It’s all opening up.
Schools, shops, businesses, they are all opening up. And so are churches. How do you feel about that? Nervous? Excited? Relieved? Fearful?
As you face the next few months, some thoughts on how to navigate the challenges.
DISCUSSION AND CONFLICT
Some church communities have been meeting for a long time now, and the coming changes will be small. For others, the big change will involve communal singing and the ability to sit physically closer to others. When communities have been separated for a long time, there is an adjustment that takes place as people acclimatize to the new setting. As they arrive, people will carry their expectations and also their fears. These will vary wildly and it is likely that conflict will take place. Some will want mask-wearing. Others will refuse. Some will want social distancing to continue. Others will not.
What is a leader to do?
Some churches will hold meetings to discuss the way forward. As democratic and sensible as that may sound, it can unfortunately be a Pandora’s box, releasing all kinds of opinions and emotions which cause problems. If you are going to hold a church meeting to discuss the way forward, you need to be very clear about the topics you want discussed, and more importantly, what’s up for discussion and what is not.
Limit the discussion or you will be faced with more problems than you started with. But most importantly, lead. Yes, lead.
At times like this, leaders must lead.
That means consulting with people in the church who lead ministries, making decisions and communicating them clearly. Avoid, at all costs, the urge to please people. This is not a time to please people. It’s a time to be clear in your mind what you’re deciding and why. Once you’ve weighed up all the factors, make your decisions. If you don’t, the church will descend into chaos, with the loudest voices taking control. An unhappy vocal minority can do untold damage. Don’t avoid these people. Talk to them. Listen to them. But don’t bow to ungodly pressure.
So . . .
How will you address mask-wearing?
Will you address the issue of physical contact, when some are still fearful of it? What to do with the huggers?
What’s the distance between the chairs?
Will your greeters offer to shake hands?
Listen. Pray. Talk. Pray. Decide. Pray. Lead.
THEY’RE ALL GONE!
This is perhaps the greatest fear. The true numbers can only be known once we completely open up. Once we do, what will I do if we’ve lost half our people? I’m terrified. A couple of responses.
Your God does not evaluate your performance by the numbers who show up on Sunday. Especially during the summer. Remember, it’s the summer! People go on holiday. Students go home. Please, please ignore the numbers. Don’t allow the spaces to fill your vision, when there are people sitting there waiting to hear from God. Even if there are few of them.
The quality of your leadership is rooted in two things:
Your obedience to your calling
I won’t wrap you up in cotton wool, and tell you that you’re a great leader, because I have no idea who you are. I don’t believe that massaging a person’s ego is the answer to their fears and insecurities. So if half the people haven’t come back, I have no idea if that’s related to your performance over the past year or not. What I can tell you is that if God has called you, and you are committed to serving him, then the size of your congregation is irrelevant. There is only one fixed point, one stake in the ground that can be used to evaluate leadership, and that is obedience to the Lord Jesus.
If you lay down your life in the service of your Lord, and you serve him humbly, learning as you go, then God will provide all that you need. If you lose half your people, then God will be with you. If people are unhappy, but you serve him in all due humility, then you will be secure in his love which bears you up and sustains you.
Trust God, for he is faithful, good and true. He does not abandon those he calls. He remains faithful, as long as we are committed to him, and we serve him in all humility.
DO NOT FEAR
Fear is an emotion and it can paralyse a person. There are two responses to fear which can help:
The truth anchors us. It is a constant reminder of what is, when the Enemy’s lies call attention to what is not. He is a deceiver, and must be repelled with the truth. That’s why Bible memorisation is so helpful. It calls up the truth, when our fears are assaulting us. St. Paul talks about “taking every thought captive.” When you’re speaking the truth to yourself, your thoughts are focused on God, who is your father, your protector, your strong tower. The truth will encourage you and lift you up. So choose some promises from the Bible, which you have always loved. Memorise them. Speak them out to yourself. Speak them out to others.
And love. Of course, love. Why not memorise that wonderful verse in John’s first letter:
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear. 1 John 4.18a
When you’re afraid, remember that you’re loved. So very loved. Which is why you should focus on the one who loves you above and beyond all others.
FOCUS ON JESUS
Not sure what to preach on? These are not days to venture into the long grass of contentious subjects. At some point, leaders must address the role of women, gender, spiritual gifts, baptism, suffering.
But not now.
Unless the Spirit is very clear, there is only one subject for your sermons: The Lord Jesus.
Your people need to be re-introduced to the glory of God exhibited in his Son. Christ is how we live, why we live and for whom we live. Call attention to who he is, why he lived among us, why he died and most importantly, how much he loves us.
People are finding their feet again after a very difficult time. Some have lost relatives. Others have lost jobs. Many have been ill. They need a shining vision of the Lord Jesus to guide and inspire them. They need to know that God is faithful and good and cares for them. There’s no better way to communicate that message than with a series highlighting how glorious is the Lord we serve.
Call your people to love and worship him.
If you do that faithfully, there is nothing to fear.