As I write this, we are not yet at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic. There will be more challenging, painful times ahead, even when we are past the peak, for all of us. Many people are of course talking about longing to get back to normal life, including ‘church life’.
Churches: let us not be re-active. Let us not be on the back foot. Ephesians 6 v 15 tells us to have our feet ready – our feet mean we need to be ready to move – ready with the gospel of peace. Ready for what?
For life not being ‘back to normal’ as we know it. You can find lots of suggestions online good and bad about what life might be like in the next 6 months, in the next year and beyond, in our personal, professional and church lives. There could and maybe should be a new normal.
For people, as they often do in times of personal crisis, such as bereavement or serious illness and national crisis, such as the death of Princess Diana or 9/11, to be asking questions about their lives, about their identity, purpose and destiny, about life itself.
Will we as churches be ready for that?
Ready to make the most of the opportunities that this time will give us, whenever it will be. To make the most of the opportunities that this time will give us not to give all the answers to all the questions but to give them Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life (John 14 v 6) whatever the situation.
The year of Jubilee, described in for example Leviticus 25, was planned to be a year every 7 years where normal activities would be stopped to enable a reset of people and resources. We have had something like that enforced on us. Let us consider what the church will need now and what our community who need to know Jesus will need now, not just automatically start up our programmes, groups and events just like before lockdown.
How can churches be ready? Here are some suggestions…
- Pray, consider, discuss and plan in this time of lockdown how your church will respond when life is opened up. It is a question of when it will happen not if, so let’s be proactive and on the front foot.
- Host a community celebration for the church and local community when social distancing is lifted to become social embracing to celebrate and continue the virtual and distant relationships that have happened in this period.
- Learn lessons from ‘virtual church’ for ‘normal church’ such as the benefit of visitors being able to watch a service anonymously online (so keep putting online services) or people being able to feed in comments and questions during a service.
- Keep the sense of community and caring that has been so fantastic through this time especially to the vulnerable. Start, continue or develop relational networks where people check on their neighbours, buy any essentials for someone who can’t get out or are busy in a key role or use their spare time or skills to help others in need.
- Follow the national messaging that has been happening about how everyone has their part to play by consistently communicating everyone has their part to play in reaching others whether it is by prayer, building relationships, inviting people or helping out.
- Offer a course where people can ask questions, hear some answers and experience something of God’s love in Jesus through meeting Christians and discussing life and faith. Examples are Kintsugi Hope which focuses on mental wellbeing (https://www.kintsugihope.com/), Alpha, Life explored (https://www.ceministries.org/Groups/274684/Courses/Life_Explored/Life_Explored.aspx) or Resolve (https://www.theuglyducklingcompany.com/resolve).
- Open our churches’ eyes, ears and hearts to the possible opportunities to communicate the gospel that we will have. There will be some opportunities at this time of course but there will be more in the future. We need to be ready (that word again) to answer people about why we have the hope that we have (1 Peter 3 v 15).
We need always to “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power” (Ephesians 6 v 10) whatever the circumstances. We do that by putting on the full armour of God (Ephesians 6 v 11ff) which includes being ready for the opportunities to communicate the gospel of peace that everyone needs, that there are now and that there will be.
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