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What will have changed after the pandemic?

What’s new?

Everything!

Well, that’s not entirely true: the mission of the Church isn’t new. But the way we do things is changing by the day. Not just at church, but everywhere: think about how you connect with the people who matter to you. How you go grocery shopping. How you work on your kids’ school work. How you think about money. We’re even doing our laundry and using our dishwasher differently!

Everything is changed, but not everything will have been changed forever

The pandemic changed everything, but not everything, and not everyone, will have changed forever. So what to do, how to respond, especially when we can hardly process everything that has happened, and is happening right now? Who has time to think about the future, and why would we bother if we don’t know what it’s going to look like?

Well, as it turns out, some people may have a bit of extra time on their hands, and maybe time to think about the future. There are people who are even gifted, or called to think about it. We would call these people prophetic – they can see further, they can see patterns emerging when others may not, and they can speak truth into darkness sometimes when everyone else only sees clouds or smoke.

We have to see beyond, even if the future is more uncertain than ever

This post is about this ‘seeing beyond’. It’s not about predicting the future, and it’s not about declaring what will be or won’t be different two to three years from now. It’s about trying to make sense of what’s emerging, and to express thoughts and feelings about what we are learning, or what we can be learning.

Relevancy is fundamental because people can click past in a nano-second, and their needs are as profound as ever

The Church has been struggling with a relevancy crisis for possibly decades, and much has been written. Interestingly, there are churches across the country that are stepping up and finding themselves more relevant than they could have imagined just a few months ago. Not all, but some. How does my church community speak into having my kids and partner home 24-7, and how my financial future may turn out? Maybe even my financial present? These needs aren’t new, and they won’t go away after the pandemic subsides, whatever that new reality looks like – they’ll be there like they always have been, but we’ll be more equipped and skilled at facing them with people.

God is relational in His nature, and therefore so are we – we are built to belong in community, in relationship

People are built to belong, they have been since God created humans. God likes belonging too, and He made us in His image. People crave belonging now more than ever – they are checking in, asking ‘how are you?’ like they mean it, and love seeing one another face-to-face on Zoom, Skype or FaceTime. How is my church making sure I’m connected, that everyone is connected, especially the less extroverted or the less technologically able? Here’s our chance to bring meaning to people, not just connecting online, but by really being there for one another, really caring, really committing to people beyond our walls and out into our other networks. Isolation had been identified as the number one health risk before the pandemic, it will only be accelerated during the crisis. At a time when the healthcare system still has the potential to be taxed beyond its capacity if there’s a second wave.

Authenticity is picked up even faster – and inauthenticity is dismissed even faster – than before, because people have acute needs right now, they are far less likely to ‘put up with’

People want authenticity and clarity, especially as they’re trying to make sense of the pandemic – what’s real, does a surgical-mask make a difference, do we need to wipe down our groceries when we bring them home? The Queen does authentic by referencing her 80 years of broadcasts during times of crisis. What can my community say that rings true, is helpful and calming – even if hard to hear? What can we learn during this time when authenticity is more valued than ever, about authenticity for the long term? How am I becoming a more authentic leader, a more authentic communicator, a more authentic friend?

Relevancy, belonging and authenticity are not new – but participants will judge you and your church against these standards now more than ever

In short, relevancy, belonging and authenticity aren’t new. And they won’t go away after the crisis. But we can learn new things about them and how to respond to them in and through this time. These are ideals or values we ought to be striving toward anyway, and one of the great truths of this crisis is that it will accelerate any forward movement that is already in motion. If we’re working on becoming more empowering leaders, it’s likely we’ll become way more empowering leaders in the coming months. If we’re trying to reach people outside our walls with the unchanging message of hope of the Gospel message, we’ll likely reach out way past what we expected.

Everything moves slower and faster – it’s as if time has been warped.

And the opposite is true too, as hard as it may be to hear: if we were going into palliative care as a congregation, we’ll likely sink faster in the coming months. If we don’t have a sense of mission and can’t see a way forward, the stark reality will hit us fast. This is especially important for denominational leaders who need to lead and support healthy congregations – what resources are directed toward the dying church, or the congregation that can’t discern a sense of mission? I think we can be sure that resources will be tight in the coming months. As stewards, we may be able to see more quickly which churches can’t step up, but it will be all the more important to do so. Not to be ruthless and cut-throat, but to ensure that scarce resources of time, treasure and talent aren’t directed to mission that isn’t producing fruit, fruit that lasts, as we’re called to in John chapter 15 verse 16.

So, what’s a church to do? What’s a church leadership team to do? Sure, Job 1 was to make sure everyone was OK and checked in on. Job 2 was to make sure the lights can stay on, that enough money was flowing in to pay most of the bills, or enough money wasn’t flowing out. Most churches find themselves catching up to the digital world, and acting like it matters (finally). While every church may not live stream their services every Sunday, some churches will connect more electronically, and with more people who aren’t Sunday attenders. And hopefully more authentically in every interaction. Will online church and online connecting go away after the pandemic? Was it something we used while we didn’t have face-to-face? Or will we see the value in connecting in new and more authentic ways? Will we leverage the scale of online so we can multiply our reach, not just add to it?

What to do? Be real. Instantly. Admit when you don’t know, or you need help. Speak truth.

What are the things we know and are timeless? God is in charge and will see us through. God’s mission is always about love – love Him, love others. What other wisdom have we picked up in our lives that speaks to our current situation, may be helpful for someone, and can be shared easily? I’m thinking about how I know check-ins are important at the beginning of meetings, they’re even more important now. People can honestly say how they’re feeling – they need to. I know that speaking one’s story to others helps them remember, there are parts of this journey we will need to remember, so it’s important to let people talk. I’ve learned that introverts have a lot to say – it’s even more important now that they have the chance. What have you learned along the way that a truth can be pressed into service now? A truth that has helped you, that you’ve struggled to learn, that you learned through adversity?

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