Back in April, my social media was full of pronouncements of a 'new thing' that God was about to do through the Church because of lockdown, and many leaders were excited about the possibilities.
Months later, how do you feel when someone 'shouts' in a tweet that 'God is doing a new thing in us and through us in this season'?
I think, in reality, for many the response is 'yeah, right'.
The Church is having to re-think a lot, certainly, but I can also see that many people are tired, anxious and struggling. Many of our leaders are exhausted and wondering how they can keep up. Those who minister alone across more than one church are exhausted to the point of collapse. In many cases this is being shown by clinging to the 'old ways' – often under pressure from their congregation, rather than looking at what could happen in this slightly out of reach and blurry 'new thing'.
I am not judging, just stating what I can see. Leaders are struggling and need a break. They need people to care about their health – physical or mental. Day off? Even in my ministry, people answer the statement 'that's my day off' with 'but these are unprecedented times!'
I know they are but people still need a day off! Consequently, my days off are scattered thinly or turn into a half day off here and there.
The loudest call to this 'new thing' is often led by people whose charismatic personalities cope with change or are mostly not at risk if they catch the virus. And a large portion of them don't lead churches.
Many are arrogant and judgmental of those who follow the guidance to keep people safe. They refer to people who are fearful as not having enough faith, and blame people who want to stay online for the inability of the church to do this 'new thing'. In short, they pile the guilt onto leaders who are doing their best to shepherd their multifaceted flocks in difficult circumstances.
The other thing is that when I ask what this new thing might be, they don't know either! Like everyone else, they also want to get back to gathering, to singing, to praying while together - the things we all miss.
Being faced with a cover-all 'something new' that cannot be defined is not helpful - either personally or in ministry.
Maybe there is some useful truth in the phrase that there is nothing new under the sun?
The vision and heart are the same, we still need to worship in some way, there still needs to be prayer, discipleship, pastoral care and outreach. It's how we do this that is changing.
I was once given the wise advice that when the task is too big, we do nothing. So instead of trying to do it all, start by doing one thing. Then do another, and so on.
Your 'new thing' may be to change one thing that fits your particular context. So, prayerfully consider just that one thing - it may already be lurking at the back of your mind and in the phrase 'I wish I could...'
It may be inspiring and equipping people in your church to begin a telephone ministry for those who can't gather online – each person calling two people a week. From that one thing, relationships in the church could build, and maybe other things might come out of it because the people you inspired also decided to do 'just one thing'.
Can I humbly also offer the following advice:
- Find one person you trust who understands your context. Meet with them regularly online, by phone or in person (following guidelines of course). Talk, pray and encourage each other. Keep each other accountable in that one thing each of you wants to do.
- During the day, set aside the occasional 10 to 15 minutes to do something that isn't work – a crossword, a jigsaw, anything that switches your mind to a different mode. I pick up my knitting in between calls and other tasks, and keep a notepad of all my ideas. OK, so something else may not get done, but (eventually) you will be better for it.
- Take your day off. People may protest, but eventually they will learn that this is how to keep their leaders healthy. And I'm preaching to myself here!
- If you are not a minister but part of a congregation, care for your leaders. Ask them how they are and check if there is anything you can do to lighten the load in a time when their workload has doubled. Take just one task from them – however small - and it will make a difference. And if you're so inclined – drop a tasty treat round to brighten their day (Dairy free danish pastries for me please...).