By Doug Talley
I’m tired of the COVID-19 crisis! I’m tired of hearing about people I know (or friends and family of people I know) catching the virus, struggling for their lives, and even dying. I’m tired of friends and family members having to say goodbye to loved ones from a distance. I’m tired of my new routine that involves way too many hours in online meetings and webinars. I’m tired of wearing hazmat gear to go to the grocery store. I’m tired of not driving enough miles a week to take advantage of these incredibly low gas prices. I’m tired of the emotional drain. I’m tired of thinking, adjusting, reading, strategizing, asking and answering the question, “So, how are you?” I’m tired of the uncertainty. I could go on and on but if I did, only Cindy would read this.
“A crisis is a terrible thing to waste,” writes Paul Romer, Nobel Laureate Economist. Those words keep replaying in my head. I want to treat this whole thing like a weekend blizzard where I cuddle up with Cindy and a blanket in front of a fire and pig out on Jack’s chocolate covered Boston cream donuts. Problem is this crisis is lasting too long to go into neutral and stare out the window – and keep eating donuts. As one popular article says, this is shaping up to be at least a season and maybe an ice age. (Leading Beyond the Blizzard: Why Every Organization is Now a Startup)
I can waste a blizzard (a few days), but I cannot afford to waste a season (a couple of months) or an ice age (an extended period of time). There is too much at stake to act as though the pre-COVID-19 normal and the post-COVID-19 normal will be the same. Things that normally would take years to change are changing overnight. Local congregations that were living as though next year is 1955 or even 1995 are finding themselves being forced out of business because they became woefully outdated in their ministry plan, methodology, and philosophy. Other congregations are scrambling to catch up with 2005 or 2015 hoping that will extend their life cycle.
I am hearing of congregations of various sizes that are doing well, and I celebrate that. They’ve made adjustments in how they are functioning; lives are being touched for Christ, they are reaching new people, and starting new groups to disciple people who are being reached. Some are even reporting that their offerings have been strong thus far. These churches are seizing the moment to make a difference!
There are a handful of things I remain convinced of no matter how severe this crisis is, how long it lasts or how much it changes things.
- God’s love for us is pervasive and unending. No crisis can thwart it. God is still King, and His purposes will be accomplished. Nothing can defeat Him. He reigns! He doesn’t cause crisis and tragedy, but He can sure seize what the Enemy of our souls intends for evil and use it for our good and to accomplish His purposes. This is why every day since this crisis started I have been praying for global revival and for every pastor and missionary kid who has wandered from God to return to God. Maybe part of the crisis not to waste is to realize and cling to God’s amazing grace.
- Life is fragile. As a child and teenager, I felt like nothing could hurt me. I clung to that mentality pretty much through my 20s and 30s, only to discover in my 40s and 50s that an aging body that had played sports a bit too recklessly wouldn’t last forever. Now that I am in my mid-60s, I am stunned when the news reports that people my age are at a higher risk to contract the virus and should lock themselves in the closet until the vaccine is developed. When life is threatened, it all of a sudden feels more valuable and cherished. Maybe part of the crisis not to waste is realizing how precious every moment is.
- Only what we do for God lasts. I’m not downplaying people who are giving their lives to humanitarian causes or various professions. I am so appreciative of those who are first responders and medical personnel, those who keep the lights on, those who process meats and keep the grocery store stocked, etc. I’m saying that no matter what the job is that pays the bills it is only when we are serving others in the Spirit of Christ that your work endures. No matter your job – or even if you don’t have one – being the hands, feet and heart of Christ is what really makes a difference.
- The church in one form or another will be around as long as there are people. We must focus on our mission of making more and better disciples in all seasons and ages, and especially when there is crisis. People need Jesus, whether they realize it or not. As the church, we cannot let shuttered church buildings or limitations on gathering sizes hinder us from accomplishing the mission. We must be more creative than that because we have the most incredible message to share with others. We are not about a building. We are not simply about churches services on a Sunday morning. We are about hope, life change, developing life-sustaining relationships, loving and serving others, introducing others to the Person that changed our lives and gave us hope, and discipling others. The early Christians did not let persecution derail them from being on mission. Neither can we let crisis derail us.
“A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” As the church, once this lockdown is fully lifted, we are wasting the crisis if we simply step back in time to early March 2020 and try to pick up where we left off. How do we make sure we don’t waste it? Let me make it more personal. How will your congregation adapt its methods in order to effectively make more and better disciples?
It used to be that the world took decades to change substantially. That bought us time to adjust to change gradually. Congregations took advantage of that and robustly resisted change hoping it would go away. During my lifetime, I’ve seen at least three major periods of change that has made it difficult for a local congregation to keep its head in the sand. Yet, some congregations have persisted in doing business as usual. I don’t think that’s going to be the case after the COVID-19 crisis subsides. Churches can no longer exist in a time bubble as the rate of change will became exponential at least for the next six months to a year.
If you are a pastor or a church leader, what does it mean for your congregation not to waste this crisis?
- What ministries do you need to close down now because they are no longer helping you accomplish the mission of more and better disciples?
- What sacred cows need to be put to pasture?
- How will you develop and empower leaders so that your congregation can become more decentralized and more effective?
- How will you move Christians from consumers to disciples to missionaries?
- How will you adapt the way your congregation does ministry so that it is relevant to and connects with people in the post COVID-19 world?
- How can you use technology and what you’ve been learning in the last few months to significantly shift how your congregation functions, engages people, serves, disciples, and pursues its mission?
I know. Right now those questions feel overwhelming. So don’t try to answer them all at once. Instead, incorporate them into your daily prayer time and then just spend a few minutes each day listening after you ask the questions. You might be surprised at what God tells you.