In order to help pastors and congregations weather the COVID-19 lockdown, church futurist Peter Roennfeldt is offering for free his book, If Your Church is Closed, Be the Church. You can download it right here. What follows is a selection from the book.
by Peter Roennfeldt | 8 April 2020 |
What is it like for you, pastor?
The closing of church buildings has not suddenly given you more time and space to relax with family, read the books waiting on your desk, explore the offerings of YouTube or finish your post-graduate study. No, it has been just the opposite.
Your church is now scattered to multiple households. Your task has just become incredibly complex.
So while some are reflecting on the opportunities for a renewal of spiritual interest by members and neighbors—and even celebrating new interest by some toward God, the gospel and prophecy, with the opportunities presented—most pastors are reporting long hours and being stretched to the limit.
The tasks have shifted and multiplied:
- Updating contact details and databases.
- Setting up virtual small groups.
- Organizing and doing visitation by phone or online, perhaps using FaceTime or Zoom conferencing.
- Providing support for grieving families who are organizing traumatic funerals with reduced numbers able to attend—creating enormous stress.
- Conducting fast-tracked weddings.
- Counseling families and couples through the traumas of life-change and isolation.
- Preparing the technology for online teaching or preaching—while being sure of meeting government regulations on numbers and venues, and at the same time preparing messages with quality content.
- Organizing Zoom Bible classes—and encouraging participants.
- Arranging increased community support services, such as food and emergency care packages.
Your days are spent on the phone, counseling distressed families and communities. Like their non-member work-mates and colleagues, members are losing their jobs and walking away from their factories and offices. Others are in the invidious position of sacking staff, including workers who have been loyal friends for years.
Job losses are rising daily. Our members are in the social-service queues and on government websites desperately seeking support. Many who have been faithful in giving are seeing livelihoods created over decades, now in tatters.
You don’t need to be told to give more pastoral care by phone or social media. You cannot escape the stream of distressing calls from anxious members, nor escape your own stress at not being physically present to support and counsel.
As well as ministering to others, you as pastors must give attention to organizing your own families for current or possible lockdown. The kids are home from school, some spouses have lost their employment, and family and financial stresses are rising.
For how long is this current situation sustainable? How long will you as a pastor be able to juggle this complexity—for which most are not prepared—delivering high-quality live-streaming with great teaching, while at the same time building a totally new infrastructure for member care, virtual small groups, disciple-making and movement-building, using vastly different communication approaches?
A bridge to the other side.
There is every indication that this pandemic will affect us all for some time—six months is what we are being told. Recognizing the enormous social and economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis, national leaders are endeavoring to ensure there is a bridge to the other side for society. As pastors, we must also be in this for the long haul. It is important that we put in place sustainable systems and processes.
When it’s all over—whatever that means!—it might be that multiple households of faith could be the new normal for some of our church members. However, there will still be many who will want to return to worship together in a church building. This will be important to many believers, as well as their friends.
How effective we are in being church at home now will have huge implications for our churches when we get to the other side. This means—in the midst of the myriad things to do—we need to take a deep breath, reflect, prioritize and follow a plan.
What might church look like now?
First, let me say, keep it simple.
In his article “Unprecedented,” Travis Manners, senior pastor of Morphett Vale Church in South Australia, writes, “We can learn a lot from how the early Christians reacted during times of plague. Their response was informed and motivated entirely by Jesus’ life, teachings and sacrificial love.”
Jesus’ methods, so effective in the 1st century, are incredibly relevant in our 21st century. It “is the best place to start.” This is not a time for panic, but the time for faithfulness. Is God nudging us back into the community to again be the church? It is sometimes easier to turn to the institutional church for short-term answers, but Jesus’ methods guide us to sustainable, missional solutions.
Jesus’ vision defined the course of the early church in cultivating God’s kingdom movement—in extreme circumstances—and must define ours.
His mission has not changed. The great commission—and our mission—is not changed by a global crisis, nor by the distress and disorientation with which we struggle. Jesus said,
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18–20).
Whatever we face, He is with us always. This is reality—and a great promise. And His vision and mission do not change.
A Practical Guide
The five phases of Jesus’ life and movement-building provide a practical guide for doing ministry and being church in challenging times. Using these as a frame for prioritizing and planning, we will explore:
- Preparation needed now.
- Foundations that endure.
- Participation as a vital factor for pastoral care and growth.
- Leadership multiplication—to survive and thrive.
- Movement multiplication—toward God’s vision.
At first, this might seem overwhelming—just more to do—but be assured, if you take some simple steps, investing time and energy now, the path ahead is going to be less stressful and much more manageable.
Peter Roennfeldt travels widely, sharing the gospel, planting churches, and being a pastor to pastors. His book Following Jesus: disciple making and movement building was released by Signs Publishing in March 2017. Peter and his wife, Judy, live in Melbourne, Australia.