On one of the Sunday morning news shows this week, Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health was talking about the COVID-19 crisis. “You know, we think we are over-reacting in our plans to deal with things like this,” he noted, “only to find out a few days later we are barely keeping up.”
These are wise and instructive words for church boards in the current moment.
Certainly, church boards and their pastors are doing their very best to lead in this stunningly changed world. The challenges presented for worship, pastoral care, outreach and every other part of church are overloading most systems. More than that, they are leading many into the trap of management over leadership.
Last weekend, church announcements cancelling in-person worship tended to fall into two categories. Many congregations communicated something like: “Following the directions of our governor (or mayor) to limit gatherings to no more than X number of persons, we regret to inform you that we have to cancel worship this Sunday.” Other congregations communicated something like this: “We love being together as a church, but we are called to love the world more. We are not going to hold services as a way of loving the world that God loves the very best we can, by not putting more people at risk.” The first is sound management. The second is bold leadership coming from the identity God gives the church.
If the church is given a chance, after this crisis, to re-introduce itself to our culture, what shall we say? We could say: “Welcome, come in anytime and we have lots of sign-ups and projects for you.” Or, we could say: “We are committed to care, connection, community and depth. We know these are scarce in our world – let’s work on this together.”
Or, as one of our participants said on our recent Zoominar on leading through this crisis, “If the governor is saying things that make more sense than the church, we are doing something wrong.”
In 2nd Corinthians (6:1-11), Paul writes personally:
As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. 2 For he says,
“At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”
See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! 3 We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4 but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, 7 truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8 in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9 as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
11 We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you.
In light on all that is going on, how do we apply Paul’s words, “now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation?”
In this moment, our moment, what would it mean to “accept the grace of God in vain?”
In your congregation, what do you think over-reacting would look like? How far is too far in leading boldly right now?
How do you see the difference between management and leadership for your congregation?
How do Paul’s final words in this text – “our heart is wide open to you” – apply to your church’s place in the world right now?