Matt Rogers, PhD, is a pastor in Greenville, South Carolina, who also serves as an assistant professor of North America Church Planting at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and church health strategist with The Pillar Network . He is also the author of a number of reproducible tools for disciple-making such as the Seven Arrows for Bible Reading .
Many will soon begin to gather with small subsets of their churches’ congregations, cautiously venturing out as government restrictions ease, following church needs and church leaders’ wisdom.
As the church emerges, we will surely find it changed. And the churchgoers? The same faces and names, yes, but the people will have changed—for good or ill.
Pastors, too, will have changed. Many are wearied from months of learning new skills in their attempt to meet the needs of their flocks and to maintain connectivity among their leaders. Some are anxious about the prospect of regathering. Others battle broader insecurity and anxiety because they are not sure what’s best for the health and maturation of the church. A weekly poll of pastors conducted by Gloo, a data-analytics firm dedicated to fostering communication among church leaders, found that pastors are spending a significant amount of time instituting various safety precautions for the church as face-to-face services begin.
It would be naïve to assume that the church will return in its previous form as soon as various restrictions are removed. Church leaders intuitively understand this; pastors surveyed by Gloo indicate that most assume the disruptions caused by COVID-19 will remain fairly consistent over the coming weeks. It is common to be a bit nervous about the host of challenges that will face the gathered church for the foreseeable future. But not all change is bad. Leveraged correctly, the disorientation brought about by the pandemic could foster reprioritization and focus that brings out the best in God’s people. How can pastors facilitate such positive change?
Space for reflection
The emphasis on regathering can create frenzied activity designed to get back to old patterns. Such an aim is laudable but short-sighted. God has given his people a gift of reflective margin to evaluate the ways we’ve subtly embraced idolatry or settled for impoverished sources of hope. How else, other than by means of a pandemic, would God have allowed an entire culture to step back from entertainment, sports, travel, and the host of other activities that can so easily distract from our primary mission here?
Leaders can and should take advantage of this season, taking time to refocus. That’s one of the reasons forums such as Barna’s State of the Church webcasts, events aimed to help ministry leaders navigate topics such as engaging the next generation, resilient discipleship, and guiding people spiritually through this crisis, are so important—they allow us to all step back and cultivate our soul in a season of change.
Celebrate churchgoers’ new missionary spirit
People have built different rhythms of interaction during the pandemic lockdown. Many have taken more walks around their neighborhoods in the last two months than in the prior two years. Questions like “How are you doing?” sound a bit more genuine when asked by a neighbor. Leaders should celebrate the proactive work of church members who have found ways to meet their communities’ needs without depending on a church program or structure to do so. They should also encourage growth in social competence by showing how efforts at neighbor-love fall flat when constructed as a bait-and-switch tactic to get to Jesus, and how, on the other hand, loving care that never mentions Jesus can betray the uniqueness of Christian mission. We should celebrate those who have been striving during the COVID-19 era to both declare and demonstrate the Good News of Jesus in new ways.
Train reproducible habits
People have also come to see the value, even the necessity, of discipleship habits that can sustain them in seasons when the church is scattered. Sure, we have online services, but churchgoers’ real growth in these past few months has been found in personal intimacy with God through prayer, Bible reading, and consistent conversations with those who are far from God. Pastors can take cues from these habits and strive to equip church members to steward their own relationship with God at times when gathering with the church isn’t as easy or as normative as it once was.
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Source: Christianity Today