Lockdown is time for the church to be the church
The current Covid-19 lockdown and its effects are one of the hardest things Gateway Vineyard pastor Craig Deal has ever had to cope with as a church leader, he told this week’s (June 3) Transforming Norwich online meeting.
I can’t really think of one thing that we are currently doing that is the same as it was before lockdown - everything we did had to either stop or change with almost no notice. And I think, if we are honest, we thought that give it 12 weeks and we will be back to the way things used to be.
But I think we are realising fast that things won’t go back to the way they once were. There will be a new normal, and it could be months before we can gather to worship in large gatherings once more.
This creates both opportunities and challenges and as I’m sure many of you are doing, we are trying to guess and playfully consider what church might look like over the next few months, but we are all doing this together for the first time.
When we planted our church with seven people in our front room, although it was hard we always had people who were a few steps ahead of us that we could call and ask to navigate the next season of church life. But we don’t have that with this time, we are all in the same boat.
So I have considered a few things in light of all this that I hope we might find some sort of encouragement.
The first one that I have found pretty helpful is that none of this is a surprise to God - it may have caught us off guard but it really didn’t catch God off guard. And therefore he is a really good person to spend time with as we try to navigate this time.
He has the answers, as we ask for the wisdom that is needed. I totally believe he will give it to us and the more time we can spend seeking him rather than trying to figure it all out on our own or by reading Facebook posts, we will get through this in a more healthy state.
And we might be questioning what will church look like in this new season and we might not have all the answers, however here is what I do know.
The church will continue. Businesses might not be there, we might have lost our favourite cafe or restaurant but the church still stands. Jesus in the Bible says nothing is going to stop my church, hell won’t stop it - so Covid-19 certainly won’t.
So let’s try and rest in him as much as we can because he does have the answers.
Second, I don’t know about you, but I found the whole jump to online church a cesspit of comparison. We had never done anything online before lockdown, I had never filmed a talk, or done any talks online. It was a whole new game for us and we had to fast track our way through equipment, technology, copyright, Facebook, YouTube and what else could Zoom do and so much more
And as you do, I started to watch others online to see how they did it and it’s like some churches had professional training, we got to see photos of all the posh kit that made my iPhone look kinda primitive.
They spoke so eloquently, looked so good, I was trying to figure out if they had make-up artists in the background. I felt incredibly vulnerable and foolish allowing myself to go on people’s TV sets. And I suddenly found myself doubting myself, my ability to lead in this season - I felt so self-conscious.
I started looking at viewing figures and was so pleased to see that Gateway’s viewing figures were higher than our Sunday attendance and we started dreaming of all the people who didn’t know Jesus that might be tuning in. Only to look at some other churches and that they were way higher than us - I felt gutted. And this comparison and self-doubt got worse and worse. It affected everything thing I did and I doubted I could lead though this season.
But here’s the thing that I had to learn and I’m passing on to you, and I’m sure you know this as you are way smarter than me - we don’t want to be anyone else. We want to be authentic, I can only be myself, I am a loved son, and God has called me to lead Gateway at this time so I have to trust he will give me all that is needed in this season.
I just need to be me, and whatever we do, whether online or face-to-face, I can only be myself and the only thing I should be is authentic. I can only be myself and trust God.
Third, I got kinda sick of hearing about all these people who had all this time to kill, we went into lockdown with a promise of learning new skills, and getting that unfinished job done, or starting a new project – I’ve never been busier.
Lots of people I’ve spoken to have been running flat out, since lockdown, adrenaline has kept us going and really good coffee - but that will only last so long and at some point you’ll crash, then what?
Be kind to yourself and rest, take a week off, give your whole team a week off.
The truth is we are going to be here in some way or another – short of a miracle and that could totally happen – for some time.
I’m continually talking to pastors who are doing 60, 70, 80-hour weeks and I don’t know about you but the online stuff is totally exhausting and I really don’t like it.
I read this week that 75% of pastors report severe stress causing anguish, worry, bewilderment, anger, depression, fear and alienation.
So we need to find things that charge us up, we need to rest, we need to be in community and just love one another.
Finally, I still think this could be the greatest opportunity to share Jesus with others, maybe even the greatest in our lifetime.
We know of people tuning onto online church who have never set foot in a church, 24% said they had accessed an online service with 20% of those never having set foot in a church before.
We know of people asking followers of Jesus how to pray - I heard that 44% adults are praying.
We still know people who are gripped with fear and anxiety at the whole Covid-19 thing and we have an answer for them - that is Jesus. We can be an non-anxious presence in an anxious world.
We have the opportunity to feed people as the need in our city is on the rise, and I think we agree is only going to get worse once we see the furlough scheme run out and we see the true impact of Covid-19 on people’s lives, employment, businesses etc.
This is the time for the church to be church - and that’s going to take each and every one of us.
Once again, don’t be put off by the other churches doing more than you can do - when we started the church we said we would do this for the one.
If it makes a difference in just one person’s life then it’s been worth it. If one more person gets to find their true identity in Jesus and spend an entirety with him, then it’s all been worth it.
A reporter once asked: "Mother Teresa, isn't all you are doing just a drop in the ocean?" "Yes," she replied, "but the ocean is made up of many drops.
It’s worth it just for the one, so let’s love the one.
Pictured above is Craig Deal, pastor of Gateway Vineyard Norwich.