Dr. Bob Lowman, Executive Director, MBA
Wow, this is an article I did not expect to write as we began 2020 and started writing these articles. We did not anticipate a global pandemic seriously impacting our communities and our nation. We have posted much information and encouragement over the past few months, but with this article we resume our series asking, “What do you see?” This question will hopefully provide wisdom and direction as we trust the Lord to guide us into the days ahead.
All of us have stories to tell as to what we have seen and learned through these challenging times. Thankfully, many of our partners have been producing excellent resources to provide a fresh perspective on these times and how we need to respond to them. The following are some bullet points that summarize lessons we’ve learned. The articles and resources these have come from are all posted here on our blog, and we encourage you to read as many of these as you can. This article is meant as a discussion-starter and thought-prompter. For all of these posts and more, please visit our Covid-19 resources page.
Our friend, Chuck Lawless of Southeastern Seminary has written two articles we’ll reference here. The first is titled 12 Ways We Might All Be Different When We Gather Again as Congregations. Here are those ways:
- Many folks will be less concerned about minor things than they previously elevated as major.
- We’ll be less inclined to go to church if we’re feeling bad.
- Churches will be more sensitive to safety and cleanliness protocols in the nursery and children’s departments.
- We’ll continue having some leadership meetings, small groups, and training via electronic means.
- Online giving will continue to grow.
- We’ll have to utilize, affirm, and celebrate multiple services in multiple locations.
- Congregations will need to be prepared to help with benevolence work.
- We may be more open to making hard budget calls.
- We preachers may talk more literally than figuratively about people “wearing masks.”
- Some members whose attendance was sporadic prior to Covid-19 will not return.
- We’ll struggle with greeting each other without a handshake or a hug.
- It’s possible – though we pray not – that churches will be less committed to global missions.
Ken Braddy shared a helpful post titled, Reopening the Church: 4 Phases for an Orderly Return.
- Phase 1: Returning to the Church Building – here Braddy presents key issues related to a return to using the church facilities for worship.
- Phase 2: Groups begin meeting again on campus – with the issues on small group meetings discussed.
- Phase 3: Regaining Strength and Ministries – considering how the church can move toward health and effectiveness in the various ministries it engages in in the coming months.
- Phase 4: Celebration – encouraging hope and flexibility as we trust God into the days ahead, celebrating the Lord’s blessings as we see them happen week by week.
The second article by Chuck Lawless offers 10 Questions to Consider Before Regathering. These are serious questions that every pastor and church leader should ask in the coming days.
- Am I praying regularly for my church’s pastoral staff?
- Will I follow the leadership of our church staff even if I’m not sure I agree with their guidance in regathering?
- Am I okay with our church now meeting in multiple services and/or multiple venues at least for the near future?
- Am I emotionally and spiritually prepared for changes that must take place for now?
- Will I be tempted to find any reason to continue worshiping online only?
- Will I wear a mask – or, look down on others who do?
- Am I returning to corporate worship as a more committed or less committed follower of Christ?
- What ongoing sin do I need to deal with prior to gathering with God’s people again?
- Has the time apart helped me to let go of bitterness or anger toward another believer?
- Am I praying for God’s grace for someone to find a cure or develop a vaccine for the coronavirus?
Very appropriately, Lawless begins and ends this list with questions on prayer. Prayer should be a top priority for all of us, not only at this time, but all of the time. We dare not step into the days ahead without a regular time with the Lord in prayer, and with others in prayer. We are offering daily prayer times on Facebook Live, and we are calling May a Month of Prayer. Let’s make this month just that, and continue in the months ahead.
Brian Upshaw, who serves with our Baptist State Convention, wrote a post after the judge’s decision to allow churches to reopen their facilities to worship indoors, titled, Regathering & the First Amendment: Celebrating Freedom, Exercising Wisdom. This very helpful article evaluates our current situation and offers options.
Upshaw wrote: So, should we regather or not? That is a matter of conscience for each local, autonomous church to decide. Each church has the freedom in Christ and the burden of responsibility to make the best decision in a time when there are no easy decisions. With that in mind here are some things the church can do:
- Thank God that we live in a nation where the freedom to assemble is protected by the Constitution. We also should pray for our brothers and sisters throughout the world who do not share in this liberty.
- Ask God for wisdom to do what is best for your local congregation.
- Consider the elderly and the vulnerable who may feel torn between attending out of obligation and their own personal health if the church doors are open.
- Consider which option is the best witness to the watching unbeliever.
- Consult local health officials for guidance on safety and hygiene.
- Consider whether your facility can accommodate a worship gathering while taking the proper precautions.
- Whenever you plan to regather, make a plan and communicate it as much and as early as possible to your church.
- Be gracious to Christians who have a different viewpoint than you do, and respect your church leaders as they make the decisions they deem best.
The post concludes with this important reminder: “Above all, please do not see the choice about what to do on Sunday as an issue of “reopening.” The church has never closed! A biblical understanding of the church acknowledges that the church is the people, not the steeple.” Amen!
*Special thanks to Chuck Lawless, Ken Braddy and Brian Upshaw for these helpful articles.
We will also be posting the plans our churches have for moving into the days ahead.