Tag Archives: covid19

It’s Time to Step Back

COVID 19 – Phase Two Continued

Part Two: Pastors, It’s Time to Step Back

In our current Covid-19 reality, the church made a fast and relatively effective transition to an exclusively online presence.  Bravo!  This is something to celebrate.

After the next several months of this new (temporary) normal, it is fair to say we will not be going back to the way things were but it also fair to say that we will not be staying where we are either.  In the wake of Covid-19, a new ministry paradigm is being conceived.  And, like all babies in the womb, the best picture that we can hope for, at this point, looks like a hazy ultrasound.

As we navigate the present with this hazy view of the future, I want to make three observations and exhortations for us in this season – all with the same refrain: “It’s time to step back!”

Step Back to Look Ahead

With all the changes, pivots, Zoom meetings, video recordings, tech manuals, etc., I think leaders are overwhelmed and exhausted.  Like all times I have been exhausted and overwhelmed, I’ve rarely made a good decision.  In these times, I know that I am prone to either keep the status quo (as ineffective as that might be) or compulsively make a bad decision (with inevitable regret). Therefore, I think it is wise for leaders to slow down, catch their breath, pray intently and purposely step back to discern the best way forward.

Pastors, it’s time to step back.

Step Back to Make Room

I want to make an observation of our collective experience in moving the church to an exclusively online presence: We did it relatively fast and efficiently, but we, largely, did it as clergy.  At Westlife, we made the assessment a couple of weeks ago that our services had become a bit of a clergy show and that is a problem. 

I get it, we needed to make a fast change, the medical risk was high and situation unknown.  I get that it was important to make the shift but now that we are settling in for a long haul of this reality, I encourage you to make an honest assessment.  How many laypeople are on your stage this Sunday and how many lay people are currently leading ministries in your church?

As we settle into this exclusive online presence, for the time being, I believe we need to embrace the mantra, “Step back and make room!”  It is time for clergy to equip the saints for works of ministry. (Ephesians 4:12) We need to graciously exit stage left and allow laypeople back to lead from the front stage. 

Pastors, it’s time to step back.

Step Back to Lead Together

As we settle into our Covid-19 world, many churches are making needed staff changes, layoffs, leadership restructuring, etc., I want to implore all leaders to step back and make room for different voices.  This is an all hands-on deck season and we need all generations to lead together.  Let’s make room at the table for each other and lead together.

Senior leaders, as we innovate and align the church for this new season, it is vital to step back and make sure you allow younger voices on the stage as you make decisions.  I am not suggesting that you are irrelevant or that you should step aside.  We need you!  I am just asking you to step back and recruit in.  Make sure you have young leaders around you who are decision-makers in influential positions.  If you are an older leader, as you restructure your team, keep and promote younger leaders and listen to them.  Do things they are suggesting that you may even question (assume your biases may be wrong).  Give them the creative license and freedom to innovate.

Younger leaders, speak up and lead.  We need you!  We don’t just need younger voices; we need younger leaders.  As you are given opportunities, press into them, give your opinions (respectfully of course) and lead up!  The church needs you and your time is now!  As you do, I would also encourage you to step back in humility, make room for and listen to the older voices who can give perspective, wisdom and seasoned advice for times like these.

Mid-season leaders, you are the bridge that is desperately needed in this season.  We need the Gen Xers now more than ever (although everyone forgets you exist – you are like the middle child of generations, often forgotten but key and important in keeping the leadership continuum alive and healthy in this season).  This is also your time to step up, bridge the gap and move the church forward.  We need you to simultaneously honour older leaders and elevate younger leaders, helping to transition the church in this challenging season for a fruitful future.  As you step up, you also need to step back and make room for both younger and older voices in the conversation, silencing the middle-child’s tendency to be overly skeptical and cynical.  The church needs you to lead and mid-season leaders play a vital role as we move into the future together.

The opportunity for the church is vast and we need all leaders to step back, providing space to lead together into the future.

Pastors, it’s time to step back.

A Hopeful Humility on the Sea of Uncertainty

Dear fellow pastors,

The ancient church used the metaphor of a boat to understand themselves and the mission of God (this metaphor is the inspiration of the free book I wrote for new believers, “Expedition: Following Jesus on a Mast-Raising, Sail-Setting and Treasure-Seeking Journey to the Ends of the Earth”).  I want to use this metaphor as an encouragement to you as we navigate these uncertain waters together.

Covid-19 has come over the horizon like a sudden storm.  We were not expecting it and we were, understandably, not prepared.  The winds of the storm have brought the rain of illness and the hail of death, but it has also brought the disorienting fog of social distancing and its implications for the life and practice of the ministries and churches we serve and lead.

This is the fog, in the sea of uncertainty, that every pastor and church leader must now navigate.  These waters are unknown and disconcerting.  We knew the water we were on before.  We had countless charts and instruments to guide us.  We understood our local boats with all of their limitations and advantages.  We were able to see and interact with our crews face-to-face regularly.  Then, suddenly, with the arrival of this storm, we have been disorientated and are now adrift on the sea of uncertainty in the fog of online ministry.

As we adjust together, I want to acknowledge our reality and shout from my boat through the dense fog, “You are not alone!” Like a giant armada of boats playing Marco Polo, I want to encourage us to call out to each other with encouragement, to actively share resources and ideas, and to collectively listen to the voice of Jesus together.

As I survey the horizon, the fog is dense.  We used to be able to see and interact with the people we serve regularly and now we have to rely on phone calls, text messages and ZOOM.  These are great tools, but it is ok to grieve the reality that these not the same as face-to-face interactions and ministry and that not everyone can use them equally.  For those whose boats (churches) are in small centers where ministry was physical and local in the community, social distance has robbed you of your ministry presence.  For those who boats (churches) are in larger centers with larger crews, your entire systems have had to be altered, reworked and resources reallocated, which is a much larger job than most realize.

As we voyage these foggy waters together, I want to remind us of a few things.  First, in times like these, no one really knows what they are doing.  Those that might blow the loudest horns, are still in the same fog that you are, they just have a bigger horn.  This is new uncharted territory.  Second, it is okay to grieve.  In the sudden leap for change, especially change that is thrust upon you, it is ok to grieve what was.  Like all grief, it takes time, and everyone processes it differently; don’t ignore grief’s process (you are probably in it).  Third, we need to “Marco Polo” our way forward together.  Find a band of fellow sailors and cheer each other on in this season.  In humility, navigate this sea together.  In humility and community, there is hope as we listen to Jesus together.  Fourth, share resources and ideas with others.  When emergencies strike, those who hoard in isolation don’t fare as well as those who network and share with others.  This principle transfers to pastors and churches in this season.  Fifth, survival is sometimes success.  Let’s not be like the rescue boat that, after months of searching, finally picks up the marooned sailor and asks him why he has repainted his damaged ship and isn’t wearing his full uniform.  Everyone’s situation is different, and these are challenging times.

Fellow pastors, let’s embrace humility together, join forces on mission and encourage each other forward.  Whether you are in a small vessel in a rural lagoon or a large aircraft carrier in an urban ocean, this season has put us all in the same fog and we need each other to navigate through it while continuing to passionately pursue our rescue mission of seeking and saving the lost (rescue boats are most needed in the storm).  Let is remind each other of what we can so easily forget in the storm, that our primary goal is not the survival of the boat but the pursuit of the mission.

Therefore, be of good courage, celebrate the good around you, show yourself (and others) lots of grace, spend more time with Jesus, love your family well, passionately pursue God’s mission and lead with boldness.  In the fog, Jesus is still calling and leading, even if we can’t clearly see Him.

May we remember and remind each other of the truth that Jesus has not abandoned ship, He will lead us and He will not fail!

Your fellow sailor and friend,

Bryce Ashlin-Mayo

COVID-19 Phase Two, Part One: We Need Less Content and More Community

Covid-19 has changed everything.  Some of these changes will be temporary and some will be permanent, we just have no idea which is which.  In previous posts, I have been sharing about different phases in the church’s response to Covid-19 and I want to share, over the next few posts, several important (and undervalued) focuses for the church in her response during our extended stay in Phase Two (our new online, temporary-ish, socially-distanced normal).

Covid-19 hit at a unique time in history.  It struck while we were already in a tsunami of content.  Between books, videos, vlogs, YouTube channels, movies, tv-series, streaming services, podcasts, and now online church services, there are more options than ever clamouring for people’s attention. 

Additionally, it struck in the midst of a universally recognized disciple-making crisis.  In my opinion, one of the many reasons for this crisis is our obsession with content as the perceived answer to making disciples, as if to suggest that more sermons, Bible studies, podcasts, preaching videos and books will solve the crisis at hand.

I say all of this to point out the rather large polka-dotted elephant in the ZOOM breakout room.  As we shifted to online ministry, we all did what we do best, even if we all recognize it as part of the problem.  We created more content!

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with content (specifically contextual content), but more content was not the answer to the discipleship crisis in a pre-Covid-19 world, and it definitely won’t be the answer in a post-Covid-19 world.

This is where we need to pivot.

I believe the most fertile place for growth in the church and our disciple-making is in Christ-centered community and, during our collective social [distanced] famine, people are beginning to acknowledge their God-formed need for it. 

In our new world, people have more content than they have time to consume.  And, if you are competing in the content game, people will always find a better product.  However, if you help people engage with Christ-centered community, people will begin to thrive and grow in their relationship with Jesus and each other.

Thus, the greatest opportunity of this season is not online attractional viewers!  That is the low hanging fruit that everyone is celebrating but it will not stay ripe for long.  Inevitability, online consumer-driven curiosity (the initial uptake of online spectators) will wane into complacency if it isn’t paired with true community and engagement.

In the church I serve (westlifechurch.ca) we are intentionally making this pivot.  We do this through our Westlife Groups but however your church fosters community, this is where to focus your energy and attention.  This is time to build your discipleship groups, small groups, 3D relations, mentoring, disciple-making communities, etc.  Whatever methodology you choose, the churches that thrive in (and coming out of) this COVID-19 season will not be those who produce good content but those who foster healthy, growing and Christ-centered communities.

If, as the saying goes, “Content is King,” then “Community is, definitely, Queen.”

Therefore, whatever size your church is, put time, attention and resources in building Christ-centered communities where people can be known and know others, learn together, pray together and grow together.  This is the future and the future is now.

A Medical Grade Covid-19 Prayer

Father,

You are our Good Shepherd and we are your sheep.  As you lead us and we look ahead, the path seems uncertain and perilously dark.  Yet, we embrace your promise that we do not have to fear because You are with us (Psalm 23).  Although you never promised we will avoid pain, sickness, death, nor the ominous shadow it casts, you do promise to always be with us and because of that, we don’t have to be afraid.

As a result, we courageously march ahead into this microscopic war with its macroscopic implications.  The toll on human life is growing exponentially and we pray for those on the front lines of this battle.

We pray for the victims, especially those in hospitals, under the compassionate and skilled care of our medical professionals.  We pray for their recovery and for their peace.  As they suffer alone and, sadly, as some die away from the comforting embrace and physical presence of their family and loved ones, may you be their comfort in their pain.  We pray for all those who will labour for their last breath, may they know and embrace Jesus as their Saviour and Lord. 

We pray for the victims in this microscopic war.  Lord, have mercy!

We also pray for all the health care workers who are caring for the sick and dying with courage and strength.  Thank you for these brave men and women who are physically caring for these individuals.  This war is such that the victims are not on a battlefield geographically far away but in our local hospitals in isolation beyond our ability to physically comfort.  It is heartbreaking!  Our health care professionals are not just physically caring for our loved ones but holding their hands for us and telling them they are not alone.

Although this is not a war of ethical ambiguity.  Whether one is a pacifist or not, the decision of whether to fight this war is clear.  Although entering this war may not be ethically complicated, the war itself is.  For health care professionals it is filled with ethical challenges and conundrums.  With very limited resources, difficult decisions have to be made.  We can’t imagine the emotional and physical strain this would cause a human who entered a profession with a desire to heal.  Would you give each of them the wisdom of Solomon and the clarity of conscience as they practice their profession with compassion.  These are perilous times with impossible decisions, and we need you, Jesus!

Protect these health care workers who will rush the front line of an unseen enemy without either the defensive or offensive weapons needed.  With lack of Personal Protective Equipment, ventilators and therapies, this is a battle like none other.  Protect them as they courageously and vulnerably fight on our behalf!

We pray for those on the front lines of this war.  Lord, have mercy!

God, we pray for a vaccine and therapies to be developed and deployed in the days to come.  For all the scientists working in laboratories around the world, give them strength, clarity, and ingenuity.  You often work through human minds and hands, so we pray that you would use their collective and cooperative ability to find the therapies and vaccines needed in this battle.

We pray for the end of this war.  Lord, have mercy!

As we all do our part to shelter at home and give our medical professionals and scientists the time to effectively care for the sick and find a cure to this disease, may you help us to endure this storm as a society.  We pray for every relationship impacted by this.  We are all broken and during times like these, the cracks in our brokenness are split wide open.  We specifically pray for all those in the scourge of abuse.  For spouses, children, and other vulnerable people in the evil clutches of abusive relationships and with nowhere to go, God have mercy and protect all those who are imprisoned in their home.  May they find rescue and protection from their abusers.

We pray for the protection of our population as we shelter at home.  Lord, have mercy!

We also pray for every student trying to figure out how to learn from home in a new environment.  We especially pray for those younger students where the curriculum and social skills don’t transfer as easily from the physical classroom to a home and virtual one.  Help our educators in this adjustment and the parents who are trying to help their children grow and develop socially and academically, all while juggling other responsibilities.

We pray for our educators, parents and kids in this season.  Lord, have mercy!

We pray for all those who are fighting the war as essential workers.  They are the vital supply line in this war.  Often barely making a living wage, these individuals are risking their own safety so we can have food, utilities and needed services during this time.  Protect them and bless them as they serve us.  May they know the impact of their sacrifice and be celebrated as heroes in a society that often overlooks their important contribution to our societal fabric 

We pray for our essential workers: bless them and protect them.  Lord, have mercy!

This will be a long and drawn-out war with many direct and indirect victims and we need your strength, perseverance, guidance and peace.  May you help us in this war and may we fight it with love and compassion.

Lord, have mercy!

In the name of Jesus, the Great Physician, Amen!

Six Changes Resulting from COVID-19

I want to put my futurist hat on and make a few observations and predictions about the future of our world Post-Covid-19.  After reading several Covid-19 projection models in the last day or two, a couple of realities are clear.  First, this is a deadly and vicious virus!  It is not like the common flu and should be taken very seriously.  Second, this will be a long and hard-fought battle.  Regardless of what projection model you use, until a vaccine is developed, proven effective and disseminated globally, I can’t imagine any scenario (unless a miracle treatment is discovered) that would have us going back to public gatherings the way we once knew them any time soon.  If we do, we risk unleashing a new wave of infection, sickness and death.

Consequently, this virus and the needed prolonged actions we are taking to mitigate it will have massive and long-term societal impacts.  Therefore, let me unpack six changes I see happening in society and the church that will occur and accelerate as a result:

Home Architecture

Tiny homes may have made sense Pre-Covid-19 economically and with people’s active lifestyles, but with spending all of our time indoors, this lifestyle option will quickly lose its ship-lapped luster.  Larger spaces will become more the norm (within reason and economic restraint).  Additionally, open concepts seem great until families spend more and more time at home.  Consequently, the need for separate space will return in home design and architecture.

Usher in the Age of Automation

Our world was already facing the inevitable disruption of automation.  Artificial Intelligence and automation were already poised to radically change the economy and replace human involvement in manufacturing, transportation, sales, supply chains, etc.  Pre-Covid-19 we were within a decade of a massive shift in the workforce, which is now accelerated and with the public seeing the benefit of “essential services” being met by machines with no risk to this or future virus’, the once opposition that would have been present will be exchanged for widespread embrace and celebration.  People like Bill Gates and others have proposed economic systems and models for a world where machines do most of the work and the human population finds its purpose and value in other areas.  Most of these involve taxing machines and providing a guaranteed income (much like is happening in the stimulus plans now).  This was our inevitable and resisted future, but Covid-19 will accelerate the transition and our celebrated embrace of it.

The Work and Study from Home Movement

Any assumption that working from home was untenable will be proven wrong.  It isn’t perfect and all of its blemishes will be brought to light, but compared to the personal, environmental and economic advantages, we won’t go back to not primarily working from home.  Consider how fast fifty percent of our public buildings (churches, schools, libraries, corporate office, etc.) were proven to be not as necessary as we thought.  We will still need these in the future, as I believe an exclusive work and study from home experiment will prove to have some deficiencies, but we will not go back to the way it was.  Business will start to look at their office space costs, school building cost, economic and environmental impact of building infrastructures and determine that many of these are unnecessary.

Embrace the Personal with Distance

Once we are on the other side of this, I believe people will be craving personal connection.  That being said, it won’t bounce back quickly.  With a prolonged season, budget’s, habits, personal caution/protection, desires, etc. will change and people will not “return to the old normal”.  Yes, people will long for human connection, but the way they experienced it will not be the same.  People will be more hesitant to go to restaurants, publicly gather in large groups and you will begin to see masks regularly worn in public (like it is common in many parts of Asia). 

The Rise of Creativity and Context

For churches, there will come a resurgence of creativity in context.  Pre-Covid-19, most churches looked much the same.  Yes, there was difference, but our methodologies were not radically different (500 years will do that).  Post-Covid-19, that will change.  Creativity and context matter more than ever and there will be an explosion of difference.  New methodologies are emerging, and they will reproduce rather than replicate in this environment.

The Emerging Era of the Shepherd Pastor

If the CEO was the pastor who thrived Pre-Covid-19, the shepherd pastor will thrive Post-Covid-19.  Leadership will still hold a major place no doubt, but people will begin to form and gather around shepherds who know and love them.  This is the season for the shepherd pastor to know and lead their churches.  If that isn’t clear yet…wait until the dust settles and see those who have thriving churches – they will be churches where the people are known and cared for, not those who have the best-produced video and services (which have an important place but it is hard to compete in a global church production competition).  The tables have turned, and things will be different.