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.