Last week, we began this series by talking about the fact that the coronavirus pandemic that has swept the world and affected it in dramatic and unprecedented ways, has also presented some exciting and unprecedented opportunities to expand the kingdom of God.
We talked about how that while the coronavirus pandemic has literally closed the doors of our churches, it has opened up some doors to do some creative ministry that would not have been otherwise done. In our website, we gave some specific examples and showed some pictures of how Regional Conference churches are still moving even when they are not meeting. We invite you to take the time to read that particular story.
Last time, we talked about Opportunity in Adversity and we mentioned that the major adversity caused by the coronavirus opened up some opportunities in three main areas:
- Technology-and the use of live streaming
- Evangelism-and being able to invite those who were not members of our church to come to our virtual services who may not have come in-person
- Using technology to reach our young people. We pointed out that in most places, people had stopped coming back to AYS. We can now use technology so that instead of futilely attempting to get people to come to AYS , AYS can now come to them (the same is true of midweek Prayer Meeting)
I would like to close our discussion by quickly pointing out three (3) other opportunities the coronavirus pandemic presents:
- The Coronavirus Will Force Us to Reach Out to Each Other Again: Before I went to work in the conference office, I worked in five different churches as a local Pastor. In all of those churches, I visited the members of those churches in their homes on a regular basis. It was a wonderful experience.
Sitting in the homes of my church members helped me to get to know and understand my church members in ways that I would have never gotten to know and understand them had I not gone to their homes. We would talk about their dreams and their goals and their struggles. If they had children, we would talk about them, or, sometimes, my visit would be for the purpose of visiting their children.
I remember one time one of the teenagers in my church missed church on a particular Sabbath. I went to her home and when she answered the door, she went to get her mother. I said, ”I am here to see you.”
I can’t remember why she had missed church or what we discussed. I do remember that she did not miss church after that. When she got married to a very nice young man, they gave me the honor of officiating at their wedding. When she and her husband moved away to another part of the country, she invited me to preach at her church. When her husband was asked to serve on the Nominating Committee of that conference at a rather challenging constituency, he gave me the further honor of calling to seek advice.
I miss those days of visiting members in their homes. For me, there was nothing like it.
For a number of reasons-some of them, good reasons-those days are largely gone. But the need for Pastors to be connected to the members that he/she pastors is still there. The coronavirus means that Pastors have to be intentional about establishing that connection. When I went back into Pastoral ministry after leaving the conference office, one of my enormous frustrations was how to establish that connection without being able to do much Pastoral visitation. The 15 seconds or so I would spend greeting people at the door when they came for Sabbath School and the 15 seconds I would spend greeting them at the door at the end of service was not nearly enough-at least, not for me. But now-because of the coronavirus, even that is gone.
The coronavirus is giving us the opportunity of Pastors connecting with their members (as well as members connecting with other members). The old days of visiting members in their homes and connecting with them that way are probably gone for good-and with the coronavirus, we couldn’t do that now anyway.
But technology gives the opportunity to connect with members that has not been there since home visitations went away. We have to work remotely in my office now so we have weekly videoconferences. There are a number of other meetings in my office that now happen via videoconference.
What if Pastors scheduled virtual conferences with their members? They wouldn’t have to be long-15 minutes or so, where the Pastor said to the member(s), ”I just wanted to check in with you during this time of uncertainty and let you know that the one thing that is certain are the promises of God. Are you getting along ok? Is there anything that you need me to pray for, etc?”-an electronic home visit.
I believe that it is much easier for people to follow someone with whom they have a connection. The coronavirus gives the opportunity to establish a Pastor-member connection in ways that we may not have been able to do heretofore.
B. The Coronavirus Is An Opportunity for Our Church-on All Levels-to Re-Examine How We Operate: I have an expression that I have used a lot:
Any business that does not constantly re-examine how it does business is asking to go out of business.
The coronavirus has changed everything-just as 9/11 forever changed the way people travel by airplane. Even when/if things go back to normal-there will be a “new” normal-at least, in my opinion. My suspicion is there will be some things about the new normal that a lot of people will like and some things a lot of people will not like. But I do not believe that things will ever be quite the same again.
This gives us a chance as a church to re-examine how we operate. The Seventh-day Adventist Church is a 20 million member plus, multinational, multi-billion dollar operation, with a zillion entities (churches, schools, hospitals, etc.) scattered literally around the world. There is no way to operate that kind of structure without lots of meetings in lots of different places with the people who are administrators doing lots of travel. Think the people running Walmart and Apple and Southwest Airlines don’t have to travel a lot? If you think that-think again.
There are at least two reasons for that. First, each one of the zillion entities that our church has (an exaggeration of course, but there are a lot) requires some sort of board or committee to oversee it-plus auditors and other people like that to give oversight to the overseers. Those boards, committees, etc., have to meet in order to do their jobs.
I can tell you as a former Conference Administrator that it would have been much easier (for me, at least) and much less expensive and much less time-consuming for me to have sat in my office and made all the decisions for the conference myself. But it also would have been much worse for the conference. The Bible says, “In a multitude of counselors there is safety”.
But while there is safety in a multitude of counselors, there is also an expense involved in bringing that multitude together.
The second reason is leadership is at least partly about relationships. There are some things in any business that get done through relationships. And relationships are not easily formed via videoconference.
A major example of that is the budding relationship that the Regional Conference leadership has with a number of leaders on the continent of Africa. But that relationship didn’t happen until we got on planes (I spent 35 combined hours in the air on that trip), sat down with the leaders there and said to them, “Here is the misperception that we had of you” and listened to them share their misperceptions of us. When we left there, there was a connection that would not have happened with 10 videoconferences. There are times when we have to meet.
But-do we have to meet as often as we meet in the Seventh-day Adventist Church? When I was a Conference Administrator, I used to describe myself as “A professional meeting attender”.
Well, it has been a while now, I suspect, since anyone in the United States hopped on a plane and went to a meeting. We have found a way to do ministry-at least, so far-without having a meeting. Maybe the coronavirus is an opportunity for us to discover that there is a way to operate this huge structure without quite as many meetings.
Lastly, I Believe That Not Being Able to Go to Church Will Bring About A Greater Appreciation for the Privilege of Going to Church: When I was a little boy growing up in this church, the rule of thumb was that if you could stand up, you went to church on Sabbath-period.
But over the past few years, people do not seem quite as motivated to go church every Sabbath. One of my great surprises and frustrations in the 14 months that I spent in Pastoral Ministry after leaving the conference office was how hard it was to get the same group of people in the church for two consecutive Sabbaths. It is very difficult to grow a church if people do not consistently go to church.
But sometimes, you take something for granted until it is taken away. Maybe a few months of not having the privilege to come together and worship with believers of “like precious faith” will help remind us of how precious that privilege is. And it is a precious privilege to go to God’s house to worship with His people on His holy day (and on any other opportunity we have to come together in His Name).
Can you imagine what that first Sabbath back in church will be like? Maybe all the creative ministries that we were forced to come up with when our church doors were closed and a renewed appreciation for church once those doors are opened back up will spark the kind of revival in our church that has not been seen in a long time. Who knows-maybe all this will bring about the latter rain.
That would mean that this church would have taken the greatest challenge it has faced in my lifetime and turned it into the greatest opportunity that any of us will have ever-the opportunity to be part of finishing the work on this earth and ushering in the coming of Jesus.