I was on a call with rectors yesterday, and the number one question was this: How do we prepare our churches now for the day when we can re-open?
That question was followed by many others in the same vein: When? What will that look like? How will we “deep clean” and sanitize our churches in real time? What do we do about coffee hour/meet-and-greet, especially if social distancing remains a cautionary “new normal” for all of us? How do we walk in faith in regards to giving and church finances, while planning for shortfalls? For now, many such questions may remain unanswered, but they should all be asked and contemplated as we head towards weeks of gradual re-openings across the country. In last week’s Friday mailing, I mentioned a helpful article that contains 24 such questions we should be asking now. You can find this list here: https://kenbraddy.com/2020/04/18/20-questions-your-church-should-answer-before-people-return/
Questions like these are expected to emerge. Churches in this country are in a moment of intense change and uncertain transition. In yesterday’s daily lectionary readings for morning prayer, we began the Gospel of Luke with the account of the angel’s proclamation to Zechariah that his son John would be the Messiah’s forerunner. The following verse jumped off the page:
“And he [John the Baptist] will go on before the LORD, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the LORD.” (Luke 1:17 emphasis added)
We, like the Israel of that day, are in a John the Baptist moment. By all accounts, COVID19 will be with us for as long as it takes to find a vaccine, perhaps even longer. Its impact has already been longer and arguably deeper than 9/11 or the recession of 2008-2009. This pandemic and its impact, however, are an opportunity for repentance, an opportunity “to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous.” And Luke 1:17 is not only a word for our culture, our nation, and our leadership elites. It is a word of conviction and repentance for his church as well. I believe God is working through this crisis to “make ready a people—his people—prepared for the LORD.” We are in this John the Baptist moment to repent and ready ourselves for the coming of the LORD. Will it be a new great awakening and revival of the church in our land? Will it be an acceleration of our culture’s secularization and anti-Christian hostility? Will it be both? Regardless, this can be a great awakening in our individual hearts, a revival in our own souls, if we allow it to be.
The question we need to ask ourselves is “how will we make ourselves ready for the next thing the LORD wants to do?” I don’t pretend to know the answers to all the questions as we face reopening, but as I look at the headlines in one hand and God’s Word in the other, here are a few things to consider as we look towards the future:
Take inventory of what you have learned from this online exodus
What lessons have you learned from online worship, outreach, discipleship, small groups, and meetings? What is God telling your church about how to be more effective in reaching your neighbors online with Christ’s love? What online offerings will you choose to continue after reopening or discontinue, and why? What resources, including people, will you invest in as you do ministry online going forward?
Repent of the over-dependence we have had on physical buildings and on-site programs
COVID19 made those things practically irrelevant for time. How long have we lived with a kind of “field of dreams” mentality when it comes to worship and outreach: “If you build it, they will come.” Whether this pandemic has been a dry run for revival or persecution or both, is it time for us to prepare our people for worshipping and reaching out in smaller groups, shifting our focus to offering gospel community to our friends and neighbors with a more personal and pastoral touch?
Pray without ceasing
Prayer always precedes revival. We’ve seen an explosion of intentional intercessory prayer, fostered by online platforms like Zoom and websites like 8at8pm.org that enable us to seek God’s direction together without having to leave our homes. John the Baptist came “in the spirit and power of Elijah.” What can you do now, in your church, to mobilize people in the spirit and power of Elijah (read I Kings 17-18) for the purpose of intentional prayer, to both seek God’s direction and intercede for our neighbors and our nation?
Seek a God’s-eye-view in this crisis
Tomorrow at 4pm ET the American Anglican Council is hosting “Clarity in Crisis,” an online seminar on passing through the waters of crisis in which we find ourselves and moving with confidence through the wilderness of transition. The Revs. Geoff Chapman and Ron McCrary will be leading us in a discussion of that oft-repeated biblical pattern of transition: from exodus, to wilderness, to the promised land. This is for clergy and lay leaders at every level of the church—and we have room for more [You can register here]!
There are many questions in times of transition, and as we’ve discovered, often fewer answers. One thing we do know, however, is that for every challenge, the Lord has ways to turn it for our good. We can always take every opportunity to turn to the Lord for His answers, His comfort, and His grace through prayer and repentance, knowing that the answers that we need will come as we take our “new normal” one step at a time.
Yours in Christ,