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The Post Pandemic Church
Keeping our eyes on the mission
Phil Gunther’s address at the 2020 Leadership Forum
For churches in this pandemic, COVID-19, subsequent government restrictions, money, or resources are not the great dangers. The great danger is taking our eyes off Jesus, much like Peter did when he chose to look at the storm around him rather than the Son of God in front of Him (Matthew 14).
The Temptation to Turtle
We must resist the temptation, born out of fear and uncertainty, to ‘turtle’ – withdrawing into ourselves, hoping the challenges and dangers outside our shells go away. The reality is, they won’t. The reality is that a turtle cloistered in its shell for any period of time dies! No movement makes its muscles atrophy. If it doesn’t eat, it starves. If it doesn’t drink, it dehydrates. The longer it stays in its shell, the more hope for the future diminishes. To survive and thrive, the turtle must conquer its fears and challenges and take risks! As a Conference, we want to inspire you to leave the shell, conquer fears and challenges, and take risks with us as a supporting partner.
Let us be mindful of story of Jonah. The captain of the storm-tossed ship rebuked Jonah: “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your God!” Jonah was doing the ‘turtle’. May the Lord not rebuke us for being asleep while the world is perishing in a storm of sin, fear and despair. Our personal faith is for the public good and thus we must not ‘turtle’. We exist for those who are not yet with us and we can’t do that from within the shell.
In his book Canoeing the Mountains, Tod Bolsinger writes, “The world in front of you is nothing like the world behind you.” This was written in 2015. What a prophetic word given our circumstances.
Friends, we have never traversed this landscape before and must now adapt the means by which we advance the Gospel in it. “We are called to adapt to a changing world because we are called to reach that changing world…We are to lead the people of God into the mission of God.”
Thom Rainer’s Suggestions
In Thom Rainer’s book The Post Quarantine Church, he suggests…
- The church must rethink the purpose and use of its facility. What if your facilities became a place for the community as well as a place in the community? It is time for “extraordinary experimentation and innovation.” Church leaders, how can we use our facilities to reach and minister to our community? “When the church opens its doors to the community by making its buildings available for other uses, the community ‘comes to church.’ Such partnerships have gospel opportunities written all over them.”
- The digital ministry is here to stay. The church must discern its specific missional purpose within its context. Here are opportunities never imagined as a means to advance the Gospel. The church must find its digital footprint and only engage in that which they can both sustain long-term and do well.
- The church needs to give serious thought to the balance and application of in-person and digital ministry. There is no “one size fits all.” These are incredibly serious matters which have great potential to either build or undermine discipleship and community. The digital reach of the church is waning. Something needs to compliment it.
- The church must rethink its relationship to the immediate neighbourhood around them. Every church is in a neighbourhood, but not every church functions like it is part of that neighbourhood. The church has the opportunity to reset the ways it thinks of, and engages with, its immediate neighbourhood. The “neighbourhood church” paradigm needs to be revisited as a powerful medium for gospel witness.
- Prayer must once again be the engine of all church mission and ministry. A perpetual prayer posture is absolutely central to the moving of the Holy Spirit in advancing the gospel and making disciples.
I would personally like to add that the church must seriously consider the reformation of its work around various models of the house church paradigm. These models are small in size, allowing them to adapt to restrictions like those under COVID-19. They are highly relational, highly accountable and tend to have an impactful track record for disciple-making. These are not Bible study groups (although they study Scripture) or inward focused care groups (although they care for one another). These are disciple-making life groups that are highly missional in nature.
Whatever path we choose as a church, we must avoid the temptation to remain in our shell. We must avoid conducting ministry as usual. Bolsinger warns that, “Conceptually stuck [churches] cannot be unstuck simply by trying [the same thing] harder.” A new way for a new landscape is urgently required. Let the adventure begin!
Advent, An Invitation To Wait
“You can either wait on God or wish you had.” ~Charles Stanley
Advent is both a season of celebration and waiting. While the Advent calendars in our homes (with its daily allotment of chocolates) are set up, the Advent evergreen wreath with its coloured candles are dusted off and set in their hallowed places. These heartwarming symbols telegraph the approaching Christmas Day while inviting us to a period of waiting. Inherent in this waiting is an expectation to muse, to reconnect our hearts with what is genuinely of substance in life. As disciples of Jesus, Advent invites us to align ourselves with the values and mission of the incarnate Holy One. Here is an opportunity to reignite our worship and recapture Immanuel’s joy, peace and hope.
The year 2020 will break new ground for us: a pandemic Advent. We enter the season with an intangible, yet palpable, heaviness – the weight of engaging with uncertainty, fear, anxiety and a long list of trampled hopes. Even the future landscape appears bleak in light of the past year’s terrain. Like much of Canada today, the citizens of ancient Israel were trudging through their own journey of gloom. Isaiah described them as “a people walking in darkness.” (Isaiah 9:2) Social, political and religious behemoths were crushing hopes and suffocating dreams. In their desperation, they were given a prophetic word of great joy, a supernatural foreshadowing that their gloom would be lifted, and a glorious light would dawn. For the people of God, it was Advent, a waiting for divine revelation in the form of a just and righteous Messiah.
Jesus the Christ has come and now our Advent is not one of waiting for his incarnation, but rather, in the fullest sense, a waiting for his triumphant end time return. However, in this ‘not yet’ space, it is a waiting for his Spirit to bring a renewal of hope, joy and peace in the milieu of all that is a part of our 2020 and 2021. In our culture where instant gratification is the demand, waiting on God is hard-pressed to have room in our lives. Such waiting is not a passive activity. It is not sitting back and twiddling one’s thumbs. Waiting is a Biblical, spiritual disciple as well as the wise response of a healthy disciple. God uses our waiting to reveal himself. If we open our hearts, as the young prophet Samuel did, he works transformation and restoration. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Advent creates people, new people.”
Let Us Wait
And so, wait with:
- Anticipation – God is poised to act.
- Expectation – God is blessed by faith.
- Thanksgiving – God is worthy to receive it.
- Humility – God will lift up.
In this season, let us wait, trusting that our ever-present Messiah has us and our circumstances in his sovereign grip. Let us wait, believing the King of Peace can meet us in our worries, fears and failures. Wait, because we can do little else. He is the God who will redeem – so let us wait. During this pandemic Advent, as you strike off the days on your Advent calendar and light another candle on the Advent wreath, hear afresh the psalmist’s cry of faith, “Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him.”(Psalm 62:5)