work of Grace.
We have had many challenges confront the church in the last decade: declining moral authority, an exodus of young adults, the rise of radical individualism and the spread of liberal mores. Interestingly, when these are unpacked, there is at the core of it a critical and urgent need for deeper, more authentic relationships, safe spaces and the cultivation of habits of spiritual friendship: empathy, listening and wisdom.
It’s been found that online engagement is both fatiguing, but also helps users focus better. Could the difference be the purpose for connecting?
When members come voluntarily and joyfully to an experience where they expect meaningful exchange, deep sharing and truth discovery, the energy can be contagious.
We need To Choose
All of these requires vision casting and training, which brings us to the closing thought.
What this Pandemic places before us is Choice. It has focused this most powerful truth about us as being made in God’s image and redeemed by the Blood onto this pinpoint. We can choose to ride out this pandemic hoping that things will return normal, or we can choose to ride the waves of faith and let God take us into the unknown.
Pastors and leaders have choices to make, and have to hold out the best choices God’s people can make so as to mature and glorify God.
We offer here three possibilities of Good that could come out of this season, if we stepped out of status quo and chose to do something different.
What would we prioritise? What would we choose?
Rev Jenni Ho-Huan
City-Pastor | Writer | Podcast
Rev. Jenni Ho-Huan is the Managing Consultant at ChurchLife Resources, a city-pastor and a writer called to nurture the soul of the Singapore church, and to seek His ways more deeply through thoughtful reflection and the cultivation of the inner life.
ChurchLife Resources provides consultation and coaching pertaining to ministry issues pertaining to health and growth of the church. Write to email@example.com for a complimentary consultation.
Photo by Jan Tinneberg on Unsplash
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