Ministry After the Virus

Four essential concepts for navigating today and preparing for tomorrow

Over the past 40 years I have been part of many leadership teams but have never experienced a season of turmoil like the one we are facing now. As soon as the coronavirus hit, church leaders all over the planet began thinking in new ways. This process of innovating, learning, listening and changing is not over. We live in a new world.

About two weeks into the crisis, our leadership team began using four distinct concepts to help us navigate the storm we are in. My prayer is that they will help you lead through this unprecedented time.

1. Sustain.

We need to do all we can to maintain the programs, ministries, outreach strategies and community life that have been part of our churches. In this season of rapid change, daily bad news and uncertainty, an important part of our leadership is to sustain a sense of normalcy.

We need to help our people sustain a heart and practice of worship. Most churches have services online. Some churches are sharing links to powerful and inspiring worship music. Others are offering small online worship experiences with a few songs and a short devotion. Still other churches are providing resources so that families can hold their own worship experiences at home.

Discipleship is the call of every church and Christian leader. It happens when a parent teaches a child to pray, when a couple studies the Scriptures together, when a small group meets to study the Bible online, when a mature believer mentors a new believer toward Christian maturity. We can provide tools for people to grow in their faith while sheltering at home. We can mentor online, hold small groups by phone and pray for each other by text or video chat.

Evangelism also is the call of every Christian believer. Being limited in our face-to-face contact does not end our ability to share the good news of Jesus—it just changes it. If you have online services, encourage church members to invite others to watch in their own homes.

The good news of Jesus is being shared with words and in actions. Many church members are finding ways to serve their neighbors in the name of Jesus. Some are picking up groceries, driving shut-ins to the doctor and extending other acts of compassion. Our church has a team of lay counselors who are available to meet with people online and give gracious and biblical perspective to those who are feeling real anxiety and fear. Church food pantries are open and people are coming to receive physical and spiritual sustenance.

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Don’t wait until things “normalize” to do the things the church always does. Make sure you are sustaining the good work God is already doing in and through your congregation.

2. Grow.

Simply maintaining what we have done is not enough. We also must help our people grow in spiritual maturity. This is core to the life of a church at any time of history, no matter what is happening around us. In times like this, people are hungry for truth, longing for connection with God and needing direction in their faith journey. We can help them move forward in this season when many have more free time. This time can be a vehicle for growing a more meaningful connection with the God who loves them.

This season offers some unique opportunities to expand the ministry of the church. What can this look like? At Shoreline we added four online men’s Bible studies, ramped up our communications and expanded our food pantry. I started doing a new video devotion three days a week.

We can grow new ministries that fit this unique moment in time. We can develop online connections. We can intentionally grow the prayer lives of our people and an awareness of the spiritual battles we all face but often fail to recognize.

3. Leverage.

The God we serve can take bad times and painful situations and use them for his glory, our good and the advancement of his kingdom. Churches can leverage this unprecedented moment for the sake of Jesus and his mission.

What unique steps can we take to honor God and bless the people in our congregations? Many churches are taking advantage of this forced Sabbath and time of slowing by directly contacting their members who generally are more available and accessible. In the first two weeks of the pandemic, I had contact online or by phone with over 100 church members. I started each phone call with one simple question: “How are you doing?” In most cases it was 15 minutes before they stopped sharing. In many cases, people asked how my family and I are doing. Many have prayed for me. In addition, we asked all of our church leaders to contact a group from our congregation just to check in and see how they are doing.

We can leverage this time to teach our congregational members about Sabbath and how to rest well. We can help them develop spiritual disciplines around the study of God’s Word, times of solitude, deeper prayer, Scripture memory and more. We can offer help and resources for families to do devotions and have prayer time together.

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These ideas just scratch the surface of ways we can leverage this season for the glory of Jesus and the good of his people. Let’s not miss this opportunity. People have more time, they have been forced to slow down and they are hungry for something meaningful. We can maximize this moment and invite people closer to Jesus.

4. Prepare.

As in all times of crisis, this too shall pass. Vaccines will be developed, the economy will recover, children will go back to school, friends will hug again, and church buildings will be filled with people, songs and the sweet presence of the Holy Spirit. When this happens, we need to be prepared for what is on the other side.

The church will look different—and it should. We are wise if we begin preparing right now for a new season of church life.

I want to suggest you ponder and pray about one word: hybrid. Take the best of what you did before the coronavirus entered our vocabulary and lives and prepare to move back to it even better than before. Many people will be excited to get back to church life as it was. Start preparing as soon as you can to launch back into great ministry on your campus and in your community.

But while we relaunch many things we did before, others we won’t begin again. And there will be new things that have become effective and meaningful during this season that we will keep doing. Jesus will be present, our doctrine will be the same, God’s Word is unchanging, but we are planning on being a new kind of church, and so should you.

None of us could effectively prepare for the arrival of this pandemic. What we can do now is prepare for when it subsides. When life goes back to a more familiar rhythm, let’s be ready, step-by-step, to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit.

While you are thinking about sustaining, growing, leveraging and preparing, I would suggest you go through the same process for your personal and family life. These four concepts can positively impact you and those around you. I pray that they will help you successfully move forward in, through and beyond this moment in our lives.

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