Rahm Emanuel, when he was the chief of staff for President Obama famously said after the 2007 financial crisis, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.” I believe the same thing could be said about the crisis of COVID-19. Instead of seeing this crisis as something to get through so we can return to “church as normal” (and some things need to return to normal), we need to see this as an opportunity “to do some things that you could not do before.” But I’m afraid that some of our churches will waste this crisis. Some will want to return to normal when “normal” didn’t look very good. Other churches that were doing okay will not take advantage of this crisis to put themselves in even better position to fulfill their mission. It’s important that we understand that God does His greatest work through crisis and limitation, but we must be attuned to what He is telling us about our ministries.
So how can we not waste this crisis? This crisis can be leveraged for needed change in some of our churches. What are some of those areas of possible change? Not all these areas will apply to your situation and there are many more that you might recommend. But these are a few that have occurred to me in our context.
1. Simplify your Ministry – One thing that this pandemic has done is that it has reduced our ministries down to the basics. The advantage of this is that it can show what is essential and maybe what needs to be shaved off from our ministry structures. Intense focus on doing a few things well is a prescription for successful ministry. Maybe your church should leverage this pandemic by embracing a “less is more” philosophy by simplifying your ministry.
2. Restructure your Ministry – This pandemic and its interruptions to our routine ministry structures can show us that the “status quo” wasn’t that effective. So, the question is: Do we want to go back to normal when normal wasn’t effective? It could be that your pre-pandemic ministry structure became stale, stagnant and superficial, and not effective in making disciples. Maybe this pandemic has created space for your church to revitalize your existing structure, or to reimagine a whole new model.
3. Empower Family Discipleship – One thing COVID-19 did was it made many public-school parents homeschool parents! It also forced families together in their homes doing family worship even if it was only watching Live Stream on Sunday morning. Our churches have been struggling for years to stress that parents are to be the first line of disciple-making for their children. This virus provides an opportunity for leaders to equip parents to do what we have longed wanted them to do - to disciple their children.
4. Strategically Shift More Ministry to the Community – COVID-19 forced our churches to be the “church scattered” in our homes throughout the community. Although this is not the optimum situation we desire (we long to be the “church gathered” again), it does provide momentum to be more the “church in the community.” Because of COVID-19, a mentality shift has taken place among some in our membership that all ministry does not have to occur within the building. We need to leverage this change in attitude to be more community present in our ministries.
5. Embrace a better Ecclesiology – Ecclesiology is the study of the church. In particular what COVID-19 does in helping us have a better ecclesiology is it has placed emphasis on the “gathering of God’s people” rather than the building. In our traditional Baptist culture, the church became almost synonymous with the “church building”. Although buildings are important, and they can serve in a way that adds aesthetic value to our worship of God and fellowship with one another - they yet remain just buildings. Our longing to be together as the people of God in worship and fellowship is essential to a healthy understanding of the meaning of the church. We need to take this opportunity to teach this truth.
6. Create Refuges of Hope and Kingdom Focus – We live in a time of extreme polarization and partisan politics. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 crisis was not immune from the partisan wars. Add to COVID-19 the racial tensions arising out of police shootings, then we have a culture that is heating up with anger across partisan divides. Regrettably that partisan anger is coming into our churches. But our churches need to be refuges from the anger in the culture. People on the left and the right too often want a kingdom without a king. Our churches need to be environments where people are introduced to and pointed to the King that leads a Kingdom not of this world.
7. Embrace God’s Pruning of His Church – It’s always dangerous to attempt to be the prophet and declare what God is doing in any particular crisis. We tend to be prisoners of our time. We look at the world myopically, through a near sighted and a limited perspective. We are limited not only by the times that we live, but also, we are limited geographically. We tend to focus our interpretation of history based upon our time and our nation…from one election to another. However, with that stipulation, could it be that with COVID-19, the explosion of racial tensions, and the over reliance on political power that God is pruning His church. Maybe we’re in a winter season where the land lays fallow for pruning instead of the springtime of harvest. Could it be a time of lament instead of celebration, a time of reduction instead of “bigger and better”, a time of self-reflection instead of thoughtless “moving forward.”
What we do know is God does not waste a single crisis, problem, or experience in the life of His people (Romans 8:28). But our churches can miss His providential opportunities and emerge unchallenged, unchanged, and unaware of His revitalizing purpose for the storm. Let’s not waste this present crisis. Lead your people with the wisdom to leverage this present crisis for needful change.
If you need help in any of the above possible changes for your church, please contact me. May God grant the churches of the NWIBA the grace to navigate these times for the betterment of His Kingdom and His ultimate glory!
In His Service,
Dr. Wes Rankin
Association Mission Strategist
Northwest Indiana Baptist Association
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