This has certainly been a roller coaster of a week. Last weekend in SETX we all were scrambling to conduct worship in gatherings no greater than 200. By Sunday the CDC had reduced the cap to 50. By Monday the presidential task force recommended no gatherings greater than 10 persons. Now, as I write, our local county judge has issued the order, “There shall be no gatherings of more than 10 persons.”
My point in this post is not to debate such policies. The COVID 19 pandemic is unprecedented in the experience of all living Americans. My goal rather is offer some guidance through a season during which churches cannot gather as are called to. To this end, let me share with you seven brief thoughts.
First, let me say that the church must gather together, physically. Nothing can replace the corporate gathering of God’s people, worshiping with one heart and voice, sharing the ordinances together. I understand in this given situation that we will cease gathering for a season. But as we work to engage God’s people through alternative means, let’s not equate it with what we have temporarily lost. It’s appropriate, I believe, to ponder what we cannot do, grieve it even, and encourage a sense of longing for that day when we will once again worship together. Mark Dever in today’s 9Marks podcast says much about this point.
Second, I believe it is important to provide a means for connecting with the church and encouraging spiritual development while we cannot gather. This is where the trend to live stream messages helps us. While these tools should never be described as replacing that personal, corporate worship experience, we can use the remote tools to instruct, inform, and inspire God’s people in these challenging days. While our most faithful people will wait in anticipation for our gatherings to resume, it does not hurt to help them guard their regular worship times as sacred unto Lord.
Third, which ever medium you choose for sharing your message, remember that we are shepherding people. Our goal is not merely to broadcast sermons, so when you finish don’t get all excited about the number of views you had. Most were likely with you only a moment or two. Consider how you will engage people with your message, such as encouraging comments during the stream, or providing a study guide for a family to discuss after they view your message.
Next, make use of your existing discipleship structure. The best prepared churches for our current situation are those with a well developed process for small group disciple making. Those groups likely have already found alternative means to meet, like using Zoom Meeting or Google Hangouts. If they haven’t, coach your leaders. Call your people to their existing curriculum and encourage them to use it. If your disciple making structure is weak, build off your messages by providing a study guide or daily Bible readings that families could follow together.
Fifth, connect with your people. Even if you serve a small church, don’t do this by yourself. Use your disciple making or Sunday School organization as the foundation for communicating with your members. Set a goal of everyone receiving at least one call each week. Keep it simple. “Hey, it’s Jim from Friendship Baptist. Just calling to see how you are… Is there anything I can pray with you about?… I look forward to when we can worship together again, but until then remember pastor Phil will live stream on Facebook Sunday at 10:30.”
As you connect, make sure you have multiple avenues for people to share needs they have and prayer concerns. Don’t let the inability to gather keep you from ministering to God’s people.
Likewise for giving. If your church does not provide for online giving, do it. Lifeway Generosity is offering the service at no cost other than the card service fees (which are minimal). And don’t be afraid to remind people that their offerings are important.
Sixth, watch for ministry needs as this situation develops. We’re still the church. A colleague shared this morning about a church helping to house international students whose dorms were closed and they could not return home. With businesses either limited or closed, jobs might be lost. What circumstances has God placed before you in order for you to reflect Him?
Finally, don’t miss the opportunity our present situation presents for sharpening your ministry. Those congregations that resist change really have no choice now. Has your treasurer resisted online giving? He’s begging for it now. Have your people resisted discipleship groups? Does your web page still list your predecessor as pastor? Take this chance to polish the electronic and disciple making tools that are so crucial now, that they will be important tools supporting your ministry long after COVID 19 has passed.
As a missiologist I am excited about the new means for conducting ministry you will discover during these days. It will be interesting to see which ones we hold on to when this is over.
May God reveal Himself mightily through you and His church in these days!
Dr. Jim Turnbo
Golden Triangle Baptist Network