Whatever proportion of the population are vaccinated it looks like Covid-19 may be with us for at least several years, in some way or another. It is possible that it may, like influenza, emerge annually with new variants on a permanent basis. While there are a lot of unknowns, instead of bemoaning what we have lost, perhaps there are some ways we can use this time as an opportunity to reflect on and reshape the church to actually take ground for God’s Kingdom:
1 Really care for one another
It is no surprise that many people in our churches are struggling during Covid-19 lockdowns. Some pastors are frantically calling their entire congregation on a regular basis. But many leaders are asking, “how can we help and assist people in their daily lives more consistently?” Part of the answer seems to be a distributed system of care and connection that also involves discipleship and leader development (even if for now that is over Zoom). Generally, churches that have a strong small group network (and have helped people navigate Zoom/MS Teams) have done better during Covid-19. Others are exploring micro-churches as one way forward given the restrictions on larger gatherings.
2 Reflect on what is sustainable
Part of the experience of Covid-19 for churches has been to see at least some people who have been serving step back and take a break. For some, their ministry is no longer operating. For others, juggling home schooling and working from home has been a demanding season. But I think the question many have found the space to reflect on during this time is, “What do I want my life to look like?” For many not commuting to their place of work (and maybe hoping this will continue) it has been a chance to say, “The way I have been living my life is not sustainable.” So whether that opens the chance to move to a seaside regional area, or pull back from a ministry area, or switch to a job closer to home, the central question is “How can I genuinely experience Christ’s easy yoke?”
Mat 11: 28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (The Message)
Of course, some have learned that it is not as simple as moving to a seaside regional area, or pulling back from a ministry area, or switching to a job closer to home; these may help, and I don’t want to say this glibly, but at its core sustainability is about a vital relationship with Christ where we “learn to live freely and lightly.”
This is the question that people in our churches are asking. Do we have an answer that will help to re-shape a more sustainable church?
3 Reconnect with our neighbours and neighbourhood
Being locked down pushes us back to a more local life, with many walking their neighbourhood again, and saying hello to neighbours. For me, it seems more grounded, more whole, more embodied. And inevitably, some of those conversations or socially distanced interactions with neighbours build bigger connections: baked goods exchanged, offers to pick up prescriptions, walking buddies and sometimes deeper conversations. Perhaps this is what it really means to live a spiritual life and be on mission. Wendell Berry puts it in these words: “Slow down. Pay attention. Do good work. Love your neighbours. Love your place. Stay in your place. Settle for less, enjoy it more.”
Maybe Covid-19 is an opportunity for us to reflect and re-shape the church in some helpful and life-giving ways. Before we rush back to “a new normal” (whatever that looks like) with church buildings open once more, maybe we should pause to implement what we have learned about life and church in lockdown, as we really care for one another, reflect on what is sustainable, and reconnect with our neighbours and neighbourhood.
© 2021 Ian Duncum. All rights reserved. No reproduction without written permission.
Rev Dr Ian Duncum is an author (The Impact of Church Consultancy is available here https://www.ianduncum.com.au/shop), and a consultant with 20 years experience of working with non-profit enterprises and churches across a number of denominations. This has included denominational leadership in church health and development, and research positions. Ian also trains church consultants, facilitates training for ministers and leaders, and provides coaching, mentoring and supervision for pastors and other leaders. He can be contacted through www.ianduncum.com.au or firstname.lastname@example.org