Romans 8:28 says God works all things together for good, not that God causes all things. I suspect God is even more grieved over this coronavirus afflicting this world than any of us, given God’s great love for humankind.
So, where is the good in this life disruption experience? It is found in perspective, plain and simple. On this side, we can look back with greater objectivity into our pre-COVID church life. On this side, too, those who will are learning and growing, discovering more robust faith and church lives.
Based on this kind of perspective, here are four viruses of the pre-COVID church along with their vaccines.
Consumerism. This one is no surprise. Living in a consumeristic culture, many simply transferred their identities as consumers to their church experience. The resulting perspective was, “Church, what have you done for me lately?” We expected the church to serve our needs and perhaps even to satisfy our preferences regarding music, form, schedules and on and on.
With some distance, those who will are taking the consumerism vaccine, which is peace. The peace that passes understanding, pure gift from God, is the antidote for consumerism. That insatiable desire for more and more diminishes as God’s peace rises within us. We even discover that greater levels of contentment are possible this side of heaven. Our demands that church satisfy our preferences fade when God’s peace fills the holes in our souls.
Criticism. Not just any kind of criticism but the excessive kind. Driven by consumerism, when our desires and preferences are not met by church leadership, we ratchet up the criticism.
The classic forms of excessive criticism are two expressions of one dynamic — withholding.
First, we withhold our participation, refusing to show up for worship, team meetings or missional ministries. Second, we withhold our financial contributions, refusing to pledge or give. From a mile away, one can see these withholding dynamics are grown-up temper tantrums that hurt the body of Christ.
With some distance, those who will are taking the excessive criticism vaccine, which is solidarity.
“Blaming and complaining about how they are running the church is pretending like we are not responsible for church.”
This coronavirus makes it clear that no one is immune; we all are vulnerable. Transferring this learning to church, we realize now we are the church. Blaming and complaining about how they are running the church is pretending like we are not responsible for church. Besides, when we realize the church’s purpose is not to satisfy our every whim, then we settle down to live and work together in God’s vineyard.
Complexity. Looking back, how did we keep such sophisticated and multi-layered organizations running? Oh, now I remember — we burned people out on a regular basis. Ever talk to someone rotating off the lay leadership team? Ever really listen to your pastor and church staff describe their work lives?
I remember one Baptist Christian who refused to join his church. When asked why, he responded that he just didn’t have the energy to keep that kind of schedule. The extreme complexity in our organizational structures and schedules in many churches served as a virus, sapping the spiritual vigor from the hardiest of souls.
With some distance, those who will are taking the complexity vaccine, which is simplicity. Since our typical church rhythms and practices were interrupted, many are driven to examine their faith and church life, reflecting on their significance. With the realization that much complexity was unnecessary, Christ-followers are discovering a more primal faith and simple church.
“Many are now aware that less organizational structure often gets us to the Great Commandment quicker than eight committee meetings plus a new policy.”
Loving God, loving others and loving self — the essence of our faith — are coming into focus. Many are now aware that less organizational structure often gets us to the Great Commandment quicker than eight committee meetings plus a new policy.
Control. Remember back in 2019 when we thought we were in control? In church we used our sophisticated and cumbersome organizational structures to control most everything. Everything was done decently and in order, so to speak, making us feel good.
Simultaneously, very little innovative, adaptive, creative ministry took place in those highly controlled church systems. We believed if we could control things, then we would succeed.
With some distance, those who will are taking the control vaccine, which is trust. Here we are, nearly a year living in coronavirus-land, discovering God is faithful. Since we are among the living, we are learning to trust God’s sustaining power.
Not only that, but our churches are innovating and adapting like crazy. The Holy Spirit is faithfully guiding us into new, fresh expressions of this body of Christ. We are learning to forsake control and live by faith with trust.
So, are you vaccinated yet? How about your church? Do be aware of potential side effects, like faith, hope and love. Or you will find another list of side effects in Galatians 5:22-23.
With some distance, those who will are rolling onward, becoming greater expressions of this body of Christ.
Mark Tidsworth is founder and team leader for Pinnacle Leadership Associates. He has served as a pastor, new church developer, interim pastor, renewal pastor, therapist, nonprofit director, business owner, leadership coach, congregational consultant, leadership trainer and author. Ordained in the Baptist tradition, Mark is an ecumenical Christian minister based in Chapin, S.C.