My parents tell me I was in church the week after I was born, and I'm pretty sure I haven't missed being in a church building on a Sunday for three weeks straight ever in my 53 years on earth … until this March. Frankly, it's a little unnerving. I know so many fellow pastors are feeling just as disoriented as I am. This Sunday morning, I almost drove to church and turned the lights on in the sanctuary just to sit for a while in a familiar room on a familiar day.
Adding to the emotional strain, the last two weeks have been filled with managing the technology questions. How do we gather without traditional gatherings? How do we disciple? How do we connect without physically touching? Questions of giving platforms, staff reorientation, and financial projections have been front and center for so many pastors. These existential issues will not go away, but as we settle into the best we can do with them, I think we are on the cusp of moving to the next sphere of questions.
For the last few weeks, our nation has been dealing primarily with fear of sickness and its accompanying economic and emotional toll. Every pastor I know, myself included, has addressed the spirit of fear in sermons. Empty grocery shelves and the toilet paper apocalypse have shown the level of panic among people. However, if the medical experts are correct, we are headed into a time of widespread sickness and death. Are we preparing our people for how to minister in these new times?
For years, we have reminded our people weekly of one of the three founding ideas of our church: We are ALL the ministers at Real Life. As pastors, our job is to equip the ministers in our church. More than ever, our church will operate not as a beacon of light from one location for a specified moment, but in every neighborhood we live. And the need for people to minister to their immediate world has never been greater.
Recently, Dr. Ed Stetzer used an excellent illustration, which referred to a practice drill used by chess clubs where the player is required to navigate the game without the queen. The queen is so powerful that it is easy to undervalue the movement and importance of other pieces. Learning to play without the queen requires higher-level thinking. For a lot of years, the weekend worship service has served as the "queen" on our ministry game board. Perhaps even a disproportionate amount of our thought, energy, and finances have focused on those few hours of worship. Suddenly, we are being forced to consider how to best minister seven days a week without an on-property worship service in play. We must learn to be successful even though our "queen" has been taken away, for now.
As pastors, we need to empower and train our people how to minister to those who are grieving loss of financial stability, loss of freedom, and increasingly loss of life. If we equip well, and in turn they minister well, then the church may rise up as more essential and grace-filled than any time in recent Western history. Who can say but that the Coronavirus may result in a time of spiritual awakening in the church and in our nation?
Someday, when we arrive at the new normal, which will not be the normal we left behind in February, perhaps we will minister more intentionally from a seven-days-a-week mindset than ever before.