Our music/kids minister had to, for a class I'm teaching, write a letter to his younger self about ministry lessons he'd learned. I thought I'd give it a whirl too. So this is going to 19 year old Scottie somewhere around 2002.
Wassup! (Don't worry, in the future you'll only use that to reminisce about the past)
Hello 2002 Scottie! This is you from 2020. I know you're going through some stuff now. But what's happened will be part of how God is going to use you and shape you into who He wants you to be. I hoped this letter got to you while you're opening up those commentaries that Davis gave to you. You're wondering what's going on and why you've been asked to lead a few weeks of a small group study. Trust me, you're in for a ride. This is what God's going to use to call you into ministry.
I'll start with the personal stuff. Hang tight til 2006, you're gonna meet someone special. We've got two awesome kids and we're about to hit 12 years married. Oh, and I'm writing this with a little sunburn from being at the beach this week. You're going to end up living in Florida. It's pretty awesome. You'll also be in school way longer than you ever imagined, but you'll have a Seinfeld episode for a dissertation and you'll have alphabet soup after your name. Your church is going to be a blessing to you and your family. Here's something else crazy you won't believe: Louisville is going to have a Heisman winner. And you might want to start saving up for the 2013 Final Four. Trust me. It'll be worth it. Just don't watch the Duke game in the Elite 8. Oh, and while I'm at it, on your next shift at Starbucks, sign up for all the stock options you've got available. Trust me on that one.
You're sitting there wondering what's going on inside your heart and why you're feeling a pull towards some form of ministry. Spurgeon called it "an all consuming desire for the work." You'll get there. It'll take a couple years and some refining but it'll be a really neat a-ha! moment. So if I can pass on something to 19 year old me who might not be humble enough to listen...
First, be no one's but Christ's - Don't fall into trappings of tribes or camps. Your allegiance, your identity, your purpose, your everything, is wrapped up in Jesus. You are His. Do not compromise this. You'll run into some instances down the road where your desire to be liked and taken seriously (I know it's there) will put you in some places to compromise. Don't. Trust me. It's not worth it. Not everything is a hill worth dying on, but some things are. When you do speak up on those things, don't expect to be cheered. Some will appreciate it, others won't.
Second, buckle up - It sounds exciting now, but ministry isn't for the weak or for the timid. You'll lose track of the number of times your heart will break, how many times you'll be misquoted, how mean people in the church can be, the ugly way you'll be treated by people who you'd been close to, and how nasty spiritual warfare can be. That book you've put off reading on spiritual disciplines... you might want to dig into it. It'll be all that keeps you from going crazy, and from wanting to walk away from ministry in 2015 (Sorry man, that season is going to be bad. Wish I could change it, but you'll be sold out by someone you looked to as a mentor).
Third, find joy - I know the second one is hard. But this is a lesson I've learned in 10+ years of ministry. If you don't find joy in what God is doing around you, you'll become bitter and resentful. You might not see it now, but there will be times where your soul will be so full you'll feel it. Look for those little things in everything you do. Find the sparks of where God is working. They'll be there. You'll get emails and text messages (true story, you'll use your phone more for that than calling) from students in your youth ministry sharing the impact you had.
Fourth, be gracious - I know it's coming. You're going to hit your cage-stage Calvinism soon. Your humility hasn't caught up to your opportunity, and quite frankly it won't until you're about 30. Wish there was better news but you're slow to learn. Seriously though, don't be a jerk. Be gracious. It's not going to be worth losing friendships because you want to be right. I've watched that, not just in our life, but in others, who wanted to be right so much they were willing to bomb bridges, not just burn them. Don't be that guy.
Fifth, be an eager learner - It'll be 15 years before you're a lead pastor. You'll be spending time in what you'll learn are called "second chair" roles, and some third and fourth chairs! Wherever you are, be an eager learner. God will place people in your life who will be excellent teachers. Look to them. Learn from them. A few will teach you things not to do, and that'll pay off more than you can know. You'll be frustrated sometimes because those you're learning from won't move or do like you think they should. Be humble enough to be patient. Take notes. Learn and retain everything you can.
Sixth, love the Word - There won't be a book you read (or write for that matter - yes, you'll publish books! Don't get too excited, the sales are lousy) that will be as important as the Bible. Make it a commitment now to read it, study it, and store it away. Your "success" as a pastor isn't going to come by being smart or by being creative, it will come by being faithful to the calling. Next time you're on campus to visit with Davis, ask him to show you the front of Norton Hall. That'll stick with you.
There's so many more I wish I had time to write. Unfortunately the best lessons in ministry are the ones you have to learn the hard way. God is good though. And He is faithful. And He'll finish what He's starting in you now.
From the future!
I know a lot of us are processing the news from the last few days. This is my best attempt at responding pastorally to what we've seen dominate our screens. I'll be sharing this with our church later this morning from my heart.
Like many of you, I found myself fixed on the news the last several days. It was surreal to see the images and video from across the country. For me I was an observer until the protests and demonstrations happened in Louisville. I watched streets I’ve walked on many times, places Carrie and the boys and I have been, and places dear to my heart ripped apart. I watched as a reporter for the news station my grandfather worked at for 50 years was shot with pepper pellets in the safe zone. I watched as friends, especially minority friends, shared their pain on social media.
Others of you saw similar scenes in places you love: Chicago, Minneapolis, New York, Tampa, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Washington DC, and as of this morning more than 30 cities nationwide.
I don’t pretend to have the answers, nor do we have the time to discuss the issues pervasive in all of these incidents. The stories of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Travis Miller (OKC delivery driver), Christian Cooper (NYC dog leash), and thousands more that are lost in the news cycle should cause us to do one thing: weep.
As Christians, we are people of the book. The Bible gives us so much to say about what’s going on in the news.
It’s with that last one I want to offer both a pastoral lament and a pastoral prayer. The pastoral lament is that we are grieved that we have not listened better to our African-American, Latino, and other POC neighbors. We have not listened to their pain, their struggle, and their stories of inequality. We have sugar-coated it by saying that we’re color-blind or that there is “one race” or at worst to blame them for their problems. It is a lament that in 2020 we are still dealing with the reality of a racially divided America. We see armed white men storm state capitol buildings because they can’t get haircuts get a pass and an endorsement from the Oval Office; but when black people protest the unjust killing of another, they’re viewed as dangerous thugs. It’s a lament that we can quote Dr. King and his dream for America, but we still clutch our wallets when approached by black men. It’s a lament that we defend the unborn, but we call those same people “leeches on the system.” It’s a lament that we say “all lives matter” but find reasons why they don’t. It’s a lament that we preach a Gospel of peace, but we turn a blind eye to those in bondage.
Church, we must be better. We cannot fix everything. We cannot fix the macro. But we can address the micro. Before we begin the message, can I encourage you to 3 things:
Father, we come before you aching over the stories and images that have consumed our TVs and screens for these last several days. We ache for the families of victims, we ache for the communities affected, we ache for the businesses and homes destroyed by violence. We ache for those entrusted with our safety who are caught in the middle of this. We plead with you Jesus, as the Prince of Peace, to be with our hurting nation and our hurting communities. We ask that your people, your Church, would respond in truth, in grace, in love, and in mercy. We pray we would be Your hands, and Your feet. Holy Spirit, we know that only You have the power to change hearts. We plead with you to bring light to darkness, bring repentance to coldness, and bring hope from despair. In the mighty name of Jesus we pray, Amen.
It's always fun to start on a book and realize a few pages in that you're not the target audience. Like watching Star Wars and not knowing where Captain Kirk is. When I picked up the book Pastors Are People Too I hoped it would be a helpful read. What I took from it was less how it applied to me, and more about how helpful it would be for others to read.
Dodd & Magnuson wrote this from the perspective of pastors to non-pastors to share with them the struggles and realities of what pastors experience. It's not a complaint or an airing of grievances. Far from it. I have major issues with pastors who gripe and complain about their job or their life. Ministry is hard. It's not for wimps. That's why I was glad, as a pastor, to read what Dodd & Magnuson said.
The target for this book is for church peeps. It helps them pull back the curtain and get an honest assessment of what it's like to be on the other side of a pulpit. It gives a perspective many in the pews and chairs may not see because, well... that's just reality. The typical church peep isn't in the loop on the counseling, preparation, administrative, and personal side of ministry. They're not aware of the spiritual battles happening within and outside of a pastor's heart and family. For most, the only exposure they get to a pastor is Sunday morning.
Dodd and Magnuson cover a number of important topics for church peeps to know about: expectations (how many do you have? multiply that by your worship attendance), capacity, friendship, compensation, conflict, spouse, and family/kids. Like the subtitle says, it's all the things your pastor wants to say but we all know he can't. I found myself resonating with so many of these, feeling aches in the soul but knowing these were heavy things I'm only able to share with a very small group of people.
If you're reading this and you're a pastor, hang in there. You need a champion. Not someone who'll fight your battles for you, but someone who will hold you up like Aaron and Hur held Moses so God could fight for them. Give a copy of this to someone in your church who could be your champion. You are a fool if you try to be a shepherd alone. And you're a fool if you never ask for help, for prayer, for support, or for encouragement. One of the greatest and richest blessings in my life is that I have a running text thread with a Deacon who is nothing short of a Godsend.
If you're not a pastor and you're reading this review, please be your pastor's champion. Your pastor doesn't need a cheer squad. Your pastor needs a champion. Cheer squads say rah-rah, champions spend time in prayer. Champions hold up their exhausted pastor. Champions help dissolve conflict. Champions ask how you are doing, not what's next on the calendar. Champions genuinely desire to be a pastor's friend, not so they can get access or leverage. Church peeps, your pastor needs you to be a champion. He might be hanging on by a thread, his marriage could be in crisis, he could be overwhelmed by the spoken and unspoken expectations.
Here's five things you can do to be your pastor's champion today:
1. Ask how you can pray for him, not for church stuff, but for him and the family
2. If their family has children, help them find childcare/babysitting
3. Commit to squash gossip and disunity
4. Love him genuinely as a friend and brother in Christ
5. Bring others in as champions
For the last few days there's been an interesting infograph being shared online that gives a snapshot of some research done by the folks at Barna. It's eye opening. While we've been under the COVID restrictions, most churches have worked hard to preserve some sense of normalcy with digital services and Bible studies. A lot of those churches, without notice or preparation, have made the most of this crisis by creatively engaging their congregation and community through video-based services.
But when it started, I don't think any of us had any idea how long it would last. I know for us we spent time talking about this on a week-to-week basis. We had no idea it would be 84 days between in-person gatherings, or that for Easter we'd be staring at stage lights pre-recording a service instead of shouting "Jesus is alive!" in person. Once we got past the initial learning curve of shifting from a service mindset to a broadcast mindset, we grinded our way through week after week, hour after hour of editing and uploading.
Until we all got fatigued about it. At the core, that's the heart of the Barna snapshot. We've all hit digital fatigue. Even for us as pastors and leaders, I think I can speak for all of us where I say "I'm tired of this." It's exhausting. It's even harder to preach in an empty room than a crowded arena. And as we've observed from our YouTube channel, the views each week have been on a decline since Easter.
Why? We're over it.
Barna's work has shown that for many Christians, there's a fatigue to watching services online. And for good reason. We weren't meant or made to worship and engage apart from one another. We were made for fellowship, for corporate worship, for taking the Lord's Supper together, and we are missing something when we don't have that.
Whether your church has already resumed in-person, is planning to soon, or isn't sure when that will happen, you'll still have people who aren't able to attend those services and will need to continue to fight through the digital fatigue. However you respond, make sure you pastorally help those on the other side of a screen engage so they can fight through the digital fatigue.
1) Take time to acknowledge, speak to, and recognize the digital audience. Whether it's in the announcements or during the message, look at the camera and talk directly to that person on the other side of the screen. Engage them. Love them. Tell them they're missed.
2) Encourage in-service engagement through comments and discussion. All our streaming capabilities have the ability to post, reply to, and engage with comments. So put those out. Share polls. Ask people to give specific feedback. Let them do more than passively watch. Help them actively engage.
3) Mix up the format of your service. We like to say we're not liturgical in the low-church movement, but good luck getting the offering moved out of its normal place! Changing up your worship service format and order is a good thing to do regularly. Don't just plug and play the same thing every week in your digital services.
4) Stay positive. It can be really easy to be sour during this season. But as leaders, we have to be lead optimists. We have to stay positive, communicate hope, and push back against the sadness that so many are experiencing. It's not denying those hard times, it's overshadowing their tears with the risen Christ and the hope we have in Him.
5) Make it count in-person. Don't just resume in-person gatherings and pretend nothing happened. Make it count. Celebrate. Sing. Clap. Share testimonies. Tell stories of how God worked. Preach the Gospel powerfully. Even if your auditorium is a third full, blow the roof off the place.
If you're tired of hearing "unprecedented times," "out of an abundance of caution," "new normal" or any of the other buzz phrases thrown out during COVID-19, join the club. We're all ready to reenter what we can as soon as we can. Pastors, you feel this a lot. You want to be back in church. Your church wants to be back together. Your email or text messages might be filling up with suggestions, ideas, or pressures. Compound that with the reality that the playbook for the reentry is being written as we're reentering, and it's a really hard time to be making decisions that affect dozens, if not hundreds, of people.
Sound like your Monday too?
Leading pastorally through a global pandemic is something that absolutely none of us were prepared for. Unfortunately, leading out of a global pandemic is something none of us are prepared for. We're used to people disagreeing with us or offering criticism, that's part of the territory. But when it's in the middle of something we've never experienced, it can feel like an added weight or a heavier burden to have people impatient about returning to regular scheduling.
Since we're learning this on the fly, here's what I've learned in the last couple months:
1. Don't make decisions in a vacuum - Making decisions like this shouldn't rest entirely on your shoulders. Bring in stakeholders, lay leaders, staff, and if you have one a leadership team into the decision making process. They will bring a different perspective than you have, and if it's a volunteer team they don't have the vocational pressure you do.
2. Make sure we is heard instead of me - Along with the first point, this is huge in helping explain to people the decisions made and the process taken. We is plural. We isn't a vacuum. We is a group. We are stakeholders. Me is you alone. Leadership in the church as a pastor happens only when our trust reserves are built up. By making sure we is what people are hearing you're leaning on the trust reserves of others instead of your own.
3. Be prayerfully patient - There's something in the tyranny of the urgent that causes us to react. The squeaky wheel gets the oil. The badgering person gets placated so they leave you alone. The impatient people give us a fire under our seat. But if we're going to work through this, we must be prayerfully patient as we seek out the best for our congregations. We cannot embark on this without significant prayer as we look for wisdom to move. My friend Sam Rainer has a great post on pastoral prayer during this season.
4. Stay positive - It's been a hard season. Some churches have suffered financially. Some pastors have been affected deeply by the crisis. Churches have had to endure grief and hardship without the reassurance of fellowship. But negativity in how we communicate and how we approach the reentry will only serve to spark the toxicity and impatience. Stay positive. Things will get better. We have a sure hope, not a wish, that Jesus will finish what He started.
5. Be kind - Kindness never ages. And for most people, their impatience isn't because they want to be a pain, they just want to have some normalcy in their lives. We can't blow that genuine desire off as troublemaking or divisive. Be kind. People are hurting. Kindness helps them, and us, see that we can still find measures of joy even when things are upside down. In our kindness, and even through our annoyance, affirm the desire of the impatient that they desire to be back with church family.
6. Stay the course flexibly - It's hard when we don't know what the next week, much less the next day, holds as we look to reenter normalcy. That's why it's crucial when you're making the decisions with key leaders that you commit to stay the course, as much as you can. We've adopted the words used by Florida's governor: safe and smart. Those are the two words we're keeping in mind as we make decisions. Another church in our area is using "do the next right thing" to make their decisions. However you do it, stay the course. But be flexible enough that you can adapt to the latest news and guidance from the government and CDC.
How are you doing with your church's reentry plans pastor? How can I pray for you?
Around much of the country, churches are beginning (or have already finished) making their plans for what their reentry to in-person gatherings will look like. As we see restrictions lifted and the encouragement to return to a socially distant sense of "normal" it's worth our time as pastors and ministry leaders to look at the reentry as more than a restart.
At Emmanuel, our target date for reentry is June 7. It's a bit later than what Florida has allowed, and we chose to delay our reentry so we could make sure we have enough supplies, protective equipment, and are able to set ourselves up for what worship will look like in the reentry phase. That means converting our Fellowship Hall into overflow seating, removing Bibles, hymnals, and other things from the pew racks, doing a thorough cleaning, and stocking up on supplies (do you have any idea how hard it is to find things!).
Throughout this quarantine season, my refrain to our church has been "When we get back together in-person, we're blowing the roof off the place." I still want to see that. We're not sure what kind of crowd we'll have on the 7th, but we're going to be loud. We're going to sing, we're going to clap, we're going to cheer, we're going to scream "Amen!" It's going to be a time of joy, of fellowship restored, and of a hope reminded. For us, it will have been 84 days since we last gathered.
Pastors, don't just treat your first Sunday back like it's another normal Sunday. Your church has been through a difficult season. People have been discouraged, many have been personally affected by COVID-19, some may not be back to work yet, and all of us have come through this profoundly changed. It's not just another Sunday. Every Sunday is a refreshing of the good news of the Resurrection, but some Sundays are different. This will be one of them.
Take time to celebrate. It's a good thing to cheer for what God has done. In every tragedy, there are always reminders of grace and goodness. Find those. Celebrate them. Recognize and share the good things that have come over these last weeks.
Take time to pray. We know when we reenter in-person worship, we won't have everyone there. There will be a number of our folks, including some key leaders, who won't feel comfortable being in a public space like that yet. We know names and faces of people in our communities who have been affected by this crisis, whether it be their health or employment or family hardship. We know thousands will be grieving. We know that we aren't out of the woods yet. So take time to pray on that first Sunday.
Recalibrate around a healthy doctrine of the church. The church only exists when it is assembled. That means we are made for fellowship and togetherness with one another. We cannot function, much less exist, without being together. Seasons may preclude us from meeting, whether it be a global pandemic or you wake up with a sick kid on a Sunday morning, but our natural and general desire should be to gather together on a weekly basis.
Refocus on what the mission is. One of the blessings of this season has been that it has shown us what is and isn't important in our worship lives. Our mission is the Great Commission through the Greatest Commandment. We don't exist for the secondary stuff. That's what was taken from us during COVID. We lost the fellowship dinners and small groups and weekly events. But what wasn't lost was our task to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth as we love God and love Neighbor. That's why we're here. For Emmanuel, God put us at 8305 US Hwy 301 so we'd be a witness to our community.
Love the church. Even though we're not going to be able to interact like we normally could, we still have to look at that first Sunday back as a way to renew our love for the church. As hard as it is, we cannot resume shaking hands, hugs, or taking the hand of a widow to tell her you've missed her. That shouldn't stop us from loving one another. We've spent time praying for/with one another, we've met needs by providing food and resources, and we've shared grief and joy over the phone and Zoom.
Having everyone's worship services broadcast across the web and through social media is certainly a double edged sword. It's awesome because we get to participate in other churches' experiences. For us it's been good because we can hear from friends of ours and especially my in-laws. The multiplicity of services, messages, and songs are truly a glimpse of glory. But with that comes the inevitable: someone is going to do or say something that doesn't jive with us.
It's an unfortunate but apparent reality that Christian Twitter hasn't lost its outrage edge. Whether it's churches hosting drive in services, at-home Communion, drive-by baptisms, or deciding to not even have anything broadcast until the local church re-gathers, there's no shortage of opinions and hot fire takes.
I'm not saying the way we do church doesn't matter. It does. Our doctrine of the church informs our worship, our fellowship, our practices, our values, our expectations, and our gathered hope. Our doctrine of the church gives us distinct denominational identities shaped and formed by our biblical convictions over secondary matters. Those aren't unimportant. They're part of who we are. But they're not primary issues.
Take your neighborhood, or more particularly your neighbor's house and compare it to your house. Tertiary matters are the interior design. We decorate our homes how we want and how we like it, and it's for those within. Secondary issues are the exterior and landscaping. Sure it's obnoxious to have an eyesore next door, but it's not your house. Primary issues are those that pose a risk to you, your house, or the neighborhood.
What does this have to do with churches doing drive by offerings? A lot. When we criticize, poke at, or otherwise lambast churches whose practices on secondary issues are different than ours, we're like the neighbor who comes over and tells us he doesn't like the color we chose for our shutters or how we've trimmed the hedges.
I think we have to ask ourselves four questions that probe less at the action and more at the heart. The heart of the person/church doing, but more so our own hearts.
1) What are they attempting to do with this? - A lot of these actions are done out of a genuine and sincere desire to maintain some sense of normalcy during an unprecedented trial. They're not trying to act crazy (for the most part), and they're not trying to unseat the meaning of Hebrews 10:24-25. They're trying to live faithfully and obediently according to their conscience and conviction. It may not be what you would do, but it's what they have determined they can do.
2) Is it worth interjecting myself? - Normally my answer to this is a solid no. It's not. In most cases, interjecting yourself into someone else's business means you're meddling. With that said, relational proximity does have a certain margin in this. If you put a lawn decoration in your yard that would make Clark Griswold jealous, and your neighbor who you barely know says something to you, you'll respond differently than if it's the neighbor you have over every Sunday to watch Red Zone. Relational proximity matters. If it's a big enough deal (and there may be times it is), and you've got enough relational proximity, you might be able to ask questions. If not, don't tweet.
3) Am I being humble and gracious? - This was the point Jesus was getting at in Matthew 7. It wasn't that we should never make judgments, but that we do so with balanced scales and a mirror. The balanced scales to be fair, and the mirror so we can look into ourselves. Humility is a virtue missing from most of our social media interaction, even among Christians. Graciousness is its partner. Where you have one, you typically have the other. When we're hot taking churches who do things different than us, are we being humble and gracious?
4) What's the harm? - All of these questions are interconnected. If we give benefit of the doubt to those who practice differently than us, we also have to think about the harm the practice is doing (or more than likely not doing). For example, one prominent church (Capitol Hill Baptist in DC) has decided not to do broadcasted worship services but to show previously recorded sermons. Not how we're doing it, but no harm. They've been extremely kind in how they've taken their position. We saw a drive-by baptism done the other day pop up on our Facebook thread. Again, not how I'd do it, but there's no harm in publicly recognizing the work of Christ in someone's life. Or the at-home Communion services, whether a recipe is provided or people partake using whatever they have at home. Again, not how I'd do it. But there's no harm being done, and the fabric of the Church isn't unraveled (unless you're a transubstantiationist, but that's another story).
No two churches are going to do things the same way. That's true in normal circumstances, but it's magnified in a global crisis like this. We're welcome to disagree with what we see. That's ok. Your way and my way don't have to be the same. But I'd hope at the very least we'd begin to ask these four questions before we start firing off hot takes.
In a text exchange with a friend and former colleague in ministry, we talked about the encouragement we've found in our churches and how they've responded to the COVID-19 crisis. We also agreed that it's "exhausting to completely overhaul and rewrite everything you're doing." It's true. Nothing we're doing now is normal, or fun. I enjoy watching services on TV in my pajamas, but it's not the gathered church. I've enjoyed sitting on the couch with Carrie and the kids while we sing, but it's not the same as hearing our church praise. I've enjoyed finishing the message by Wednesday, but its' nothing like the moment of expectation while our children's minister finishes the prayer while I'm walking up to the podium.
All of us in ministry could write a list like this. We've learned a lot about who we are, what we're capable of, and what kind of stock our churches are made of. EBC, here's what I've learned about you!
1) You're a resilient bunch - Seriously guys, you're tougher than you think. You've embraced the challenge of trying to figure out how we're going to get through this, and you're digging in your heels to make sure we're doing this as best we can. You've survived countless struggles, economic recessions, trials, even for some a World War. But we've never seen a global pandemic. And your mettle is showing!
2) You're more adaptable than you think - Churches have been forced to do something many haven't in a long time, change. Change is hard. It breaks up the routine and rhythm that we've become accustomed to. And it pushes us, as Queen Elsa says, into the unknown. But you've handled this one well, and you've shown you're more adept at change and more flexible than you thought! Sunday School classes are using Zoom, our prayer meetings have gone virtual and you did the work to set up a Zoom so we can virtually gather together, you've used online giving, you've gotten prayer emails, and you've adjusted to a normal where our lives are interrupted.
3) You're more loving - Absence really does make the heart grow fonder. It's not just romantic, it's koinonia! Because we've been apart for so long (today is our 5th Sunday meeting virtual), we've realized how much we genuinely love one another and long for the fellowship that's been missing since we're not in the same physical place. You're checking in on people. You're praying. You're helping your neighbors. You're sending encouragement. And you're itching to get back to 8305 US Highway 301 North.
4) You're being made more like Christ - We haven't had our physical gatherings. We haven't had fellowship meals or activities or events. We aren't doing programming like we did before. What's been stripped away has shown us what matters most of all: Jesus. And when our eyes are fixed on Him, we're made more like Him. Whatever is chiseled or stripped away from us is the stuff that doesn't matter. We are made for community, and we are made to fellowship embodied. That's why we look forward to getting back together. But this season has shown us that it is by the Word we are made more like Jesus.
5) You've kept your joy - Whether it's picking on me for a wardrobe change during a service (I forgot to wear the same shirt for the two days of filming that week), stopping by to drop off stuff at the office and doing the six foot distance hug, getting annoyed when Zoom puts the picture right up your nose, or you talk about the sweetness of Christian fellowship, COVID-19 hasn't robbed you of your joy. Sure it's annoying. Sure it's frustrating. We're all there. Yes the service feed drops every now and then. But you've kept your joy in the midst of crisis.
Hang in there guys. We'll get through this together. #TeamEBC
I don't want things to go back to normal when the COVID-19 crisis passes us. Don't get me wrong, I need a haircut, I'm dying to get back to our regular routine, I've missed our church family, and Louisville is preseason Top 25 in football. There's a lot that we want to see again. And a lot of people we want to see again. But I don't want things back to normal.
Here's why. We've seen sparks of wonder during this crisis, and I fear that normalcy means the end of the wonder.
Stop and think about it. Companies are putting aside profits to take care of their employees. Factories are giving away product for a medical crisis. Opposite sides of the political debate are working on solutions. We're seeing a flourish of creativity in how people are meeting basic needs. The internet has become a happier place with a strong meme game. Our families are spending more time together, we're unplugging from the rat race, and we're recapturing what's most important. In my SBC tribe, we're not talking about CRT-I, we're talking about prayer and Gospel.
Do I want to see shops open and businesses thriving and churches filled again? Absolutely. Goodness yes. That's why I'm willing to endure the agony of distancing for a time. So we can hurry that back.
But as for normal, I'll pass.
I'll pass on a church culture that values preferences over mission. In this crisis, none of us are thrilled with what's happening. But we're pushing through. We're going through with a measure of joy as we videotape services in segments, as we sit in our living rooms and watch, and on the other side of the camera pastors are forcing smiles and eye direction to a camera instead of real faces. But we're on the same mission. We're all on the same page. I don't want to go back to the church culture of complaining over music style or pew color or Bible translation or whatever petty foolishness that doesn't matter we find ourselves arguing over.
I'll pass on lazy pastors and ministry leaders who skate by. Crisis has a way of separating cream from milk. Cream rises to the top. This crisis has pushed ministry leaders and pastors. It's made us uncomfortable. And it's exposed a problem I think far too common in churches: laziness. You can't be lazy and lead people through a crisis. You have to be willing to work hard, grind, and put in time.
I'll pass on joylessness. I was almost brought to tears a couple weeks ago by a Zoom meeting where I watched people join in, enter the "room," and light up when they saw familiar faces. They saw people they hadn't in weeks. And there was raw joy in that. I don't want to go back to normal where our church gatherings feel like funerals and dirges. I want to remember the joy that comes from authentic fellowship. I don't want to go back to the normal of joyless meetings, joyless classes, joyless services, and joyless activities.
I'll pass on fear of change. In this crisis, we've had nothing but change. Even before the CDC's recommendations shuttered the majority of churches nationwide, we were seeing the trajectory change on a 24/48 hour basis. What we knew as "accepted" was subject to changing as the situation evolved. Churches, for good or bad, have long been a bastion of steadfastness, an anchor to change. Seriously, step in some. It's like a time machine, except it's no DeLorean. You'll be taken back to the 1980s, 70s, or earlier. I don't want to go back to normal where change is something to be afraid of, or the answer to innovation is "we've never done it that way before." I want to keep this going, where innovation and ideas are churning out new ways to accomplish an ancient mission. Let's not lose this.
For pastors, much of our time is spent around people. While we have a priority on our preparation, study, and research for our preaching/teaching, we operate mostly around people. Well... that's not so easy anymore. Hospitals are closed to visitors, even family. Nursing homes don't allow you to stop in anymore. Most people don't want home visits. We're not able to have Bible studies or gatherings like we're used to.
So what do we do with our extra time? It's easy to fall in to the trappings of the moment and find yourself surfing the web, scouring Facebook for the latest articles or news, pounding the last of the snack reserves, fighting the crowds to get the last roll of toilet paper, or wasting your time. The alternative is to capitalize on this season and make the most of your time (Ephesians 5:15) for your personal and professional development.
1. Read More - You know that stack of books on your shelf that you stare at and then walk away from? Now is the time to start working through it! My encouragement is to read widely. Don't just read theology. Grab a biography, and interesting non-fiction, look at the NY Times bestseller list, see what's available on Kindle Unlimited. There's no NCAA Tournament, no NBA games, and no MLB. You can only binge watch Tiger King so long guys. And as a personal plug, my book on preaching and my book on pace in ministry are available for free on Kindle right now!
2. Exercise! - True story. You can grab so many web-based workouts and do-it-at-home options without having to use "well, the gym is closed" as an excuse. I know it's been easy to eat all your snack reserves, but take some of the extra time you have to go for a walk, do an online workout, or tackle that DIY project that's sure to get your heart rate, and blood pressure, up.
3. Worship - For so many of us in leadership, worship is something we take for granted. We take it for granted because it's a built in rhythm to our lives, and we take it for granted because when we have the responsibility of leadership we so many times fail to care for our own souls. Again, with the overload of churches broadcasting their services, Bible studies, and the YouTube library, there are no shortages of ways to worship and feed your soul. I've gotten fed digitally by friends and colleagues in ministry who I wouldn't otherwise.
1. Free Classes - It's easy to think of learning as something we did when we were in seminary or Bible college, but this provides us an incredible opportunity to sharpen our skills and grow in our learning. Best of all, many places are already offering these! Southeastern Seminary has a large selection of online classes you can take for free. Other options include Dallas Seminary, Denver Seminary, Gospel Coalition, RTS, and Zondervan.
2. Webinars - There are a number of great webinars that are available to help us grow significantly in our ministry, especially during the COVID-19 crisis. Your email box is likely full of them. I'm typing this while I'm listening to one from Church Answers, I've got another in the queue from Barna, and another scheduled for Friday.
3. Network - You know the feeling you've got as a pastor where you don't know what you're supposed to do? Guess what, you're not alone. Before the CDC's recommendations hit hard enough that churches across the country shut down physical operations, I spent time at a pastor's roundtable. None of us could remember the "Global Pandemic" class in seminary, so we were working through some issues together. Grab your phone and call/text some other pastors and ministry leaders. Be an encouragement. Be a prayer partner. Pick their brain of how they're doing ministry now.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.