In challenging times your people more than ever need to know you care about them personally. That’s critical when it comes to reopening. If your people sense you are more concerned about getting them back in the seats than you are about their personal wellbeing, it won’t go well.
Here are two elements that are necessary in putting people first.
1. Listen well.
How are your people feeling about reopening? What questions are they asking? Are they anxious? Worried about their kids congregating? Worried about their own health? Wondering what precautions will be in place? How many of them feel ready to meet in person?
Hopefully you have been staying in touch with your people, and have been paying attention to their feelings about such things. Go at their pace. As a shepherd, lead them; don’t push them. Take their questions and concerns seriously. Whatever you do won’t please everyone; that’s a guarantee! But the more they feel heard, the easier they will follow your lead.
2. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Whenever and however you reopen, overcommunicate about it.
And then communicate some more.
Tell your people why and how you have come to the decisions you have about reopening, whenever that time is. Let them hear some of your struggle with the decisions. Be human with them. That doesn’t mean you don’t make a decision; you are clear. But you’re human.
And if you’re not reopening quite yet, your primary job in the meantime is to nurture and leverage every avenue of communication with your people that you can.
In a crisis season communication cannot be delegated. If you’re the pastor, the leader, this is your role. Others can supplement, but your people need to hear from you. And they need to hear from you often.
Think Discipleship First, Not Attendance
When Jesus gave His followers the Great Commission He didn’t say “Go therefore and gather people in church buildings each weekend.” He said, “Go therefore and make disciples.” (Matthew 28:19)
Disciples. Followers of Jesus. Those men and women, boys and girls, who observe the teachings of Jesus, and are looking more and more like Him the longer they walk this journey. That’s what we’re to be about.
Thinking in terms of church members can get you into the trap of thinking this is about you.
And it’s not!
During the time your church has not been meeting in person your sense of identity has likely been challenged. You haven’t had those warm bodies sitting in front of you each week, smiling or fidgeting or falling asleep or shouting Hallelujah. Who are you as a pastor if there are no warm bodies in front of you?
And you might be only too eager to push the envelope in getting warm bodies back in the seats to assuage your sense of loneliness or angst about your own purpose. Or even your paycheck.
Gathering together is important. The New Testament makes that clear. But remember the purpose of gathering together; it’s to make disciples.
So perhaps the most important question to ask is, How are we helping the people under our care become better followers of Jesus?
This is not about programs; it’s about transformation. It’s always been about that. And helping followers of Jesus experience that transformation is your responsibility whether you’re meeting in person or not.
Will your church do this perfectly? No. Will everyone experience truly lasting transformation? No. But thinking in those terms is the only way to stay aligned with the Great Commission.
With today’s digitally connected world, we’ve never had more tools to help engage people in becoming transformed followers of Jesus, disciples, than we do now.
So here are a few questions to ask to help you think discipleship in this season:
- What does following Jesus look like for us and for our people right now, today?
- What are the challenges our people are experiencing in following Jesus?
- What opportunities might God be opening for us to lead our people in following Jesus right now?
When it comes to making disciples, Andy Stanley’s questions can certainly apply. I’m adapting them for our purposes here.
- What have we done in the past that was ineffective and we should stop doing?
- What can we begin doing in this season to make disciples more effectively?
- What have we done effectively in the past to make disciples that we can optimize in light of today’s reality?
Paul would often end his letters with a challenge to a Christian leader(s) in their ministry. (Colossians 4:17, 2 Timothy 4:2) I leave you with this challenge now.
- Embrace the ministry God has entrusted to your care, regardless of the numbers or their trajectory up or down.
- Follow Jesus in whatever He is asking of you right now.
- Faithfully, daily, in every way, invite those within the sphere of influence to follow you as you follow Jesus.
Your reward will not depend on the number of people sitting in church in front of you. It will depend on how well you follow Jesus. May that encourage you today.
Check pastorresources.com for part 1 of Leading and Discipling Into the New Normal
Dr. Carol Tanksley is a board-certified OB-Gyn physician as well as a Doctor of Ministry. She’s published several books by Charisma House, and has been highlighted several times in Ministry Today, Charisma and SpiritLed Woman. Find more of Dr. Carol’s resources at drcarolministries.com.