Author Archives: rob.haynes

The Crowded Road to Emmaus

By Rev. Dr. Rob Haynes

Not long ago, a friend shared with me how a series of unexpected difficulties impacted her life. She couldn’t understand how these things could happen to someone like her. She said she believed in God, but was feeling doubtful that God was concerned, or even aware, of her problems and this led her to really question God’s love in these difficult times. In the most trying of circumstances, in the most difficult of situations, where is God? Frequently, the answer is: “Much closer than you think.”

Luke’s gospel recalls the story of Cleopas and his companion who went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Festival of Passover and instead left after attending a funeral (Luke 24:13-35). Luke turns the spotlight on these two as they are walking home after witnessing Jesus’ death and burial. For them, the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus is dark and depressing.

The account begins on the afternoon of the first Easter. Jesus is risen from the dead, but the two companions had not seen Jesus for themselves. They had only heard others talk of the resurrection. As they left Jerusalem that afternoon, they were full of lament and sorrow. Just a week earlier, the people hailed Jesus as a hero as he entered Jerusalem. All over the city that week, people celebrated the Passover, one of the highest, holiest days in the Hebrew year. The remembrances were full of emotions of sorrow for the enslavement of their ancestors and thankfulness for God’s provisions. The culmination of that week was the farce of a trial that Jesus faced and his subsequent torture, humiliation, and public crucifixion. The traveling companions were reeling from the seemingly destroyed hopes of the movement they knew could change the world. In just a few short days, everything they knew was turned upside down. They were hurt and confused. Like my friend, they were full of questions, doubts, and fears.

Have you walked a road similar to the one these companions walked? Perhaps you know the hollowness of walking away from the graveside of a loved one who died much too soon. Maybe you have felt a sense of confusion and betrayal as those in power committed a miscarriage of justice by killing an innocent person. We have all felt the sting of broken promises and the grief of failed relationships. Many of us can relate to the hurt, anger, and despair that the two companions were feeling that day. Pain, bitterness, and confusion are so wide-spread that we walk with them on a crowded Road to Emmaus.

We continue to witness senseless violence perpetuated against the innocent increase at an alarming rate. The headlines are full of stories of leaders who earned peoples’ trust, only to destroy that trust through an abuse of power and position. Though there is optimism in some parts of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to steal lives and livelihoods. It seems like every time we see a ray of hope, the news is clouded with uncertainties and more confusion. The Road is crowded, indeed.

However, just like the two companions, we do not walk the road without hope, no matter how dark and difficult the circumstances. Jesus appears to the companions and asks why they are so troubled. When they explain their situation to him, Jesus gently chides them and gives them most remarkable of lessons when “He interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.” (v.27) The Scripture doesn’t tell us exactly why the two travelers could not recognize Jesus on that road. However, it is important to remember that Jesus was with them as they journeyed. Though they were confused, hurt, and skeptical, Jesus walked alongside them showing them the Truth and the Way. He did not send them away the doubting and confused duo but accompanied them on their journey.

The fact that Jesus was walking this road alongside them is significant. Jesus was not in the tomb. Nor was he in the temple, showing off to the religious leaders that he was right all along. He was not in Herod’s palace nor in Pontius Pilate’s headquarters gloating about who really won. Rather, Jesus was with the hurt, confused, and skeptical. He walked alongside them, showing them the Truth and the Way.

The modern day, metaphorical, Road to Emmaus is undeniably crowded. However, not all of those who walk this difficult road know that Jesus is with them. Just as Jesus walked with people who were hurt, doubtful, confused, and skeptical, today’s followers of Jesus—empowered by the same Holy Spirit—have the privilege and the responsibility to do the same.

Lent is a chance to let God destroy our idols

By Rev. Dr. Rob Haynes

Many Christians mark the season of Lent with a time of an emphasis on prayer, reflection, and self-sacrifice. Using Jesus’ example of being separated and alone in the wilderness for 40 days of fasting and prayer (see Matthew 4), those who mark the occasion often try to grow deeper in their own faith by doing similar things. People might change their diet to go without meat on certain days, forego desserts, and the like. Others may try to change their free-time habits by avoiding social media and focusing on God instead. Still others may decide to add spiritual disciplines to their lives by increasing their giving, service to others, or times of personal devotion to God.

There are several places in Scripture where God demonstrates his power through the devotion of his people. At first glance, the plagues that God brought upon Egypt that led to the liberation of the Israelite slaves may not appear to be a guide for Lenten spiritual disciplines. However, a deeper look can show us that God’s work then can shape our current Christian discipleship.

The book of Exodus records the time when the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt. Though they were a people of the One true God, yet they were surrounded by the false idols worshipped by the Egyptians. Obeying God’s call, Moses stood up to Pharaoh (who was seen as a child of the god Ra) and the other idols of the Land. The ten plagues God brought upon the nation of Egypt were direct judgements upon those false gods and proof that Yahweh, Israel’s God was all powerful. The animals that the Egyptians worshipped as guardians (frogs, gnats, livestock, and locusts) turned upon them. Their “godlike” livestock animals were stricken with pestilence and boils. The animals that supposedly protected them needed human protection from the hail. The false deity of the sun was powerless against the plague of darkness, and the false god of the Nile was lifeless as it turned to blood. The Egyptians believed that the first born of royalty was a divine gift of the god Ra. When death came upon Egypt’s firstborn, God was showing that even the Ra had no true power. The plagues proved that the false gods were worthless and that Yahweh is the All Mighty. The culmination of these was the Passover, when those who had marked their homes with the blood of the sacrificial lamb were spared. Yahweh led the Israelite people out of their captivity to a people of false gods and on the road that would lead them to their Promised Land.

The grand narrative of Scripture reminds us that Christian worship at Easter and the observation of Lent remains tied to all of these events of the Old Testament. The story of both the plagues and Lent is that God takes up the cause of the poor and the oppressed. God shows that the false idols of both the weak and the powerful are worthless. Meanwhile, he offers freedom from all the ways that these idols would enslave through the power of the Holy Spirit. Everywhere we look we can find the altars to the false gods of money, power, prestige, political superiority, social media credibility, and on and on. Jesus calls his followers to turn from the false gods of today.

We see the fulfillment of Passover’s meaning in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Scripture’s accounts of the Last Supper show us that Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples and showed that his coming crucifixion was to be the fulfillment of the first Passover. The blood of the lambs in Egypt spared the Israelites from the idols; Jesus’ death upon the cross is the once-and-for-all sacrifice of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29).

To finally shatter the idols of today’s culture, Jesus’ followers around the world must allow themselves to be used by the Holy Spirit to bring about the freedom proclaimed in that first Passover and fulfilled in Jesus. It is only through the joyous obedience to Christ’s teachings that we will see the shattering of the idols of racial superiority, political power grabbing, the pursuit of fame and fortune, or anything else that would attempt to usurp the true place that God should have as Lord of All in our lives.

Embracing the new for the sake of mission

By Rev. Dr. Rob Haynes

Think of a time when you went through a significant transition to something wonderful and new. Maybe it was moving away from home for the first time and getting your own place. Maybe it was starting a new job and moving to a new city. Maybe it was getting married and beginning a new life together. We can celebrate the new thing while appreciating the old that has passed. The old situation prepared us for the new opportunity. However, the new opportunity would not have been possible if we remained in our old situation. We see this lesson in Scripture when it comes to mission and evangelism.

The Bible is full of incidents in which people are invited to leave the old for new possibilities. In Matthew 9:16-17, Jesus tells his hearers that it is time for something novel and different by talking about old and new wineskins. This seems to be out of place, at first glance, since he was asked about the spiritual practice of fasting. However, a closer look reveals an important lesson about serving the Kingdom of God.

First, a little background on first-century wine making: When grapes were harvested for wine, they were first pressed and placed in a large vat. When the sugar from inside the grape interacted with the material on the skin, the fermentation process began. After a few days, the new wine was placed into a new wineskin. These wineskins were made from animals, perhaps from a single organ or the skin of a whole animal. 

Wine must ferment with little or no exposure to oxygen, or it will turn to vinegar. To prevent this, the skins were sewn up tight. The fermentation process produces carbon dioxide, which gets trapped in the skin. Because the animal skin has a natural elasticity, it expands with the increased amounts of carbon dioxide. However, these skins cannot stretch indefinitely. If they have been used as a wineskin once, they cannot be used a second time. If asked to stretch again, they will reach their breaking point. In doing so, both the skin and the wine of the new batch—and all the work that went into it—will be lost. 

The imagery Jesus conveys is rich. He did not come to merely patch up or refill the old religious system. His purpose is to demonstrate something new. He came to fulfill all of the commands of God and show all the Kingdom of God made known in his teaching, miracles, signs, and deeds. 

As I said, this incident may look out of place at first glance. However, when considered in its larger place in the text, there is a particularly important lesson about opening up to the new things God is doing in order to realize God’s greater purposes. Consider the miraculous and life-changing events in this chapter:

9:2-8—Jesus heals a paralyzed man

9:9-13—Jesus calls Matthew to follow him

9:18-26—Jesus raises a dead girl back to life and heals a woman

9:27-31—Jesus restores the sight of two blind men 

9:32-34—Jesus restores the ability to speak in a man who was mute

Embedded in all of these accounts is the teaching on wineskins. In each of these instances, a radical transformation occurs. Jesus asks people to leave behind the old and embrace a new, life-giving future that God gives them. Blindness, paralysis, chronic conditions, even death itself, are all left behind. Through the power of Jesus, they are all made new and brought new life. Now, imagine if they each went home and tried to put this new life, this new wine, into those old skins. What if the once-paralyzed man continued to lay on his mat each day? What if the once-dead girl crawled back in bed? The idea is ludicrous. 

Keep reading through the end of chapter 9 and into chapter 10 to really see the power of this. After all of these new, miraculous things Jesus tells his disciples that there is a plentiful harvest before them. He then gathered the Twelve and told them to go and to teach and to heal. It is important not to miss this powerful lesson: The mission of the Kingdom of God moves forward when God’s people embrace the new. Only when Christians allow Jesus to put away the old and fill us with new life are we able to able to fulfill Christ’s mission. When Jesus calls his followers out of an old situation, he prepares new places and spaces in which to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Those wishing to serve in the Kingdom of God must put away the old that Jesus wants to remove. Only then may we embrace the new and follow him in his mission of bringing Good News. 

Where Unity Begins

How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!

–Psalm 133:1

I have heard many people share with me recently their concern over a lack of unity in our world. Nations are deeply divided over politics, the appropriate response to COVID-19, racial and ethnic justice, and many other issues. Not even the church is a safe place from the divisiveness. How do we live together in this “very good and pleasant” way that the psalmist celebrates?

What does it mean to live in “unity” in the context of today’s realities?

We must be wary of a non-biblical unity. Historically and in modern times, many people have offered a false unity through coercion. Too many have sought to build a fabricated unity by conquering and subjugating another, by word or by deed. Too often wars of words and ideas leave the scorched earth of division and derision. How can we move towards the unity God desires?

It is first important to remember our kinship. In the age of globalization and increased digital connectivity, we are reminded of the commonalities so many of us share. We may share a kinship by our citizenship, by our common experience, or by common interests. All people share a kinship by the fact that we are all created in the image of God. On a deeper level, Christians are bound by a kinship in our common love and submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. At times, sadly, it has even been difficult to find unity there.

True unity begins when we fall on our faces in repentance and humility before God. When people hear a call for repentance, a common reaction is to expect the other person to repent, to get right, and to see it our way. Our human nature tells us that we are the ones who are correct, and the people are on the other side of the fence are the one who need to change. However, when we look to God’s teaching, we see that humility before God is something each of us must seek first.

Scripture records a time when Joshua and the Israelites are about to be used by God in miraculous ways. The Angel of the Lord appeared to Joshua before he was to fulfill God’s mission at Jericho. Upon seeing the Angel, Joshua’s first question is, “Are you for me or for my enemy?” Though Joshua was about to be used by God to do miraculous things, the angel reminded Joshua that he was asking the wrong question. Joshua was to be on God’s side, not to expect God to be on his side. When the Angel told him that he was for neither side, but was a representative of the Lord, Joshua’s reply is a lesson for us: He fell on his face and asked, “What do you want me to do, God?” (see Joshua, chapter 5)

We should assume that same posture of humility before God. This is the only antidote to this era of the prevailing attitude of much of the culture: “Agree with me or you must be dead wrong!” Jesus calls his followers to be an alternative to the culture, not an echo of it. He shows this in mighty ways through his life and teaching and by his death and resurrection. He demonstrated this in the people he called to follow him. The disciples were from different walks of life. Many of them were considered outcasts by society. Some were despised by others for their ethnicity, their work, and their way of life. Some were considered lowlifes and insurrectionists. Some were among the overlooked and the forgotten. On top of that, there was infighting and power struggles among members of the group of disciples. Jesus’ reply to their misunderstandings of position, authority, and unity was a demonstration of self-abasing love that gives up life itself for the sake of another.

The psalmist goes on to tell us that unity is “…like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the Lord ordained his blessing, life forevermore.” (verse 3) Mt. Hermon is the highest mountain in the area and it is so high that there is snow on its peak year around. However, the land around the base of the mountain is arid and dry. The cool air coming down from the snowy peak each morning provides a unique refreshment and rejuvenation that cannot be found elsewhere. Indeed, Mt. Hermon is the source of the Jordan River, that the Israelites crossed to the Promised Land and in which our Lord was baptized.

In a world that is dry and parched for the Good News, people need to see repentant and loving Christians work towards unity in their churches, their communities, and their countries. What would your community look like when Christians did so in a new and intentional way? How can you, like Joshua, move from the demand that God be on our side to a humility in asking if we are on God’s side? How can you, by the power of the Holy Spirit, be a channel of God’s blessing in a dry and parched land?[/vc_column_text][vc_separator color=”black” border_width=”4″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”2/3″][vc_column_text]Rev. Dr. Rob Haynes, Director of Education & Leadership, is an author, teacher, pastor, theologian, and missiologist. His work focuses on local and global mission and evangelism, church leadership development, forming disciples for missional service, and fostering new spaces for conversations on faith and culture.

Leaders, Don’t Miss the Opportunity in the Crisis

By Rev. Dr. Rob Haynes

Leaders around the world are feeling the effects of our global crisis on many fronts. Yet, the current situation does not need to be debilitating. Innovative leaders see a crisis as a catalyst, not a cause for despair. Crises are critical junctures that can provide unique opportunities for needed change. This is especially so for the church today.

Experts tell us that we might be dealing with the challenge of COVID-19 for some time. As the pandemic goes on, many church leaders are talking less about a rush to return to the way things were before lockdowns began. It is important to use this occasion to make important decisions about how to operate going forward in the context of today’s realities. Those questions are more than if the church will have online or in-person worship—or some combination of the two. Rather, these are much bigger questions: What have we stopped that should not be restarted because it was not healthy? What new things can we implement to meet the challenges we face? How can we re-engage a gospel-centered mission of discipleship and evangelism? 

The Greek word for crisis signifies a “turning point, judgement, or selection” and is rooted in the notion of sifting grain to separate the good from the bad. The current crisis presents leaders with many difficulties, trials, and harsh new realities. However, in all of those there are new opportunities for faithful and effective ministry, including:

Re-engaging the biblical model of discipleship

Churches that emphasize the Sunday morning service as the primary—or only—form of discipleship are struggling. The model that puts the pastor and the sermon as the main disciple-making time has been exposed and found lacking. In many parts of the world, there is a great deal of uncertainty about when churches will be able to legally and safely meet again in its pre-COVID designated worship space. Some in the congregation may insist that meeting in a crowded sanctuary is the only way to go to church. However, the command of Scripture is not to make pew-sitters, but to make disciples.

The New Testament’s primary example of Christian discipleship is smaller communities gathered in homes for meals, for prayer, and for study (for example: Acts 20:20, Romans 16:5, Colossians 5:15). The apostles discipled and equipped the leaders of house churches to lead their own communities of faith. Pastors have a unique opportunity when people are open to a model like this. It is critical that we abandon the model of the pastor as the only disciple maker. The most effective leaders will use this time to train leaders to disciple households and small groups. The current crisis provides a prime occasion to identify the gifts for ministry in the community of believers and put them to use in this way.

Living like Methodists

A richness of the heart of the Methodist movement is the desire for a biblical engagement of heart and mind that leads to ministry with people in need. The economic fallout of the pandemic will continue for years to come. Countless numbers have suffered a job loss or a reduction of income. Many need assistance with food and housing. Mental health needs are on the rise. Following Jesus in the way of the Methodists means serving the hurting communities around us. Is your church spending more time and energy on producing another slick Sunday online service or meeting the needs of those who are hurting?

Engaging the questions and conversations

Many people, religious or not, want to know why this happened. They want to know where God is in all of this. They are asking larger questions about life, meaning, and purpose. Non-believers and mature Christians alike are wrestling with big issues. Make space for people to ask honest, difficult questions. Do not be afraid of them or the questions, rather bring people to the gospel’s answers. This is an important opportunity to share and show the love of Jesus in our discussions.

Being a resource

In a world of seemingly limitless information, curate a “library” of sound biblical resources for discipleship and share these resources with your people. The current political and social climate lends itself to the spread of a great deal of misinformation. Help others use biblical discernment to evaluate material they find online and in print. Don’t surrender that work to Google. 

Winston Churchill is credited with saying, “Never let a crisis go to waste.” It is important that the church not miss this unique chance to let unhealthy habits die and to seed new ones. Leaders, don’t miss the opportunity in the crisis.

The World is Our Parish

By Rob Haynes

The founder of our Methodist movement, John Wesley, is often celebrated for declaring that “The World is my parish…” This quote has inspired many to serve in ministry around the world. However, most contemporary Methodist churches do not organize themselves in parishes the way Wesley’s church did. What did Wesley mean when he said this? What does it mean to see the world as our parish today?

First, we need a little background. As the son of an Anglican priest, Wesley grew up in a parish church. He served as a parish priest. After his life-changing experience on Aldersgate Street in London in May 1738, Wesley’s preaching was considered so radical and controversial that he was banned from the pulpit in the Anglican church. Wesley was now a priest with no parish. It was then that Wesley began to practice ministry in ways that would, for him, redefine “parish.”

Though he had no pulpit of his own, he still saw the great need for spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ throughout England, particularly to the poor and working classes. In a radical departure from the current practice, he preached in the fields, the city squares, and outside the coal mines to anyone who would hear. In doing so, he was changing what it meant to minister to a particular community. Some accused Wesley of crossing parish lines and therefore “trespassing” on the work that belonged to the priest assigned to that geographic area, i.e. parish.

When responding to critics of his radical methods of ministry, Wesley said, “I look upon all the world as my parish; thus far I mean, that, in whatever part of it I am, [it is my] duty to declare unto all that are willing to hear, the glad tidings of salvation. This is the work which I know God has called me to; and sure I am that his blessing attends it.” (from Wesley’s journal entry on 11 June 1739).

To understand what he means by this, we need to look a bit closer at how the church understood the “parish” in that particular time period and how it remains true for many today. The idea of organizing a parish is rooted in three important principles:

  1. Provide a Christian Presence for all

The parish system was designed to provide a Christian presence everywhere in the land. Geography defines a parish. By the simple fact that a person lived in that geographic area, they were deemed to have access to that church—in all its facets: that was your church on Sundays and holidays, and for your baptism, your wedding, your funeral. The parish church was a sign of Christ’s welcome, work, and ministry in every aspect of life for every person who lived there.

  1. All deserve the care of the church

This means that the church, and therefore the parish priest, had the responsibility for the people who live there. The priests were to minister to the people in every part of their lives, and therefore could not minister only to those whom they chose or whom they deem worthy of their time and interest. Rather, the parish was intended to signify that a relationship with God is available to all. As such, the church has an obligation to care for all. All includes the people that you don’t always get along with. All includes the people that you find difficult to love. All includes those who have a different background, heritage, or ethnicity.

  1. The Church is both Global and Local

Each community had, by default, a church in it. At the same time, the Church is universal: it exists beyond one’s own neighborhood, town, or village. Yet, it is particular to each neighborhood, town, and village and each person in it. The Church is global in that we are connected to the witness of Christians on every continent and in every land. And we are particular. None of us who live outside a community can minister in that situation the same way that a local church can, though we all have a part to play. And no one can minister in your community the way you can. You have a unique role to play in ministry, and the global church has a part to play too. This should be celebrated and embraced.

The strength of the early Methodist revival was that it was a movement that emphasized personal and social holiness that could only come through authentic Christian discipleship. Mr. Wesley was willing to break down the limits of the traditional parish to share that message. Modern Methodists, who are not bound by the limitations of the parish of Wesley’s time, can use these same principles for mission and evangelism. For many of us today, communities are not defined by geography like the parish of Wesley’s era, but by common interests. We tend to spend time with those who like the same things we do or visit the same places. We might know much more about the people on our soccer team, in our book club, or at the gym than we know about the people who live on our street. These places can be seen as a modern parish, so to speak. A recognition of each of these foundations of parish ministry can inspire us to share Christ’s love in the different kinds of communities we find ourselves today.


Dr. Haynes is the Director of Education and Leadership for World Methodist Evangelism and the author of Consuming Mission: Towards a Theology of Short-Term Mission and Pilgrimage. He is an ordained member of The United Methodist Church. He can be reached at[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_separator border_width=”6″][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Ministry in the Newly Distanced Church-Part 2

By Rev. Dr. Rob Haynes

Part 2 of 2

In my previous article, I talked about some ways the newly distanced church can think about worship, discipleship, and outreach in the still-developing COVID-19 crisis. Ministry in the Newly Distanced Church Part 1. In this article, I offer some practical steps to consider for discipleship and outreach as churches reopen and move into a new way of doing church.

Don’t let the numbers intoxicate you. Pastors can often be tempted to measure their impact by the sheer numbers of attendees in a church service, Bible study, or ministry program. The move to an online environment has meant strong growth for some; do not let it lead you into temptation. It has also meant sharp declines for others; do not let that discourage you. Online resources provide new tools to measure views, hits, likes, retweets, etc. Preachers who only reached a few dozen people during in-person worship services may now seem to be reaching thousands. However, these numbers can be deceptive. Use reliable tools to help interpret what exactly those numbers mean. Most importantly: resist the temptation to chase numbers for numbers’ sake. Rather, provide solid biblical teaching and let the Lord bring the increase. Each one of those numbers represents real people whom leaders are commanded to teach to abide in Christ.

As people join, so they will become. The old adage holds a great deal of truth about sociology: The way people join a group are the type of members they will become. When new members are expected to make a meaningful commitment to join a church, they are more likely to live out that commitment as disciples in that church. While churches have gotten creative in providing worship opportunities in the COVID era, challenges remain for making newcomers a part of the church community. While it is wonderful that people can watch church services from the comfort of their favorite chair at home during lockdown, this type of engagement requires little commitment or connection to the worshipping community. Church leaders should carefully consider how they will ask people to demonstrate both a personal and social holiness that includes building one another up through mutual learning, service, and encouragement.

New spaces for new people. One way to ask people to remain in those worshipping communities is by creating new spaces for new people. Simply trying to revitalize the same old way of doing things will not work anymore. (Have we seen the end of the church potluck as we knew it?) We have all been forced to do new things in new ways. Is your church seeing strong growth in online small group ministries? How can this be an intentional part of your new ministry reality? Has your community found a way to care for people despite social distancing? How will you create new places to continue to disciple those people? Look carefully at how people are engaging in these new spaces and seek to show and share the love of Jesus in those spaces.

Celebrate the connection. I know this may sound crazy at first, but perhaps the best thing you can do for someone is to ask them not to join your church. If someone found your church online but does not live in your community—and therefore cannot attend services and discipleship opportunities—consider asking them to find a church home in their own town. This is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the connectionalism we cherish in Methodism. Contact your colleague in that person’s town and tell them of the situation and ask them to reach out. There is a richness to having a pastoral connection close to home that cannot be replicated in the online environment. People will need the real presence of a Christian community when a future difficulty arises or in celebration of life’s milestones. One way you might disciple people who have found your ministry online is by not discipling them at all, but by asking another pastor to do it.

Think long-term. While the initial shockwave of the global pandemic and subsequent shutdown is gone, the effects of the various aspects of the virus and its fallout are going to be felt for years. Many churches moved to online worship in a matter of days or weeks and the energy and efforts to do so are to be applauded. Now, however, it is time to give careful consideration to how churches can disciple their congregations and reach out to new people for years to come.

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Ministry in the Newly Distanced Church – Part 1

Ministry in the Newly Distanced Church – Part 1 of 2
By Rev. Dr. Rob Haynes

Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.  John 15:4-5

The profound effects of COVID-19 have forced thousands of churches into new forms of worship. The proliferation of online offerings including worship, Bible studies, devotional teaching times, prayer services, and the like has been staggering. Anecdotal evidence and objective research suggest that more people are engaging with churches in the new online environment than before the pandemic. This is cause for celebration! This also means that church leaders have an unprecedented challenge before them: how to effectively teach those they have reached how to stay connected to the true vine of which Jesus speaks. This presents exceptional challenges in a distanced church.

These challenges can present themselves in a variety of ways. While the advent of online worship may mean that more people can connect with a particular church, it might also mean that those who were regular attenders of that same church before the pandemic can now attend any number of other churches from the sofa. The strong influence of the “attractional church” model in recent decades has resulted in people moving to different churches whenever they feel they are not “being fed.” Ask people why they join a church community and they will frequently cite factors like the preaching style, the music in worship, the programming offered for their kids, or something similar. While all these can have merit, this also means that people are likely to move along to something else when a more attractive opportunity presents itself. In the newly distanced church environment, this can mean that church leaders might feel pressured into something of an “arms race” to provide the slickest online worship offering or a flashier digital resource than the church down the “virtual street.”

To use another image common in the scriptures, these digital resources have provided new ways to welcome lost sheep into the flock, but it has also provided easy ways for sheep to move from one pasture, and shepherd, to another. As these shepherds begin to see their flocks in person again, they are going to find new sheep that have found their way from a far-off place. They are also going to find that some of their sheep have left for what they considered a greener pasture. I have heard of churches who have welcomed new members who lived hundreds or thousands of miles from the physical location of the church. With the new opportunities presented by online offerings come new challenges of how to disciple new members of these congregations.

In the passage above, Jesus is reminding the disciples that being connected to one another means being connected to him and vice versa. There is a richness in the term “abide” that should not be overlooked. The Greek word is “meno” and is the same term used when:

  • Jesus tells the disciples to remain in a town sharing and showing the love of Jesus. Matthew 10:11
  • John the Baptist describes the dove descending and remaining on Jesus at his baptism. John 1:32
  • Jesus tells Zacchaeus that he is going to stay at his house that day. Luke 19:5
  • In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asks the disciples to stay awake and pray with him while they remained with him as he was grieved, “even to death.” Matthew 26:38

This is not the first time we have seen an increase in participation in religious activities after a crisis. Churches frequently see an increase in attendance following a natural disaster or a tragedy. The key to ministry in these situations is providing biblical leadership on abiding after the shock of the tragedy fades. However, the COVID-19 crisis presents a unique situation in terms of the length of the impact and the precautions that must be taken to mitigate further harm as the initial impact passes. As churches begin reopening, church leaders and their congregations are finding new and challenging situations in terms of discipling newcomers to their congregation, caring for those who have remained, and reconnecting with those who have disconnected from the vine because the online environment meant they made their way to a new virtual, and distant, church.

Each of these situations will present opportunities and challenges which many leaders have not yet experienced. Fulfilling the mandate to teach people to “abide” will require new and innovative leadership. There is a particular power in being present with one another, in abiding. While physical distancing requires us to think about that in new ways, church leaders should remember the power of presence—real and virtual. In my next article, I will offer some practical ideas about ministering to the newly distanced church.

Read More: Part 2

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No Pointing

By Rev. Dr. Rob Haynes

I know a man who works at a large, warehouse style home-improvement store. He shared with me a story about how to help people find what they are looking for. It seems that there is a sign in the employee break room that says: “No Pointing.” The message to the store employees is that when customers ask the location of an item, one should not merely point and say, “Over there.” Nor is it sufficient to give an aisle number and description of the location on that aisle. Rather, the employee should walk with the customers and make sure that they are able, together, to locate what the customers are seeking. Along the way, the employee might learn more about just what they are looking for. In addition, even at some small level, relationship and goodwill is built. The customers realize that they are not alone and lost in their search, rather someone with expertise and experience is traveling with them. We are in a time when people need to know that the church is not merely pointing at some far-off place and that they must go alone on the journey to that place. Rather, we go together on the journey.

No matter how we are called to serve in ministry, as a lay person or pastor, it is important to remember that we do not go alone. We are to join with one another in our mutual work for the sake of the Gospel. Examples of this are frequently found in the Scriptures. In Genesis 12, when God calls Abram to the land he would see later, he did not go alone. In Luke 10, Jesus sent the witnesses out in pairs to proclaim that “the kingdom of God has come near.” After the Resurrection, Jesus walked along the road to Emmaus with Cleopas and his companion (Luke 24). Paul and Barnabas are sent together in Acts 13. If you are a leader in ministry, are you merely pointing or are you joining others on the journey?

The same holds true for those who are trying to find their way in the Christian faith. The last few months have turned many of us upside down. People are looking for someone to show them the way in a dark time. Many people are afraid of what the future will hold, as evidenced by panic buying and the hoarding of basic necessities. They want direction on how to navigate these uncertain times. Social distancing does not, necessarily, mean going it alone. Rather, at this important time, people around us need to be reminded that they need not go on this journey by themselves.

In times of difficulty, many people of faith have turned to Psalm 23 for comfort. Frequently, Bible study teachers and pastors point to the fact that the psalmist walks through the darkest valley rather than remain in that dark valley. That is an important point. However, notice that the comfort also comes from the fact that the Lord walks with us in those dark valleys. The Lord does not simply point but accompanies. We take solace because we are not alone.

Though the problems facing the world today are significant, perhaps even unprecedented, this is not the first time that the church has faced ministry to those impacted by a widespread illness. In the second, third, and sixteenth centuries, the church was able to minister to people in times of plague and disease. Without minimizing the human toll, it is important to remember that the church served as a faithful witness in those times. The church has the opportunity to be a faithful witness again in a difficult time for many around the world. That does not come from hoarding basic necessities or spreading panic and fear. Rather, it is demonstrated in showing the mercy given to us by Christ and coming alongside others as we walk through these dark times.

As a response to social distancing, many churches have generated a great deal of online content in the form of services, devotionals, and Bible studies. I am grateful that there has been a proliferation of these types of resources. The internet certainly needs it. All the while, church leaders should ensure that these are not just inwardly focused—merely aimed at the people who are already connected with a church. People are asking some really big and really important questions about life, death, the nature of the world in which we live. The gospel is the answer to these questions. This is a prime opportunity for us to share these answers to the world that is asking. We need to do this in a way that is not merely pointing and saying: “over there.” This is a prime opportunity to show the world the One who walks through our valleys with us.

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Talking about Jesus in A Complex World

World Methodist Evangelism (WME) is proud to work with partners around the world to train indigenous, front-line evangelism leaders to talk about Jesus in a complex world. Usually lasting one week, these evangelism seminars provide laity and clergy in the Wesleyan Methodist family the opportunity to explore the nature and practice of evangelism in a cross-cultural environment.

Pastors and laity from the United States are encouraged to join with international church leaders in learning, worship, and mutual growth. We have three seminars in 2020: Indonesia, Fiji, and Romania.

These unique learning opportunities address topics important to Christ followers in these respective locations. Some topics include:
–Ministry in migrant communities
–Faithful creation care
–Providing a faithful witness under the pressures of an increasingly secular society
–The role of healing in evangelism and discipleship
–Addressing local and global poverty from a biblical perspective
–Ministering in places where folk religion is being mixed with Christian teaching

These issues are of increasing importance and provide helpful insights for leaders around the world. In addition, these seminars provide an arena for the World Methodist family to meet together for sharing, learning, and preparing for evangelism. Teaching is led by local church leadership as well as pastors and scholars from the United States.

These experiences are perfect opportunities to grow as leaders and faithful followers of Jesus, and to encounter the wonderful things God is doing in the church around the world. Additionally, continuing education credit is available while experiencing evangelism and church leadership in these exceptional environments.

Upcoming Opportunities:
– Indonesia
– Fiji
– Romania
To learn more, click HERE.

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