Many Christian leaders are wrestling with what it looks or will look like to reopen in-person church gatherings. Some churches, perhaps yours, are meeting in person now. But whether you are or not, if you’re honest you know things are not “normal.”
And so do your people.
If you are meeting in person, it’s minus the usual hugs and handshakes. People aren’t sitting close to each other. Receiving an offering and celebrating Communion look different. The number of people allowed into the church building may be limited.
Some church members are or will be thrilled to be back meeting in person. Some are tentative, feeling a lot of anxiety. And some just aren’t or won’t be showing up.
We don’t know how long physical distancing, hand washing, wearing masks, and enhanced cleaning protocols will be recommended or required. Some say our temporary “new normal” will not be very temporary at all. And Christian believers – including your people – have different and sometimes very strong feelings both for and against such requirements.
Our faith should make us better neighbors, not worse. As Christians, for example, we understand that seatbelts do not guarantee we will not be killed or injured in a vehicle accident. But we use them, largely in compliance with government regulations, to decrease our risk and also to lessen the burden on our fellow citizens should an accident happen. It’s the same with government guidelines or mandates involved in this pandemic.
Where church gatherings are regulated differently than other gatherings, it is right to challenge government in lawful ways. But for the most part, while we may or may not agree and while government has only partial information to be sure, complying with such regulations means we are a good neighbor to those around us.
But that’s not what I most want to talk about here. I want to focus on what you’re really doing, and why.
We’re talking about the Church – big C, that which Jesus called His church. The Church, big C, has made it through more than twenty centuries of troubles including persecution, doctrinal challenges, human sin, economic disaster – and pandemics. And God has regularly used those very troubles to accomplish things for His kingdom that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
You are part of something bigger than you, bigger than the church you lead, bigger than the denomination you may be a part of, bigger than all the Christian institutions present in our culture today. Remembering that “something bigger” will be important as you navigate reopening your church now or later.
Here are two important mental mindsets to focus on in this season.
Think People First, Not Institution
This has always been true in ministry, but it’s perhaps especially critical in light of changing times around the COVID-19 pandemic. We don’t know what or how long this season will last, or which of the changes will become permanent, if any. Many other industries have had to consider what changes may be long-term; the church must do that as well.
Some of those changes are likely to be good. Remember, God is not obligated to preserve the human institutions we often equate with Church (big C). After Jesus returned to heaven the gospel spread to the entire then-known world within a matter of decades without any of the institutions we have come to rely on today. The kingdom of God will go on. Your church probably will as well, but that’s not the point. People are the point.
Check pastorresources.com for part 2 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.