As we navigate the continuing challenges of this ever-changing COVID-19 situation, I want to pass on my appreciation to all of you who have worked so hard to make adjustments “on the fly” to serve your congregations while shielding your at-risk congregants. From instituting new anti-infection protocols, to “social distancing,” to moving services on-line via YouTube, Facebook Live, ZOOM, and the like, to identifying ways to minister to your communities in non-traditional ways, you have sought to adjust to the crisis at hand. (Let the Regional Team know if you need further assistance in making that transition to “decentralized” remote broadcasting/internet connecting for your congregation—we have persons who can share wisdom and help. Also, MCUSA is offering an “online streaming process” webinar tonight at 8 pm—register at https://www.mcusa.org/covid-19/.)
The next question we must answer is “now what?”—should this situation continue for a longer period of time than any of us might have anticipated, how will we maintain relational support and contact in a context in which face to face gathering in groups of any size is discouraged or even prohibited?
First, let me pass on personal encouragement to all of you—make sure you take your burdens and frustrations about all this to God and spend some time unpacking that with Him. I am reminded of the amazing interchange between David, God, and David’s observers in Psalm 6. In the first part of that Psalm, David shares his burdens, feelings, and struggles honestly before God—the “raw” emotion in verses 1-7 is powerful. Then, in verse 8, David turns to address others, and the tone changes dramatically from emotional pain to confident faith. The underlying principle here is that if we as leaders are going to continue to be able to lead our congregations with confidence, we will have to take opportunities to get away with our Father and “unpack” with Him. Please take the time to “cast your cares on Him, because He cares for you.” If we are to lead our congregations through this, we will need to keep connected with the Father and keep offloading the burdens, questions, and frustrations into His “in box.”
Second, we as leaders need to consider how we will care for our congregations and structure our ministries given the possibility of a long term decentralized situation. While getting services and messages online is a good start, it is only a first step. We also need to ask for God’s guidance about continuing relationship care and ministry engagement in a decentralized setting.
Some input toward that can be found in the “micro-church” principles some groups have been cultivating for several years. You can access a 50 minute web summary of those principles from Dan Grider (MCUSA Ignite Movement developer and CONNECT Regional Director) and Rodney Arnold (lead pastor of an MCUSA network of churches in the Knoxville TN area)—you can view this video from the following link: https://www.mcusa.org/covid-19/. There you will see a link to the Ignite Micro-Church 101 simulcast recording. (Further, you will find a message from MCUSA President Steve Jones at that link; he shares insights about COVID-19 he received during a recent briefing of National Association of Evangelicals leaders in Washington, DC.)
In addition, you and your church leadership should consider “remote pastoral care” processes moving forward. For many, using ZOOM (available at zoom.us) to make personal “virtual face to face” connections might be part of the strategy. Also, consider grouping your congregation members and assigning some of your best shepherd-gifted congregants to make regular contact (the “old fashioned phone call” still works for many).
Further, consider ways in which you can engage your congregations in continuing “remote ministry” opportunities. Encourage families to “adopt” someone who is at greater risk from the virus (elderly and those with underlying medical conditions) for regular communication and perhaps to offer to run errands and purchase needed supplies so those persons can limit their exposure. Set aside specific prayer times and provide prayer list guides (this link– https://www.mcusa.org/urgent-call-to-united-prayer/ — provides a good prayer focus resource for this). For a challenging presentation on how this COVID-19 pandemic provides new opportunities for missional ministry, check out this “Christ Together” video webinar from Ed Stetzer and Jeff Christopherson—“Ready or Not? The Urgent Missional Response to C-19” at https://vimeo.com/398970078. (They had a few challenges getting up and running–first few minutes of that video are bumpy—so click in at 5 minutes into video.)
In the meantime, we had twenty pastors log in to our joint ZOOM call this past Wednesday, and several mentioned it was something you wanted to continue, so be watching for a ZOOM link for another pastor call this Wednesday at 10 AM for us to pray, touch base, and share information.
Let’s continue to pray for each other, for our churches, and for God’s Kingdom purposes to be fulfilled in the midst of this challenging time.