I was recently asked by the editor of a Christian journal to share with him my experiences with COVID and the Church, specifically the challenges of leading a church during the early stages of the pandemic, the shutdowns, and the re-opening of churches during the Spring of 2020. I posted my answer to his first question in this space yesterday. I am posting my responses to the other two questions today and then will elaborate a little more and process a little further tomorrow and Thursday. As a reminder, I was the Senior Minister at Central Church of Christ in Amarillo during that time. So my answers reflect the experiences in that setting.
What was the greatest success or unexpected blessing for your congregation that came out of COVID?
The most immediate blessing was that we were forced to think outside the box. The situation demanded creativity and allowed a flexibility to experiment with almost anything. We held an Ash Wednesday drive-thru service, we organized prayer parades that blessed our local missions partners, we did online talent shows and hosted livestreamed ten-minute “Word and Prayer” sessions four days a week. I began hosting a weekly podcast that highlighted our local missions partners and favorite “Passages and Prayers” from our elders. Some of the ideas were brand new and some were things we had talked about before but never had the space to try them out. Some of the things we tried failed terribly and others turned into meaningful events that will continue to bless that church for years to come.
With two-thirds of our church family participating from their homes on Sunday mornings and most all Bible classes and midweek activities canceled for a full year, we were given a wonderful opportunity to reimagine what we were doing as a congregation, and why. We had the space to rethink our priorities and the freedom to refocus our church programming and events. As shepherds and ministers, we developed criteria for using our time and resources on only those things that synced up with our congregation’s vision. We surveyed the church and put together a few focus groups to identify those things that truly transformed our members and brought them closer to God and to one another. We radically changed our Wednesday night programming, made significant adjustments to our Bible class and small groups structures, and refused to restart any program or event just because we had been doing it for twenty years – it had to match the criteria. We made the decisions to pour our church resources and our volunteer hours into fewer things that yield the most Kingdom and Holy Spirit fruit. We made things simpler and more streamlined to match our church’s twin values of transformation and mission.
What biblical passages or principles have taken on more importance for you – or have you seen in a new light – during and after the lockdowns?
The incarnation of our Lord and that same flesh-and-blood nature of his Church took a hit during COVID. As a society, we were already well down the path of increasing individuality and isolation. But the pandemic sped us along so that, somehow, church online has become a viable substitute for the physical presence of and in the Body of Christ. Our salvation is not a one-time event. Yes, we are connected to the life, death, and resurrection of our Savior when we are baptized. But our salvation continues – in fits and starts, with ups and downs, slowly but surely – in church. With people.
God’s Spirit transforms us in community. Our Lord changes us and shapes us into his image with other people. When we give and receive forgiveness. When we sing each other’s songs. When we bear one another’s burdens. In the hugs and during the meals. No matter what we’ve been told or what we’ve been doing for the past year-and-a-half, you can’t experience communion at a drive-thru or do church over the internet. We must work overtime, now more than ever, to reclaim the sacramental view of the Christian assembly. We are required now to teach and re-teach, to reassert and reaffirm the transformational purpose and effect in regularly meeting together in person. And we must work just as hard to make sure our Sunday assemblies cultivate the kind of life-changing transformative environments our God intends.