On Easter, the Church observed the Resurrection of Christ in an unprecedented way. In almost every country of the world, everyone, including Christians, were hunkered down in their homes. COVID-19 had wormed its way into every society, and governments were mandating people to “#Safe@Home.” Church buildings remained dark. People stayed home.
A decade ago, this mandate would have undercut the celebration. But on this Sunday morning, even the smallest, most secluded church could offer an Easter service. In 2020, armed with a smart phone and a social media account, churches live-streamed their worship services. In fact, I received video recordings of congregations on remote Indonesian Islands commemorating Jesus’ resurrection. This was a remarkable accomplishment, a testimony to the ubiquitous nature of technology and the innovative and prevailing fortitude of God’s people. (Just writing that sentence reminds me of how grateful I am for the Church. It is amazing!)
After the event, however, questions drifted into many minds like a fog.
After the Easter push, pastors and church leaders continued asking, “Are people going to be O.K.? How do I respond to the sick or grieving around me?” They began to wonder, “Are people growing spiritually? How can I know?” They ponder what’s next for the Church, “Is this virus changing how we interact as God’s people in the world? Is the emphasis we are putting on virtual connections during the quarantine becoming the new normal? What will ministry look like when we open back up?” On a personal level, they are doubting, “Am I serving well during this time of isolation? Am I being faithful to my call to the Kingdom of God and to my congregation?” even, “what are we supposed to be doing?”
These uncertainties lead to a bigger questions: “What is God doing? What does he want us to do? What does he want me to do?”
I was 15 and nervous. It was a Saturday night and my dad, a pastor, had to preach at our home church the next morning. We were attending a camp on the Oregon coast and after the evening’s last event, my dad and I set off on the six-hour drive towards home. As we were leaving, in rolled a heavy fog. We couldn’t see more than a couple of car lengths ahead. Big questions rolled into this adolescent boy mind. Would we make home? How do we stay on the highway? Should we go later? No. Circumstances mandated we leave. Off we went.
As he was driving, my dad described for me how to safely pilot the car when besieged by fog. Here are “David Leach’s Basics for Fog-Driving:” 1) Drive slow. Very slow. 2) Turn when the road’s painted yellow line turns. 3) Eyes always up and scanning. 4) Recruit your co-passenger’s to be always up and scanning. 5) Prayer is good. 6) Remember, you won’t be in the fog forever.
We made slow, very slow progress in the beginning, but after an hour or so, covering maybe 25 miles, the fog lifted, we could see the road, we were back up and speeding, er, running. It a late home-coming, but we made it.
On some level, the “soupy” view of the future creates understandable nervousness for Christian leaders We hope we the road hasn’t taken a sharp left turn and that the bumpiness we now feel is the Church careening through a pasture headed towards a cliff. It is not, and here are some of the reasons.
Basics for “Fog-Driving” during a world-wide pandemic where everything could change!
Jesus is building his church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. And in fact, Jesus designed the Church to be at its best in moments of great societal challenge.
The church rises and falls on relationships, not outside circumstances. They will know you are my disciples if you love one another. Fierce love is the foundational measurement of the Church.
Prayer makes a difference and God welcomes it. Something happens when God’s people cry out from the depths of experience.
Service is the Church’s simple task for this (or any) time. It transports the Kingdom of God as it “comes (right here) on earth just as it is in heaven.”
These are major fundamentals. But how do we implement these principles in real time? From my conversations with church leaders, I made a list of some of the ways they are making disciples right now.
Practical ideas for navigating this fog bank!
- Use new technology to connect and pray with as many people as you can.
- Don’t forget old technology. (I’m amazed at the deep, positive response a letter of appreciation – mailed with an actual stamp! – elicits. Something about touching something physical that connects.)
- Esteem and appreciate individuals. When nerves are frayed, words and encouragement go a long way. (Don’t forget the medical workers around you!)
- Remember that some of the busiest people pre-quarantine are now some of the most available and ready for deeper conversations about God-at-work in their lives.
- Challenge people to dream about God’s purposes for their future. (Isolation is a great time to think outside the box – the place where Jesus loves to live).
- Pray (right!?)
- Encourage people to analyze isolation-imposed life-rhythm changes that have been healthy. How can they build those habits into their post-isolation rhythm?
- Capture opportunities to give witness to the Lord’s presence as a “shelter to their souls.”
How can you prepare now for that day when the fog lifts?
- People are going to be hungry to be together, face-to-face. Hospitality, a deeply ancient and spiritual practice, is going to be significant. How can you encourage people to gather together in small or even micro groups to share moments together?
- What physical needs will be prominent? How can you anticipate them? How can you prepare now to serve later?
- Often going slow, very slow, creates a openness in people’s hearts that allows the Holy Spirit to guide them into deeper communion with Jesus, better relationships with those around them and more effective service for God’s glory. That’s true for me, for you and for those we love.
My dad taught me how to drive in the fog. But really, it was an experience in learning trust. He “led” us through it.
Today, the resurrected Christ is at work in deep, powerful, redeeming, mysterious ways. He is teaching us to live in the COVID-19 muddle. When the fog dissipates, we will see the way forward more clearly. For now, however, perhaps our primary task is not once-and-for-all to solve the virtual puzzle, but rather to recognize what this pandemic really is – an experience in learning trust.