COVID-19 has created an avalanche of death, disease, suffering and uncertainty. Like every organization, our church is breathlessly attempting to stay on mission during this strange time. New challenges bombard us relentlessly. One helpful coping device is to search for the positives in the midst of all the tragedy. I sat down recently and listed some takeaways. Perhaps you can relate.
First, a few personal discoveries:
1. Sunday mornings at home are fun. Because we are now recording our virtual worship service on Thursdays, I’ve experienced something new on Sundays. I now see the allure of PJs, coffee and channel surfing.
2. Our kitchen is too small. My wife and I would have built a bigger kitchen if we’d known we would be spending so much time there together.
3. Robert Putnam was right. As noted in his 2000 best-seller, Bowling Alone, America needs front porches, not just backyard decks. In these past weeks, conversations from the street curb to the front porch have been happening everywhere. We are finally taking time to get to know our neighbors.
Now, some pastoral lessons:
4. Pre-pandemic, church leaders spent too much time in meetings. Since sheltering-at-home, we’ve had virtual committee meetings that are more productive. And they don’t last as long. There is something about Zoom (or its equivalent) that keeps us from chasing so many rabbits.
5. Church members are much more willing and able to help than we realized. They can do more and want to do more. In churches everywhere, laypersons are providing congregational care by telephone and with handwritten notes, delivering groceries, making masks, picking up prescriptions and more. When believers are empowered and turned loose, the world notices.
6. The elderly and the homebound tried to tell us – being stuck indoors for a long time is not fun. Will we come out of this enforced stay-at-home season with more compassion for those without social mobility? Will we finally pay attention to them?
7. Community partnerships deepen a church’s impact. A tornado hit our city in May last year. For the past 12 months, various agencies and churches have collaborated beautifully with local government. Now, during the pandemic, that same network is serving us well. If you wait until a catastrophe hits to make friends in your community, you’ll always be 10 steps behind.
8. Global pandemic tends to create a readiness to hear the gospel. By “gospel,” I don’t mean the shallow, glib diatribes which generate guilt, blame and fear. I’m talking about the power of God’s love made known in Jesus Christ. In times of national calamity, existential questions come to the fore. Who am I? What is my purpose? What happens when I die? Is God for me or am I alone in the cosmos? I sense our country is at a rare moment, quietly listening. The message is going deeper than usual. The crucified, risen Messiah is relevant.
9. During a prolonged crisis, leadership is both easier and more difficult. It’s easier because people are open to guidance and comfort. The simplest gestures and words can reassure hearts, reframe issues and clarify mission. Yet leadership is also more difficult because so much comes at us all at once. Each day I need the proper blend of boldness and caution, assertiveness and humility. Anxious people create a Catch-22 for leaders: they need constant reassurance, but they also have short attention spans. Clear, effective communication is a 24/7 task.
10. Physical presence is powerful. During this time of separation, my most difficult pastoral moments have come when I haven’t been able to be in the same space with those in need – the 96-year-old in ICU or the one whose sister just died, alone. Graduates are grieving the absence of ceremony and hoods. Couples have waited for and planned for the perfect wedding celebrated with families and friends. We need ritual more than we realized. Life was intended to be lived as an embodied presence. As the Apostle Paul wrote many times (and I’m paraphrasing): “Letters are great, but I’d rather see you face to face.”
Finally, a bonus takeaway. Online worship provides a dream-come-true for my church members: they can mute their pastor!
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