It is impossible to connect to any media today without being bombarded by questions. It is just what happens when the world is turned upside down for this long.
“When can we expect the crisis to be over?” “When can return to work?” Can we return to work?” “How long will it take the economy to recover?” “Will this pandemic boomerang in some mutated form?” “How did we not see this coming?”
Church leaders ask their own versions: “When can we return to ‘ministry as usual’?” “How has this crisis impacted the church?” “Will we come back weaker or stronger?” “How can we be better prepared to survive the next round?”
Look again. These are slight variations medical questions which, given the church is an organism, seems appropriate. I certainly have no medical agree — and I appreciate that pundits are a dime a dozen these days — but as part of at team of consultants who daily press their experience into service to evaluate the health of congregations and help them prepare for and navigate such challenges as these, I share a few high-level observations.
1) The church’s former “normal” will always be just that… “former.” Most realize that mainline Protestantism was in ‘crisis mode’ long before COVID 19—the pandemic just hastened the symptoms. Many churches will attempt to return to ministry as it was before. Then there have always been congregations that insist on ministry as “we’ve always done it!” You will usually recognize them by their diminishing vitality.
2) The virus strikes the Body of Christ the way it strikes our physical bodies. Congregations with strong missional clarity, high energy and solid discipleship practices have developed antibodies to fight off viral threats to the organism. Weaker congregations—in which mission is ill-defined and worship is the sole catalyst for other ministries—are more susceptible to infection and less capable of recovery.
3) Healthy congregations have an answer for the most important question. At the heart of the Gospel narrative, the Great Physician asks two questions that may assess your vulnerability to disease. The first question is important — “Who do others say that I am?” This question invites us to talk about Jesus. The follow-up question is critical and direct — “Who do you say that I am?” This question calls us to be Jesus for others.
Most congregations are fairly skilled at talking about Jesus, gathering to consume worship on the weekend and cueing up that latest ministry program. The tougher, more blessed calling is becoming Jesus for others. To couch this in Holy Week terminology, while many in the crowds witnessed the crucifixion, only a few then picked up the cross and followed.
At some point, the whistle will blow and we will return to the water. If I were to write a prescription for the first days of recovery, it would be this: Leadership teams…when you hold your next non-virtual meeting (or before, if you wish), administer the following questions to one another: How did this ministry communicate Christ before the crisis? How did we embody Christ’s presence to others during the crisis? What does this tell us about the ways we are called to be Christ moving forward?
One more step — Circle back and process the “you-version” of the questions:
How did I communicate Christ before the crisis? How was I Christ to others during the crisis? What does this tell me about the ways I am called to be Christ moving forward? Together we are the Body of Christ, but we are also individually members of it.
Oh, and one last prediction. This is Christ’s body. His church. If he promises that that gates of hell will not prevail against it (and he does), then I like our chances against a virus.
Rev. Jim Crowther | Consultant | Kairos and Associates | email