The linchpin of our mission: changing retreat into progress The change
In his inaugural address in 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke to a nation shaken by the Great Depression. He took the opportunity to turn bad times into a nobler answer.
He said in part: "First of all, let me reaffirm my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasonable, unjustified terror that paralyzes the effort required Convert retreat to advance.""
Roosevelt saw the opportunity to take advantage of difficult circumstances and turn to the future. This perspective is also helpful for the church.
You and I have never had such a time in our lives. We all agree that when this is finally over we won't miss terms like "self-quarantine", "social distancing" and "protection at home".
But as we slowly creep forward, we must not miss this opportunity to turn "retreat into progress".
If you are a church leader, you have no doubt thought at the beginning of the year how you can help your church to make the work of the gospel more effective in your church. You've probably had discussions with employees and other leaders about how you can serve the marginalized in your community. Perhaps you focused particularly on the coming Easter season as the key to your plans when everything changed.
A renewed vision
It is easy to see the pandemic as a great interruption that has to be endured and forgotten, rather than the great opportunity to turn to a new vision for the service. In this case we can learn a lot from the life of Jesus.
As you read the Gospels, you see that so much of his earthly ministry was based on responding to the opportunities that were open to him: meeting fishermen as he walked along the Sea of Galilee (Mt 4: 18-22); a lame man fell through the roof (Mark 2: 1-12); a despised tax collector named Zacchaeus who heard him (Luke 19: 1-10); an outcast Samaritan woman (John 4). The four gospels are full of it.
The more you read these reports, the more you will see how Jesus was more available to the broken and the marginalized because he was not busy checking his to-do list for that day. He had scope to become a minister.
Reset your why
This season can reset our attitude to service on several levels. First, we can help our churches understand the why behind everything we do. Too often we pay attention to what to do and how to do it, without paying attention to the why. But if we lose the why, the what and how, we can fill our schedules to the point where we can lose sight of the why.
Why did God include your church in your church at this point in history?
Why did he give you specific guidance, the gifts in your church, and the circumstances in which you serve?
This is a good time to go back to why. The famous NFL legend Vince Lombardi gathered the Green Bay packers after a rare defeat in which they were strongly favored. "Gentlemen," he began to practice, "this is soccer." Lombardi then brought the team back to the reason why they sacrificed together and why they went to play every week.
In many ways, COVID-19 has set the church back. We "lost" Easter as we normally enjoy it. But it would be far more tragic if we didn't take the time to rethink our mission in our rush to return to what we consider normal.
Return to the mission
Many churches explain their why with some emphasis on the Great Commandment and the Church of the Great Commission. By giving your why in this way, you can start there to see what and how you can progress and learn from the pandemic.
How do we bring about change in a time of great upheaval? We do this in three ways:
1. Some things need to be taken care of. We want to continue the contemporary and historical things that are central to the Church of God. For example, the renewal of corporate worship.
2. Some things have to be dropped. What are the things you have been involved in that are either not central to your mission or are affecting you? This is a good time to move away from them.
3. Some things need to be adjusted. Almost every church turned to online meetings about zoom, streaming services, etc. What role will these play in the future? Will zooming continue to be an option when you meet in groups so those who are out of town or at home and have a sick child can participate? You will no doubt continue to stream services to vulnerable people, at least until the pandemic ends. But what role do streaming or video conferencing play?
Learn from the church
This is a good time to ask questions. Assemble a simple email questionnaire that you can send to your church and ask them: What is the greatest need that you have observed that you or the church family can help? For example, members of the Church can provide information about what they have done to connect with or serve their neighbors. You can develop a group of people who regularly go for walks in their neighborhood to have a greater impact on the gospel.
Another question: What gaps in your church can your church fill? Many churches have filled in for meals on wheels or similar services; others have come in to help lunch at school.
You may also want to ask your church in your own personal way: What did your stay at home do or what restrictions did you have to help your devotional life? Did you see this as a reminder to slow down and take more time to pray? How could that affect your personal life?
You may find ways to improve your discipleship service with tools like Zoom to respond to identified needs.
Finally, confirmation with other church leaders in your area can help you identify needs that you may not have seen, or allow churches to come together to serve in ways that you may not be able to do alone.
This is a time for the progress of the gospel, not for retreat. for a renewed vision and a new service, no return to the status quo. May the coming days be our best service to our King.
Ed Stetzer is executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, dean at Wheaton College, and publishes church leadership resources through the Mission Group. The Exchange team contributed to this article.