Category Archives: church

The Awkward Covid-19 Dance

We are currently in an awkward dance with the COVID-19 virus and it’s about to step on our feet.  Hard!

In the early stages of the virus, we were introduced to the concept of the Covid-19 hammer and dance.  This is the concept used by public health officials to describe the process of controlling a virus with public health measures.  In March we experienced the hammer (the lock-down) as a means to control the infection numbers, “flatten the curve,” and bring the spread of the virus under control.  By doing this, we were able to enter the dance (the season of gradual reopening that we are now in).  The dance is the increasing and decreasing measures of gathering sizes, precautions, restrictions, etc. to keep the numbers at a controllable level by balancing public health with society’s need for the economy, physical community, and education.

As the church, we made the adjustments to the hammer in March by moving exclusively online (with varied success – more on that and why in a future post).  We are now adapting to the dance as most churches are cautiously moving to some sort of public in-person gatherings.

As we enter the Fall, we will be faced with the second wave of the virus (historically, the second wave is the most dangerous and deadly).  As a result, there is a very strong possibility (even probability) that the hammer will be coming back and, as a result, the church will be moving back exclusively online.  I know this is not the news you want to hear, and you will be tempted to ignore it as alarmist.  Yet, I would encourage you to not yield to that temptation. Rather, I implore you to make a plan and prepare for the possibility.

In the coming days, I would urge pastors and church leaders to be prepared in two ways.  First, have a plan for all your ministries to go back fully online.  Whatever you think of online ministry, this is something you can be prepared for.  Just as you have a plan to progressively open up, have a plan to move back fully online.  Second, begin preparing your staff, leaders, elders, and church members for this possibility.  A tenant of change management is to telegraph your moves and if people know you have a plan, they will respond much better when you have to execute it (give a sense of calm and purpose as they do).  Preparing people for this is good leadership and will help your church/ministry lean into the challenge ahead rather than scramble in desperation or surrender in defeat.

As you continue to do the Covid-19 dance, are you ready for the possibility of the hammer?  Be prepared, have a plan, and when/if it comes, you will be able to pivot with intentionality, confidence, and effectiveness.

Your gauges are broken

One of my first cars had a broken gas gauge. It was extremely frustrating! There was no way to objectively measure how much gas was in the tank at any given time. This was definitely an inconvenience but, in Canadian winters, it was also a major safety consideration. Consequently, I embraced the axiom, “it costs the same to run the car on the full half of the tank as it does on the empty half.” I think there is truth in this for today (especially for pastors).

In these Covid-19 days, your gauges are broken. Your patterns of behaviour, routines, and rhythms have all been disrupted. What you have formally used to judge how you were doing personally (emotionally, physically, and spiritually) are no longer reliable. Consequently, you are probably doing worse than you think in some areas and better than you think in others. Don’t trust your broken gauges and assume your tank is emptier than you think!

Additionally, you need to ignore former gauges you used to judge your perceived pastoral effectiveness. If you don’t, you may show up on Sunday and, as you survey the socially distanced and largely empty room (if you are meeting in person), feel like you are failing. Or, in the absence of physically seeing the sheep that you shepherd, you will falsely believe you have lost them all and panic. Remember, your pastoral effectiveness gauges are broken. Don’t trust them. Instead, look to Jesus and just be faithful. Be faithful and know that is enough. In fact, that has always been enough! Maybe the pandemic will teach us to re-evaluate our perceptions of success and the gauges we use to measure it. Maybe we will recalibrate our gauges and simply focus on being faithful to Jesus and the calling He has placed on our lives.

As you serve with broken gauges, embrace the maxim I learned from my car with the broken gas gauge: drive with your tank half full rather than half empty. Keep your tank full by: Rejecting comparison – this is more important than ever. Giving yourself grace – lots of it. Breathing deeply – repeat regularly. Resting well – more than you think you need. Loving deeply – your family, friends, and church community. Leading boldly – this is the season for it. Loving other pastors – and letting them love you.

Remember: your gauges are broken, and no one knows when the new ones will be in stock.

Rooted


Who is your life rooted and built up in?  Who is your church rooted and built up in?

If you have been a follower of Jesus for any length of time, you know what the answer should be – JESUS.

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” 
Colossians 2:6-7, NIV

Sometimes we are like the child in Sunday School who was asked, “what has fur, lives in a tree and collects nuts?”  The child’s response, “I know the answer should be Jesus but it sure sounds like a squirrel.”  Like the child in this story, when we are faced with questions we should know, we often answer with what we think is the right response rather than the one that reflects the true reality.

Although the question of whom we are rooted or built up in may seem like an easy question to answer, I would suggest that, for most of our lives and churches, this isn’t as definitive as it should be.  Too many of our lives and our churches, if we were to be honest, are built on something different than Jesus.  For example, our lives and churches are often rooted and built up in:

  1. Strategy – For the most part, in our lives and in our churches, we love to plan; the need to plan and to trust a plan is engrained in us.  We have emergency plans, savings plans, retirement plans, career plans, vacation plans, etc.  We love to plan, and when things get difficult, we turn to our plans for security and safety.  In our churches, we do the same thing.  We have a plethora of plans, methodologies and strategies. Because of our focus and trust in plans, strategies, and methodologies, when things get difficult, we turn to them, hope in them, and place our trust in them.  Although there is nothing inherently wrong with plans, methodologies or strategies, if they replace Jesus we have tragically and dreadfully missed the mark.
  2. Pet Theology – We all have pet theologies – minor theological beliefs.  We all have things we believe about the end times, about predestination, about spiritual gifts, etc.  None of these are bad; however, if they begin to take the place of Christ as being the most important thing in our lives and churches then we begin to become rooted and built up in them rather than in Jesus.  This reality is more prevalent than many realize, creating tribal warfare in the Church at the expense of mission and the Church’s collective witness.  When we become rooted in our eschatology, ecclesiology, pneumatology, etc., rather than in Christ, we have radically missed the mark.
  3. Celebrity – In our culture, our churches love to follow celebrity voices.  I think we like to listen to someone tell us what to believe and why.  With endless information, it is easier to trust a voice than to discern the truth ourselves.  As a result, we are addicted to celebrity leadership.  The problem is that all celebrity leaders will do one of three things.  They will all, eventually, either fail, fall or die.   They will not sustain.  If your life, or your church, is based on a person other than Christ, you are destined to fail because they will not sustain, last or endure.

I want to be clear, I am not against strategies, pet theologies, or strong leaders but when they begin to take the place of Jesus as our only hope and the Head of the Church, we end up lost in a desert of our own desires.

So, how can we tell what our lives and churches are based on?  When the next storm comes, look carefully at what happens.  Just like the roots of a tree or the foundation of a building, a storm will reveal the solidity of its roots or foundation.

  1. Strategy – If your life or church is based on a strategy or methodology, when something goes wrong, where do people turn?  Do you look to the plan or do you look to Jesus?  Do you hone in on the methodology or do you hone in on Jesus?
  2. Pet Theology – If your life or church is based on a pet theology, what happens when someone questions it?  Do you welcome the pursuit of truth and the ability to think and grow or do you demonize them, push them away, and stop listening?
  3. Celebrity – If your life or church is built up on celebrity, when something goes wrong where do you turn?  Do you turn to a celebrity or leader or do you turn to Jesus?  Is your first response a falling to your knees in submission to Jesus or is it turning your head to look at the leader for what to do next?

In your life, who are you rooted in?  Who are you built up on?  Is Jesus your way, your truth and your life?  Is Jesus your Chief Cornerstone?

In your church, what happens when things go wrong?  What happens when there is a conflict?  What happens when there is a challenge?  Do you look to a leader, a theology, a strategy, or do you look to Jesus (The Head of the Church, the Chief Cornerstone, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords)?

Who is your life rooted and built up in?  Who is your church rooted and built up in?