Writing A Better Story

(“Writing A Better Story”  is a sermon on Stewardship by Rick Kirchoff, based based on Mark 14:3-9.  Perhaps, this message may help you as your develop your stewardship sermons.)

Jesus knew that storytelling is one of the most powerful ways to put ideas into the world.  A well told tale can touch us at the deep places of the soul, give life to a difficult concept, and it can even challenge us to write a better story with our lives. 

Jesus says as much about the story of woman who crashed Simon’s dinner party.  Listen to this paraphrase of the 9th verse of 14th chapter of Mark.  Jesus says to the woman: “Nobody will forget what you’ve done.  When they remember me, they’ll tell your story and remember your act of extravagant love.”  

Prayer

The stories of three women shape this message and invite us to write a better story with our lives. 

We meet the 1st woman at a party at the home of Simon.  It’s a dinner party & in style of meals in that day, the guests were all reclining around a low table. Caught up in the conversation & the joy of the occasion, no one seemed to notice as an unnamed woman slips into the room.  Deep emotion is etched on her face.  In her trembling hands she cradles an alabaster jar.  She rushed over to Jesus, breaks open bottle, and pours all its contents onto the head of Jesus. As liquid runs down his face and body, the aroma of expensive perfume fills the air.  

Some folks were shocked and said, “What a waste!” Others agreed, “Yeah, think of how many poor people could’ve been helped.”  

But Jesus responds: “You’ll always have a chance to offer kindness to the poor.  This woman has done a beautiful thing for me.  And whenever people remember me, they will remember her extravagant love!”  

There’s a marvelous line from a T.S. Eliot poem. He wrote about those who “measure out life in (small) coffee spoons.” In other words, they live lives that are cautious, calculated and carefully controlled. 

But not this woman! 

There’s nothing about her devotion that’s small, calculating or cautious. No one would ever accuse her of measuring out life or love or generosity in tiny portions!  Her love is lavish; her devotion is extreme; her gift is extravagant.  

Let me ask: in world where so many measure out life in tiny portions, what kind of story are we telling with our lives, our giving, our devotion?

Honestly, when I ask that of myself, and a part of me wants to argue: “Come on!  We’re 7 months into a pandemic, with no end in sight. And it’s likely to get worse before it gets better.  Things are tough!  There’s so much uncertainty!  Isn’t this a time to be cautious; conserve what you have; take care of number one.  There’s something to be said for playing it safe!” 

Immediately, I think of the story of a woman we meet in I Kings 17. 

Again, we don’t know her name.  All we know she lives in the little Gentile town of Zarephath, and she’s facing a desperate future.  

She’s a widow, without a job and without money.  All she has is a little boy, who depends on her for survival.  To top it off, there’s been a terrible drought. In her cupboard, she has only enough flour and oil to make a tiny loaf of bread for herself and her beloved son.  After that, short of a miracle, they’ll starve.  And in that harsh world, miracles were few and far between. 

When we meet her, she’s out gathering sticks to make a little fire to prepare a last meal for herself and her child.  

As story goes, a stranger calls out to her.  It’s Elijah, the great prophet of Israel who’d courageously challenged King Ahab and Baal prophets over their idolatry.  His challenge was successful, but this didn’t go over well with King Ahab and Jezebel.  Ahab and Jezebel want him dead.  But Elijah escaped. He’s been hiding out, living in the wilderness by a brook.  But with the drought, the brook dried up. If he stays there, he’ll die. If he goes back into Israel and Ahab gets hold of him, he’ll be tortured and murdered.  

God says to him, “Elijah, go to Zarephath.  There’s a widow who will take care of you.”  

So, Elijah goes to village and sees this widow gathering sticks.  He calls out to her and asks, “Would you bring me a little water to drink?”  And as she was going, Elijah adds, “And would you please bring me a piece of bread?”

She knows nothing of Elijah.  To her, he’s a nobody, a stranger & Jewish foreigner to boot. Elijah knows nothing of the woman’s story and her desperate plight.  

But then he hears her story, and Elijah probably thinks, “Lord, surely this isn’t woman!  She’s more desperate than I am!”  

Still Elijah says to her, “Don’t be afraid.  Go home; do as you’ve said.  Make a small cake of bread for me from what you have, and bring it to me.  Then, go back, and make some for yourself and for your son.  For the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up your oil not run dry…until the day the Lord gives rain on the land.’”

Now, put yourself in this widow’s place. She and her little son are about to starve.  She’s arranging, what she knows, their last meal. And this foreigner — a stranger who worships differently — calls to her, saying, “My God will take care of us all.”  

What is she to do? Whose bread is she supposed to fix first?  Will she prepare bread for this foreigner, Elijah!  Or for her beloved son and herself?  Remember, she has only enough flour & oil for one tiny loaf of bread. 

At home, pours out her last bit of flour, mixes in oil, kneads it into a cake, bakes it.  

And then, in an act of defiant hospitality, generosity and trust, she takes it to Elijah. And now, she has nothing.   

She goes back home, probably thinking, “Oh, my god, what have I done?”  

But she also remembers God’s promise to Elijah about the flour jar, and so she looks into it.  And there, out of nowhere…just enough flour…and just enough oil.  Not mountains of flour, not bushels, but just enough for day.  

And the next day, it happens again…and the next day, and the day after that.  Just enough for their daily bread.  There was food enough every day for her, her son and for Elijah.  Scripture tells us that the jar of flour was not used up, and the jug of oil did not run dry.

I imagine that until the day she died, she treasured that flour jar, remembering the time when she was living from one day to the next, just trusting God – trusting God for her daily bread and living in defiant generosity.  

I don’t know if it’s true for you, but in hard times, it is so tempting for me just to live cautiously, measuring out our life & love & generosity & service in calculated, careful, tiny portions!  

But church of JX is to be a place where an extravagant spirit pervades everything we do.  Jesus didn’t come to start a mild movement of mild people who do mild things in mild ways.  He came to build a community of folks who aren’t afraid to be excessive in their service, generous in their giving, and lavish in their love.  

What kind of story are you telling with your life? 

Is it time to write a better story?

I’ve told you about 2 women…now a third.    

She was born in 1908, conceived when her mother was raped on a wooded path in rural Mississippi. She was raised by her grandmother and aunt, who cleaned houses, cooked, and took in the dirty laundry of others to make their living.

As a child, she would come home from elementary school, do studies, and then iron clothes. 

The three women relied completely on each other, but when the aunt returned from a hospitalization unable to walk, this 6th grade girl dropped out of school to care for aunt, and take up her work as a wash woman. 

Six days a week, she scrubbed laundry by hand on a rubboard. She tried an automatic washer and dryer in the 1960s, but found that “the washing machine didn’t rinse well enough, and dryer turned the whites yellow.” After years of boiling clothes and then doing four fresh-water rinses, that wasn’t good enough to meet her high standards. So, she went back to her scrub board and 100 feet of open-air clothesline.

Asked to describe her typical day, she answered: “I would go outside and start a fire under my wash pot. Then I’d soak, wash, and boil a bundle of clothes. Then I would rub ’em, rinse ’em, starch ’em, and hang ’em on the line. After I had all of the clean clothes on the line, I‘d start on the next batch. I’d wash all day, and in the evenin’ I’d iron until 11:00 at night.”

This was her life for nearly 75 years…earning nickels, dimes, quarters and dollars.  She lived simply.  She saved regularly.  She never owned a car; she walked everywhere she went, pushing a shopping cart nearly a mile to get groceries.  Never missed Sunday service at her church.  She only took one trip out of MS during her lifetime, to Niagara Falls and Chicago, and she couldn’t wait to get back home.  

She retired in 1995 at age of 86. During that time, living simply, she saved dimes, quarters and dollars.  And when she retired, this washwoman, Osceola McCarty had managed to save total of $280,000.

Amazing thing: Osceola McCarty decided to give most of that money away. Setting aside just enough to live on, she donated $150,000…to the University of Southern Mississippi to fund scholarships for needy students seeking the education she never had. When others heard her amazing story, they wanted to join in her story, and 100’s made donations that multiplied her original endowment. Today the McCarty fund totals nearly $700,000. It’s expected to reach a million dollars soon. 

Osceola once said, “My only regret is that I couldn’t give more.”

There are stories that put powerful ideas into the world. Osceola’s is one of those. But so is that of the woman with the perfume, and the widow of Zarephath. 

They invite us to write a better story with our lives, our service and our giving. 

If you take away nothing else from these three narratives, I hope you remember this: The Christian life is not some mild movement of mild people who do mild things in mild ways.  It is a movement of those who, in name of Jesus, aren’t afraid to be extravagant in their giving and lavish in their love.  

What kind of story are you telling with your life? 

Covid-19 Death Toll

Rick Kirchoff, CcNet

A few days ago, one of our CcNet Facebook friends sent us a message.  She wrote: 

“I am writing this out of curiosity, and hope I don’t come across too controversial. I ‘liked’ your Facebook page a while back because of a friend who was sharing your posts. I enjoy the majority of your posts, but my question is, what is your heart and motive behind the Covid-19 death toll posts? I believe the virus is real, but…the virus posts, for me at least, do the opposite of the first part of your 3-part mission. ‘To Challenge, Equip and Inspire.’ I am not trying to start an argument. I just would like to hear the heart behind the posts. Thank you for your time! Your Facebook Friend, Janet.”  (We have changed the name to protect her anonymity.)

What follows is based on our response. We thought you might find it informative.      

Janet, thanks for asking! And thank you for referencing our mission statement. Several things come to mind with those 3 words: CHALLENGE, EQUIP AND INSPIRE.   

1st, to CHALLENGE. As of this writing, the COVID-19 death toll in the USA is nearing 204,000 (Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center).  Let that sink in!  204,000 persons have breathed their last and lost their lives to this disease. Worldwide deaths from this virus are approaching one million.  

These are not just statistics. Each one was someone’s beloved child, sibling, parent, grandparent or friend.  The dead include children, teenagers, doctors, nurses, emergency personnel, teachers, athletes and, of course, many frail elderly and those whose health was already compromised. Each one a person of sacred worth!  Each one has a name and a story. Their lives were cut short by this deadly disease. We never want to forget that.  

In a time when COVID numbers are politicized and even debated, we must not forget that this disease is real and deadly.  

We share the numbers because we are not willing to let ourselves be numbed to the immensity of the number of the deaths.  We want to join with those that knew and loved them, from faith communities across this nation and across the world, in a time of mourning, a time of lament. We mourn for these individuals and for their loved ones. And our hearts are broken by the scale of grief and loss that has disproportionately harmed people of color, the elderly and medically vulnerable.

So, Janet, the CHALLENGE is to remember that the pandemic is real, that it is deadly, and we have lost and continue to lose so many precious souls to this disease.  

2nd, to EQUIP. It is easy to grow weary with the social distancing protocols. And over time, we all can all grow careless! Sharing the death numbers is meant to help us remember the importance of continuing the hard work of staying vigilant and helping stop the spread. Social distancing protocols work!  Wearing a mask matters! They matter because your life is precious, and the lives of others are as well.  It’s about loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. 

That’s the EQUIP part of why we post the numbers. And , by the way, we continually offer posts that are specifically chosen to help individuals make wise choices and to equip congregational leaders to exercise safe actions whenever people gather.  

3rd, to INSPIRE. It may seem a stretch to you to think that seeing a death count can “inspire,” but we/I see something of inspiration in our choice to post these numbers.  

Janet, I am a 75-year-old retired clergyman. The numbers remind me of my vulnerability and mortality, our shared mortality.  When I see the growing numbers and realize how quickly I, or somone I know and love, could be in that number, I am reminded to never take any day for granted. If seeing these numbers can inspire us to live more deeply and fully, realizing that we are all at risk, then the death numbers “inspire.”

Janet, I hope these quick thoughts are helpful.

I know that death toll numbers can be depressing and even off-putting, but we’ve decided it is worth the risk. So, several times each week, we will keep you updated on the numbers. And when you see them, I hope you will think of “the challenge, the equipping and the inspiration.

Stewardship in the Time of Covid

By Teresa Angle-Young, CcNet

How do you ask for money at a time like this when people are losing income, fighting illness, and the economy is the worst since the Great Depression? And yet, the church needs money (among other things) to do ministry? 

In my coaching with one Episcopal community in the Indianapolis area, we worked hard to pivot from a standard stewardship plan to something appropriate for this unusual time. We gave deep consideration and prayer to be sensitive to the turmoil and deep grief the pandemic has caused in the lives of the congregation. How do you celebrate in the midst of illness, death, job loss, and a collective depression? 

We leaned heavily on the Pauline scriptures and the reminder that for a Christian, there is joy and contentment in all things. Then we landed on our theme: Hallelujah, Anyway: Unexpected Times, Unexpected Faith

In this time of pandemic, facing the unexpected and the uncertain, we rejoice in Christ anyway. The inspiration came from Anne Lamott’s book, Hallelujah, Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy, a book that will be distributed to the congregation and around which small group studies will be formed. These groups will be both virtual and in person with social distancing protocols in place (outside, in driveways and cul-de-sacs), and each unit, be it family, couple, or single, will be asked to bring their own snacks and chairs and stay 10 ft. apart. 

We hope this spurs your imagination about what you might do in your own stewardship season. The Rev. Dr. Gray Lesesne, missioner at Good Samaritan Episcopal Church, and his leadership team has graciously granted permission for us to post the entire plan. May it bless you.

2021 Good Samaritan Episcopal Church Stewardship Plan

Theme: Hallelujah, Anyway: Unexpected Times, Unexpected Faith

Summary: Even with all of the challenges 2020 has posed to us and to our world, the people of Good Sam’s remain strong and resilient. In spite of many obstacles and detours, many surprises and distractions, we are embracing a position of gratitude, which is at the core of our faith, with “Hallelujah, Anyway” as our theme and song. 

September

Invite sign-ups for Driveway Groups,

order books and Stewardship Kits materials

October

October 3: 20 Good Samaritans (including kids) to record “Gratitude moments” on videos to use throughout the stewardship season, using one of these prompts: I say Hallelujah, Anyway to 2020 because…My/Our commitment to Good Sam’s in 2021 is in celebration of…We are grateful for…

These video prompts go live the week of October 12.

Gray preaches sermon series for four weeks: Hallelujah, Anyhow: Faith, Even When It Doesn’t Make Sense

Four Driveway Study Groups read and discuss Anne Lamott’s Hallelujah, Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy

Week of October 19: work on advanced commitments from Bishop’s Committee, lead givers

Week of October 26: Stewardship Kits arrive on people’s doorsteps, including: 2021 personalized Commitment to Giving card, Good Sam’s branded face masks & hand sanitizer, Coloring pages for families with children/markers, Gratitude journals (from Dollar Tree), 5 blank cards with stamped envelopes – ask people to send notes of gratitude and/or encouragement to people that could use a good word in this trying time 

November

Sunday, November 1: All Saints Sunday/Festival of Gratitude

If in person: we follow Consecration Sunday model and have people bring forward gifts to altar

If virtual: we invite people to do a “drive-by” Parade of Gratitude where they drop off pledge cards and receive a blessing/surprise (dessert for later) AND have an option for e-giving

November 2-22: Followups

November 2: Initial follow up letter from the stewardship team

November 9:  Phone message from a member of the leadership team

November 16: Post card reminder and check-in

November 22: Final letter of gratitude, always with the reminder that if their circumstances have changed, the church is ready to offer support 

You can learn more about Good Samaritan at http://www.churchthatserves.org and on Facebook at “churchthatserves.”

CcNet Facebook

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The 3-part mission of the Clergy Coaching Network Facebook page:

To CHALLENGE, EQUIP AND INSPIRE clergy and congregational leaders for transformational leadership in an ever-changing world.  We will do this by sharing relevant articles, research, quotes, memes, and occasionally a bit of humor about human nature, theology, and congregational life.

To ARTICULATE A VISION FOR FAITHFUL CONGREGATIONS. This may include but is not limited to Worship, Community, Hospitality, Discipleship, Inclusiveness, Evangelism, Social/Biblical Justice, Congregational Care, Service, and Leadership Development.

To INVITE CLERGY AND CONGREGATIONAL LEADERS TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF OUR COACHING SERVICES. We hope that many of those who discover our page will seek to employ one of our well-trained clergy coaches to assist them in their leadership and ministry.  Our coaching services are available to leaders of all religious traditions. You can learn more about us at http://www.clergycoachingnetwork.com

Posts on this page come from a variety of perspectives and seek to address the issues, challenges, and opportunities facing clergy, faith leaders, congregations, and the communities in which they minister.  In most cases, our posts are selected to address the concerns expressed by our clients and the congregations that they serve. Because our coaching clients are diverse, some of our posts will confirm what you already think. At other times we hope they will challenge assumptions and invite the exploration of new possibilities.  If you are uncomfortable with posts coming from a variety of points of view or religious perspectives (conservative, moderate, and progressive, sacred, and secular), this may not be the page for you.

If you choose to comment on a post, we ask you to familiarize yourself with our mission and follow these COMMENT GUIDELINES. (By liking and following this page, you are agreeing to follow these guidelines.)

    • As people of faith, we are called to a higher standard than the vitriol that often shows up in some Facebook comments.
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HELP FOR A DAUNTING DECISION

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Dr. Teresa Angle-Young

With so much at stake and so many competing opinions, knowing when to reopen your church is a daunting decision. Many judicatories are providing guidance, some are mandating conditions, but many of you are awash in a sea of indecision and conflicting information.

Striking a balance between safety and fostering community in worship is critical during this COVID 19 pandemic. As a responsible leader, we are charged with working with our staff and lay leadership to develop a reopening plan that is strategic, thoughtful, and keeps safety paramount.

One helpful resource is this interactive map found at www.globalepidemics.org. It offers churches and leaders color-coded, county-specific COVID-19 risk levels based on data analyzed by the Harvard Global Health Institute. You can simply click on “Explore Now” then choose your location by state.

Once you have chosen your state, simply hover over your county to see a detailed update on COVID-19 cases including death rates. Here is an example of how one church is using this data to determine their reopening plan.www.kennesawumc.org/reopening. They used the 4 risk levels to develop a specific protocol for each phase of reopening, offering clearly communicated plans for each phase. This plan resides on the church’s website and has been widely communicated through social media channels, email, and other channels. Communication of any reopening plan is a significant key to success.

Using data, as well as input from church members and leadership, is an effective way to determine risk, compliance probabilities, and make the best possible decision about when and how to resume in-person worship.

 

A Matter of Prayer and Action

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Valuing Black Lives: A Matter of Prayer and Action

Guest: Dr. Brad Gabriel

Growing up in Aldersgate Methodist (later United) Church, we were taught the power of prayer.  We prayed the Lord’s Prayer collectively every Sunday.  The Pastor prayed for the people and conditions and in the manner he (in those days, it was always “he”) thought best.  We learned how to pray and the matters about which we should pray by observation, participation, and instruction.  The last being accomplished in Sunday school, Vacation Bible School, and at home.

We prayed our thanks to God for all manner of things; nature, rain, sunshine, food, presidents, moms and dads and sisters and brothers. We prayed our personal needs; help on tests in school, the soul of household pets who had died, healing skinned knees, and upcoming trips to the dentist or doctor.  We prayed for forgiveness for our errors, mistakes, and failures; calling the teacher a bad name, taking something that belonged to the aforementioned sister or brother, bad thoughts, chores undone, and more.  We prayed for specific people and families as well when those people and families had needs beyond our own; the “Jones” family having a hard time, “Suzie” who had to have her tonsils out, grandma who was sick with something or the other.   We knew (through such books as Tiger Tail Village, the 1962 VBS study) that other people were in need, often through no fault of their own.  The follow up to the lesson was the reminder that we had a Christian duty to help in whatever ways we could.

The last prayer lesson became a staple in all manner of prayer groups and prayer times. We prayed before youth group, on retreats, at Church Board meetings.  We always named the needs of individuals or families or groups.  The veterans and matrons and working-class men and women and new professionals of Aldersgate UMC were never satisfied with praying alone. Without really talking about it, the ethos, as lived out, was, “Pray as though everything depends on God. Work as though everything depends on you.” Money was collected and sent to causes.  Work teams visited the Bethlehem Center mission downtown. Quilts were made.  Books were collected.  Our prayers were always connected to action.  The Church incarnated the old joke, “If someone in a prayer time is named as sick, start making the casserole.”

Prayer always seemed to lead to action of some kind. As well it should!

That Black people in the United States and the Colonies earlier have been treated worse than other groups is objective truth.  From 1619 to 1863 (and beyond in too many places) people of African descent were bought and sold like cattle.  Living conditions were abysmal. Prospects for improvement were non-existent save through the harrowing option of running away. The list of horrors may be found elsewhere.

The end of the Civil War saw a brief time of improvement.  That time was shot dead in places like New Orleans, Wilmington, and Memphis.  Legally established governments of whites and blacks were overthrown by violence. White supremacist regimes installed. Legal retreat from promises of equality was enforced with Jim Crow laws. Plessy v. Ferguson took its place alongside the Dred Scott decision, rulings that effectively claimed White Supremacy was the law.

While I cannot believe that our history constantly must be reviewed, the truth is that economic, political, and educational burdens were put on African Americans that neither my parents nor my siblings and I faced. My father could access all aspects of the G.I. Bill following his service in the Second World War.  He did so, never realizing that people of color, even other veterans, were regularly unable to access those benefits for no other reason than their skin color. Home loans were restricted, making the following of jobs from the central city to the new suburbs difficult or impossible. Schools serving communities of color were regularly under-resourced.  In my lifetime African American Memphians were restricted from access to municipal facilities their taxes supported.   School segregation was as normal as the sun rising in the East and setting in the West.

A more thoroughgoing example of pervasive cultural racism is hard to imagine than my High School nickname and mascot. We were the Overton Rebels and Colonel Reb our symbol.  Our ROTC unit shoulder patch was the image of a grizzled Confederate soldier with a battle flag and the legend, “Forget, Hell”.  The American apartheid with its accompanying economic, political, and educational ghettoization was the nature of our nation. Political and legal actions of the late 1940s and 50s that began the legal change the nation, and ramped up in the 1960s and 1970s, have been under attack since.

Today we face the cumulative impact on a people of close to 400 years of deliberate injury, evil action, and callous disregard.  The situation calls for prayer and prayerful action.

To pray that black lives matter is to acknowledge that a group and individuals in the group in our larger community need prayer and prayerful action.

To pray that black lives matter is to recognize that members of our human family, our faith family, our secular national family, have been injured and need service for as long as necessary to offset the injuries done.

To pray that black lives matter does not diminish the lives of any other group of people.

To pray that black lives matter does not attribute blame for past actions to those who inherited our current situation.

To pray that black lives mater calls on those so praying to learn where they have benefited from inequity and address the resultant inequity.

To pray that black lives matter avoids creating another superior/subordinate social situation.

To pray that black lives matter challenges those who pray to educate themselves to the causes of the injury, listen to the experiential knowledge earned by the victims of race-based injuries and take agreed upon, not imposed upon, action to heal the current injury, remove the source of the injury, and work towards a condition that prevents the injury from reoccurring.

To the Lord, our God we pray: black lives matter…to me, to us, and to You, O God.

Lord, hear our prayer. Now, Lord, lead us as we respond.

 

JUST DO IT

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If you’ve been following our page during the COVID-19 outbreak, you know that we encourage the wearing of masks in public settings, including worship, to help prevent the spread of the virus.

As we listen to our coaching clients, we are hearing that many of them are facing vocal resistance from those in their congregations who do not want to wear masks during worship gatherings.

One of the best posts we’ve come across to address this resistance comes from Dr. Samuel Laucks of the WellSpan medical system in Pennsylvania.  We think you’ll find his wisdom useful in interpreting the importance of wearing masks and in responding to some of the objections you may hear.

What follows originally appeared on the website of WellSpan Health.

I have spent the past 39 years working in the field of surgery. For a significant part of that time, I have worn a mask. I have worked with hundreds (probably thousands) of colleagues during those years, who have also worn masks. Not a single one us of became ill, passed out or died from lack of oxygen. Not a single one of us became ill, passed out or died from breathing too much carbon dioxide. Not a single one us of became ill, passed out or died from rebreathing a little of our own exhaled air. Let’s begin here by putting those scare tactics to rest!

(It is true that some people, with advanced lung diseases, may be so fragile that a mask could make their already-tenuous breathing more difficult. If your lungs are that bad, you probably shouldn’t be going out in public at the present time anyway; the consequences if you are exposed to Covid-19 would likely be devastating.)

“But”, you ask, “can’t viruses go right through the mask, because they are so small?” (“Masks keep viruses out just as well as a chain link fence keeps mosquitoes out,” some tell us.) It is true that individual virus particles can pass through the pores of a mask; however, viruses don’t move on their own. They do not fly across the room like a mosquito, wiggle through your mask like a worm, or fly up your nose like a gnat. The virus is essentially nothing more than a tiny blob of genetic material. Covid-19 travels in a CARRIER – the carrier is a fluid droplet- fluid droplets that you expel when you cough, sneeze, sing, laugh, talk or simply exhale. Most of your fluid droplets will be stopped from entering the air in the room if you are wearing a mask. Wearing a mask is a very efficient way to protect others if you are carrying the virus (even if you don’t know that you are infected). In addition, if someone else’s fluid droplets happen to land on your mask, many of them will not pass through. This gives the wearer some additional protection, too. But, the main reason to wear a mask is to PROTECT OTHERS. Even if you don’t care about yourself, wear your mask to protect your neighbors, co-workers and friends!

A mask is certainly not 100% protective. However, it appears that the severity of Covid-19 infection is at least partially “dose-dependent.” In other words, the more virus particles that enter your body, the sicker you are likely to become. Why not decrease that volume if you can? “What have you got to lose?!”

“But doesn’t a requirement or a request to wear a mask violate my constitutional rights?” You’re also not allowed to go into the grocery store if you are not wearing pants. You can’t yell “fire” in the Produce Department. You’re not allowed to urinate on the floor in the Frozen Food Section. Do you object to those restrictions? Rules, established for the common good, are component of a civilized society.

“But aren’t masks uncomfortable?” Some would say that underwear or shoes can be uncomfortable, but we still wear them. (Actually, being on a ventilator is pretty darned uncomfortable, too!) Are masks really so bad that you can’t tolerate them, even if they will help keep others healthy?

“But won’t people think I’m a snowflake or a wimp if I wear a mask?” I hope you have enough self-confidence to overcome that.

“But won’t I look stupid if I wear a mask?” I’ve decided not to dignify that question with an answer!!

“But I never get sick; I’m not worried.” Well, then, wear a mask for the sake of the rest of us who are not so perfect!

There is good evidence that masks make a real difference in diminishing the transmission of Covid-19. Please, for the sake of others (and for the sake of yourself), wear your mask when in public. It won’t kill you!

P.S. – And, by the way, please be sure that BOTH your nose and mouth are covered! Recommendations around mask usage are confusing. The science isn’t. Evidence shows that masks are extremely effective to slow the coronavirus and may be the best tool available right now to fight it.

(republished from July 1)

MASK RESISTANT

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If you’ve been following our page during the COVID-19 outbreak, you know that we encourage the wearing of masks in public settings, including worship, to help prevent the spread of the virus.

As we listen to our coaching clients, we are hearing that many of them are facing vocal resistance from those in their congregations who do not want to wear masks during worship gatherings.

One of the best posts we’ve come across to address this resistance comes from Dr. Samuel Laucks of the WellSpan medical system in Pennsylvania.  We think you’ll find his wisdom useful in interpreting the importance of wearing masks and in responding to some of the objections you may hear.

What follows originally appeared on the website of WellSpan Health.

I have spent the past 39 years working in the field of surgery. For a significant part of that time, I have worn a mask. I have worked with hundreds (probably thousands) of colleagues during those years, who have also worn masks. Not a single one us of became ill, passed out or died from lack of oxygen. Not a single one of us became ill, passed out or died from breathing too much carbon dioxide. Not a single one us of became ill, passed out or died from rebreathing a little of our own exhaled air. Let’s begin here by putting those scare tactics to rest!

(It is true that some people, with advanced lung diseases, may be so fragile that a mask could make their already-tenuous breathing more difficult. If your lungs are that bad, you probably shouldn’t be going out in public at the present time anyway; the consequences if you are exposed to Covid-19 would likely be devastating.)

“But”, you ask, “can’t viruses go right through the mask, because they are so small?” (“Masks keep viruses out just as well as a chain link fence keeps mosquitoes out,” some tell us.) It is true that individual virus particles can pass through the pores of a mask; however, viruses don’t move on their own. They do not fly across the room like a mosquito, wiggle through your mask like a worm, or fly up your nose like a gnat. The virus is essentially nothing more than a tiny blob of genetic material. Covid-19 travels in a CARRIER – the carrier is a fluid droplet- fluid droplets that you expel when you cough, sneeze, sing, laugh, talk or simply exhale. Most of your fluid droplets will be stopped from entering the air in the room if you are wearing a mask. Wearing a mask is a very efficient way to protect others if you are carrying the virus (even if you don’t know that you are infected). In addition, if someone else’s fluid droplets happen to land on your mask, many of them will not pass through. This gives the wearer some additional protection, too. But, the main reason to wear a mask is to PROTECT OTHERS. Even if you don’t care about yourself, wear your mask to protect your neighbors, co-workers and friends!

A mask is certainly not 100% protective. However, it appears that the severity of Covid-19 infection is at least partially “dose-dependent.” In other words, the more virus particles that enter your body, the sicker you are likely to become. Why not decrease that volume if you can? “What have you got to lose?!”

“But doesn’t a requirement or a request to wear a mask violate my constitutional rights?” You’re also not allowed to go into the grocery store if you are not wearing pants. You can’t yell “fire” in the Produce Department. You’re not allowed to urinate on the floor in the Frozen Food Section. Do you object to those restrictions? Rules, established for the common good, are component of a civilized society.

“But aren’t masks uncomfortable?” Some would say that underwear or shoes can be uncomfortable, but we still wear them. (Actually, being on a ventilator is pretty darned uncomfortable, too!) Are masks really so bad that you can’t tolerate them, even if they will help keep others healthy?

“But won’t people think I’m a snowflake or a wimp if I wear a mask?” I hope you have enough self-confidence to overcome that.

“But won’t I look stupid if I wear a mask?” I’ve decided not to dignify that question with an answer!!

“But I never get sick; I’m not worried.” Well, then, wear a mask for the sake of the rest of us who are not so perfect!

There is good evidence that masks make a real difference in diminishing the transmission of Covid-19. Please, for the sake of others (and for the sake of yourself), wear your mask when in public. It won’t kill you!

P.S. – And, by the way, please be sure that BOTH your nose and mouth are covered! Recommendations around mask usage are confusing. The science isn’t. Evidence shows that masks are extremely effective to slow the coronavirus and may be the best tool available right now to fight it.

 

 

COMPLICIT

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Guest Post from Rev. Erin Baldwin Day, Anchorage, Alaska

(An Open Letter to White Pastors, Preachers, Priests, and Ministers in America)

My fellow clergy: the collective, historical silence of our white churches regarding the systemic sin of racism in America is deafening and damning. And it must end today.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote about us — white religious leadership — in his Letter from Birmingham City Jail in 1963: “…some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.”

More cautious than courageous.
More apathetic than prophetic.
More paralyzed than proactive.
Silent behind the security of our stained glass windows, and our white privilege.

White religious leaders of America: our silence is complicity, and the moral vacuum created by our polite refusal to take the problem of racism as seriously as we do the problem of hunger — or virtually any other social ill — has resulted in the proliferation of an evil that LOOKS LIKE US.

Yes. We are complicit. May God have mercy.

Fellow ministers of the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ: I call us all to collective and active repentance, NOW.

We have forgotten that in his first recorded sermon, Jesus the Christ put the religious establishment on notice as to what his mission would be, and read from the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has appointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to SET THE OPPRESSED FREE, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Do we not follow in the footsteps of this Christ? And yet…

We have not preached about racial injustice from our pulpits.
We have not taught white allyship in our Sunday School classrooms.
We have not listened to the voices of people of color, nor elevated their message, nor have we welcomed their witness.
We have not mourned with those who mourn the flagrant acts of aggression against their pigment.
We have not grieved with those who grieve daily injustice.
We have not turned the tables of white privilege and white fragility.
We have not stood in solidarity with our neighbors of color until there was viral video evidence to shake us from our apathy.

We have pretended that systemic racism in this country is not the white church’s problem nor our purview as white pastors.

We have decided that, since overt acts of racism “don’t happen in *our* town”, or since our suburban churches are mostly white, or since our rural communities aren’t very diverse, that racism doesn’t actually require our attention.

We have not acted decisively and in wholehearted support of our brothers and sisters of color, because we have been more interested in maintaining our emotional comfort than advocating for the upending of the racist systems that benefit us at every turn.

We have not spoken boldly and prophetically, because we have been more afraid of what our white congregations might think of us than we are of the shameful repercussions of our silence.

We have worried about how our white parishioners will respond when/if we raise names like Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor and George Floyd during worship, and whether the nice folks who tithe will feel uncomfortable.

We have pretended that our prayers on behalf of the dead and their families are enough to shift our national conscience toward justice and truth.

We have convinced ourselves that the work of anti-racism is reserved for those few white pastors who “feel passionately about the issue”.

We have deluded ourselves into thinking that we should leave the real work of advocacy around race and anti-racism to the voices of our brothers and sisters who are black, indigenous, and/or people of color (BIPOC). We have remained silent.

And in so doing, we have clearly communicated to our white congregations that we affirm the status quo of racism in America. We have abdicated our moral responsibility.

Is it any wonder, then, that precious little has changed here since MLK was jailed in Alabama in 1963?

“I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.”

White religious leaders: we preach about repentance.

Today, we will model it. On Sunday, let us own it.

Let us stand before our congregations, unprepared though we may be, and say out loud that racial justice in America is long overdue. May we own to our churches that we have been silent where we were called to be prophets. Let us declare that we and our congregants will learn together how to be part of the disruption and the healing and that we refuse to be complicit any longer in the sin of racism.

And then let us ACT.

This is how the Kingdom comes.

——————–

A Postscript: I understand that white pastors (and white people in general!) may feel like they don’t have the tools or the language to talk about systemic racism as a white person.

Friends, be teachable. There are countless books, blogs, Facebook groups, and community spaces *led by non-white voices* where you could dive deeply into the topic of racism, listen to the lived experiences of our BIPOC brothers and sisters, and discover helpful frameworks for action. I will link a few in the comments to get you started.

It is up to US to show up in spaces where our voices are NOT centered (weird for pastors, am I right?), stay quiet, listen carefully, and educate ourselves. *It is not up to people of color to educate us.*

It is also up to us to consider whether our understanding of racial justice is actually embedded in our understanding of the gospel, and then do the needed work of integrating our theology and practice.

I also realize that white religious leaders may be at a loss as to what to DO, beyond “thoughts and prayers”.

After your work of self-education is underway, you have an incredible opportunity for Spirit-inspired creativity:

If your congregation has an Outreach Committee or a Hospitality Team, why not a Committee on Racial Justice? Could the members begin to educate themselves, and your entire congregation, about the presence and effects of systemic racism?

Find out if law enforcement in your town uses body cams. Call your local police department and ask if de-escalation training is required for officers. Research whether “no-knock” warrants are legal in your state. Use your pastoral privilege to advocate for better policing practices.

If you’ve ever hosted a series of town hall meetings around an important topic, could you host one on systemic racism & racial reconciliation, and invite people of color to keynote?

If your congregation offers Christian education classes, couldn’t one of those be a close reading of “The Cross and the Lynching Tree”? Could you begin to include the writings of black, indigenous, and theologians of color in your curriculum choices?

If your town has a newspaper, could you write an op-ed piece and publicly announce that systemic racism is alive and well, and is incompatible with the teachings of Jesus?

If your church has bulletin boards, could you create one dedicated to resources that actively help your white members move from a posture of defensiveness and avoidance to one of engagement and advocacy?

Could you host a service of lament and mourning for your community, with the faces and stories of murdered black men and women placed throughout your sanctuary?

… I look forward to hearing what new practices your churches embrace. Peace be with you all.

Guidance for the New Normal

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Rick Kirchoff

At Clergy Coaching Network, we’ve been curating the best articles about the future of the church in light of the COVID-19 Pandemic. As we’ve done this work and as we’ve listened to the challenges and creativity of our coaching clients, we are drawing several conclusions.

What follows is a summary of the insights of the best ideas about the future of the church. (A complete list of our sources is at the end of this article.)

Tony Morgan writes:

“I’m noticing two types of church leaders right now. One type of church leader is just waiting for things to go back to normal so that we can get back to doing church the way we’ve always done church. The question they’re asking me is this: “When do you think we’ll be able to reopen our churches?”

Then he adds: “I’m hearing many pastors talking about everything returning to normal in May. That could happen in portions of our country, but most of us will not be returning to large social gatherings, including church services until widespread testing and vaccines are available. That’s going to be many months from now.

Between now and then, there may be some loosening of guidelines where large social gatherings are allowed. But as cases return and increase again (because widespread testing and vaccines are not available), the guidelines will tighten again.

I hope I’m wrong, but I think church leaders need to be planning for a full year before large social gatherings are happening throughout the entire country without restrictions. Are you prepared for that?”

(The best estimate of epidemiologists is that some social distancing may need to persist into 2022 in the USA to keep the surge of people severely sickened by COVID-19 from overwhelming the health care system. – Journal of Science, April 14, 2020)

Tony Morgan identifies the second type of church leader he’s starting to encounter.

“They aren’t so concerned about when we might return to normal, because they realize what we’ve experienced…and will continue to experience for many months…is going to force the church to change. Normal isn’t coming back. The question they’re instead asking is this: ‘How must the church change for a new normal?’ And they are ready to start making those changes now. They are not waiting for their church doors to reopen.   

Susan Beaumont concurs:

“Crisis moments call for strong, decisive action—people want to know that someone is in charge, and things are being managed. But once the initial crisis calms, a period of disorientation sets in as we find our way to a new normal. The resolute leadership style that worked well during the initial crisis won’t work well in this ongoing unsettled space.

We are in a liminal season, stuck between an ending and a new beginning. The pathway forward is not knowable. The way we “did church” even two months ago is done. We have literally been thrown out of our buildings by a pandemic. We can reassure people (and ourselves) by pretending the disruption is temporary. “We will resume all normal activity soon.” That reassurance is not helpful or truthful.”

And in another article, Ken Braddy adds,

“We will not go back to business as usual in our churches. If you think we’ll all rush back to church and pick up where we left off, don’t kid yourself – it’s not going to happen. Or at least it shouldn’t happen.”

If they (and their colleagues) are correct, and we believe they are, how will we begin to adapt to the is new normal? What innovations are needed now and in the future? What questions do we need to address now, before people return to our church facilities?

As I’ve listened to what others are writing and saying, here are some tentative thoughts. What follows is wide-ranging and is admittedly somewhat overwhelming. But I invite you to examine these ideas, glean what is useful, discard the rest, and build a plan that is right for you and your context.

And realize that no strategy, even the best one, survives intact after it encounters reality and human frailty. So, my best wisdom is to build a strong prayer team as you venture into this challenge.

In addition, seek to build your plan with a congregational team that includes wise influence leaders and those who will be able to interpret the program to those who are resistant or even obstructionist. This team will help you both gather accurate information and make informed decisions. For more about this team, check out the third point in this article: (https://outreachmagazine.com/features/leadership/53337-principles-for-leading-through-the-coronavirus-pandemic.html)

 

IN LIGHT OF THE CORONAVIRUS, SAFETY CONCERNS (INCLUDING SANITIZING, FACE MASKS, AND SOCIAL DISTANCING) WILL RESHAPE MANY OF OUR CONGREGATIONS.

Some elements of social distancing will become permanent for churches as churches become less “tactile.” Stand and Greet is Dead; church huggers will no longer be tolerated, and for a time, handshakes will be off-limits.

You’ll want to provide hand sanitizing stations and places where people can get a face mask.

Guests/Newcomers will be asking: Is it safe to attend? Hand sanitizing stations are only the beginning. Safety concerns will impact the size of worship attendance, sanitizing of the nursery, restrooms, door handles, stations for hand sanitizer, even the smell. Does it smell clean?

Many churches will need to decide whether to add and/or shorten worship services to accommodate people while allowing for social distancing.

If physical gatherings are limited in size to accommodate the need for social distancing, you have options:

(1) offer more services

(2) encourage people to continue worshiping online

(3) remove pews/chairs from your worship space to help people avoid close contact

(4) block off pews/chairs so that people no longer sit right behind someone, reducing the chances of them sneezing or coughing directly into the back of the person in front of them.

How will you sanitize and sterilize your entire church building? You’ll likely want to consult your local health department to learn about proper sanitizing measures and their recommendation for your congregation. With that information, you’ll plan to regularly sanitize your worship space and all classrooms (especially those where children meet because of the toys and other items they touch during the course of a Sunday or Wednesday class experience, as well as pre-school).

Have you sprayed or wiped pews and chairs with disinfectant? Who is wiping doorknobs and handles? Have you had carpet cleaned and disinfected? Now is the time for all this to take place, not the week of the “you can go back to church” announcement by government officials. Will implementation of this gives rise to a new team of people on campus whose ministry it is to walk around wiping doorknobs and other surfaces? Who is going to clean restrooms throughout the time that people are in the facility? Remember, you’ll have hundreds (some of your churches may have thousands) of people touching things while they are on campus.

The Nursery and other children’s spaces will be a top concern for parents. They may view kids’ area as a Petri dish into which they are throwing their children. If we don’t accommodate for sanitized nursery spaces and other children’s rooms, should parents take their kids to worship, practice physical distancing, and keep a close eye on their little ones?

How will safety concerns impact the Choir and other elements of your music ministry? How can social distancing guidelines be maintained when choirs practice and present in spaces that do not provide a 6-foot distance? Does singing help to spread the virus? And what about wearing face masks while trying to sing? What about handbells and keyboards?

Something to consider: In a recent article in Infection Control Today, Dr. Kevin Kavanagh, writes about choirs and singing: “Why am I calling out churches? The answer is asymptomatic spread and aerosolization of the virus from singing. It’s been determined that this virus is much more infectious than the flu. National leaders are now saying 3 times as infectious, giving the epidemic a R0 of approximately 4. This probably requires other methods of transmission than from sneezing and coughing. And if approximately 50% of individuals catch this virus from asymptomatic carriers, one must ask, how are these carriers spreading the virus? They are not coughing and sneezing. The answer is probably aerosolization, were the virus can float in the air and be picked up later by an unsuspecting passerby. The virus has been observed to survive in an aerosol form for up to 3 hours. Thus, singing and church choirs may be the worst practice one can participate in.”

How will you sanitize the multiple TouchPoints in your worship experience? These include door handles, pew or seat backs, hymnals, offering plates, communion practices, worship bulletins, shake hands with the pastor and others, church dinners, classroom gatherings, recreation & fitness facilities, elevator buttons.

How will you provide for Weddings, Baptisms, and Funerals and do it safely?

And what about coffee time?  Many churches have invested serious dollars in creating a coffee shop or self-serve coffee experience for groups and classes. Is that still a good idea? Gathering areas with tables and chairs may need to be placed in storage so that people don’t congregate within a couple of feet of one another.

What about your Greeters ministry? Do door greeters do their jobs differently, or at all? Will you have door greeters? Seriously?! But you’ve always had door greeters. But in a COVID-19 world, do you want a door greeter holding the door open while a parishioner walks by within a foot or two of them? The new normal may be to provide automatic door openers and ask greeters to stand back six feet, inside the church building, and welcome people verbally without opening the door for them.

Some clergy believe that the best way to approach all of this is by developing a “health team,” made up of wise leaders, who will review these recommendations, those of the CDC and local health leaders, and give guidance to the congregation.

Welcome to the new sanitizing world COVID-19 has created.

 

SMALLER & MULTIPLE WORSHIP SERVICES COULD BECOME NORMAL

What if epidemiologists recommend that social distancing protocols continue and your worship gathering is initially limited to no more than 50 or 100 people? If we are limited to a smaller number by healthcare leaders, what is your plan to provide a place and time for all attendees to worship?

One primary strategy is, of course, to continue to offer worship online.

Another strategy is to add worship services to accommodate attendees.

So, it is likely that smaller worship services will become normal. There is already a trend of churches moving to smaller worship gatherings, even if the church was growing. In a COVID-19 world, we may need to anticipate capping services attendance at a size that allows for proper social distancing. As a result, the 80% rule will become the 50-60% rule for worship gatherings. The 80% rule said that a worship center with a capacity of 200 feels full at 160 (80%). The 50-60% rule will say the congregation will want more social distancing, and thus the 200-capacity worship center will reach its social distancing capacity at 100-120. (T Rainer)

 

RATHER THAN THE COMMUNITY COMING TO CHURCH, THE CHURCH WILL GO TO THE COMMUNITY

For too long, some church leaders have devised strategies to get guests to “come to church.” The pandemic is forcing us to see that the church building is only a gathering point, not an ultimate destination. How can you lead the churches right now to find ways to be a real ministry and influence in the community? How will you enable the church to go to the community rather than pushing the community to go to church? (Thom Rainer)

James Emery White writes: “Churches have been forced to move from a weekend-centric, crowd approach to a seven-day-a-week, incarnational approach. While every church should embrace, celebrate, and promote corporate worship, too many churches made that celebration the end-all for the life of the church. We say that the church isn’t bricks and mortar, but a community of faith that can be strategically served by bricks and mortar. Yet too many churches were never leaving the building. The goal of the church is to be the church in the community where it resides, attempting to reach and serve in the name of Jesus. The pandemic has broken us out of our gospel ghettos and holy huddles and into the neighborhoods and streets where we live.”

Churches are being brought back to their missionWhen all of your methods and practices have been stripped away, you are left with something raw and unfiltered. It’s called your mission. Churches around the world are finding that much of what they had been doing to fulfill the mission had become the mission. Now, they are beginning to see the actual mission in a new and liberating light.

This includes doing the work of Making Disciples for the Transformation of the World.

And it includes feeding people who are adversely impacted by the Coronavirus Shutdown. So many are out of work, and the need is great! Support your local Food Bank. Our metro area food bank can feed 300 for $100. If your community has no Food Bank, look at starting your own or doing food distribution cooperatively with other churches and/or service groups.

 

THE DIGITAL CHURCH IS HERE TO STAY & INTERNET WILL BE A BIG FRONT DOOR

Many churches have resisted the migration into the virtual world, but the coronavirus has taken many congregations into a quick immersion into the digital age. The initial forays have been to introduce digital giving and to Livestream some form of worship services. But coronavirus is the tipping point of much more to come in the digital world.

It seems that Digital is here to stay. And, churches will be shifting to making this a primary platform for everything they do rather than just a stream of their Sunday services.

Carey Nieuwhof writes:

“Some churches may think of their recent foray into Facebook Live as a means to provide a worship experience for their people is a temporary thing – a stop-gap measure during some extraordinary days. They look forward to the day that online services give way to worship experiences on campus. But is that the right strategy? Church leaders say their worship attendance and group attendance are up – significantly – because people are finding them online.

What’s kept a lot of church leaders from truly embracing online services or an expanded online ministry?

One main thing: worry about a drop in physical attendance. Until now, too many pastors have concerned about the internet as a back door.

That’s because until now, most church leaders have kept score by how many people physically attend their church.

I realize numbers matter because people matter, but it’s strange that we value the people we can see physically more than we value the people we can see digitally. That’s doubly strange if people actually matter to God.

Pastors have resisted online ministry, argued video teaching doesn’t work and fails to invest seriously in anything digital because they’ve been worried it will become a back door through which people walk away.

Church online will continue to grow as a front door for the curious, the skeptic, and the interested. It will be the first stop for almost everyone, and a temporary resting place for people who are a little too afraid to jump in until they muster the courage to jump in through physical attendance.

Your online ministry is also a side door to Christians who, when travel resumes, won’t be there on a given Sunday. Ironically, it will help them stay engaged because you’re equipping them every day, not just on Sundays.

If you continue to behave like the world doesn’t live online, you’ll miss the very people you’re trying to reach.

The future church (at least future churches that reach unchurched people) will no longer be in-person gathering with a smidge of online thrown in.

If people live every day in need of hope and resources to live out their faith (or to find faith) every day, church leaders have to start coming alongside people every day. Like many are doing right now.

That won’t go away when things go back to ‘normal.’ There will be a new normal, and it will be a seamless interweaving of the digital and analog, just like life is these days.

Starting now, Sunday-focused churches will become every day-focused churches because people need to live out their faith every day.”

So, should you be investing in new digital equipment right now? Yes, we’ve all hopped online and used Facebook Live to broadcast our worship services. Some of us are doing that with iPads and other devices, but is this the time to admit that online worship is probably here to stay? If yes, then it makes sense to invest dollars now so that quality cameras, microphones, and other equipment that will help the church be more engaging in the new online world of worship.

 

STAFFING FOR ONLINE WILL BE A PRIORITY 

For years Carey Nieuwhof has suggested that church leaders asking if online counts is like Sears asking if Amazon counts. Suddenly that conversation seems more real than ever. Of course, online counts. Just because real-life counts doesn’t mean that online doesn’t, and just because online counts doesn’t mean real-life doesn’t. They BOTH matter!

Here’s the problem: most churches spend somewhere between 90-100% of their staff dollars on in-person experiences: Sunday gatherings, groups, events, community service.

With only a few exceptions, even in large churches, the paucity of resources given to online resources is staggering.

What usually happens is the senior leader gives the website, streaming, and social media to a teenage volunteer or to some 20-something staffer who ‘understands that stuff,’ tacking it on to his or her already full-time job description. Alternatively, the senior pastor outsources it as a line item in the budget to some third-party service he doesn’t even know the name

Now is the time to rethink how to redistribute staffing for when things go back to ‘normal’ because normal won’t be the way it was. It will be a new normal. Churches that reach people in the future will staff online as though it’s real because it is.

 

OUR ONLINE SERMONS WILL IMPROVE AND TAKE ON A NEW LIFE

A crisis is a cradle for innovation. So, when it comes to the sermon, it is a great time to innovate.

Many pastors are discovering what it’s like to see and listen to themselves preach. And for some of us, it is a rude awakening. Speaking into a camera takes a unique skill set, and most leaders are choosing to go shorter rather than longer. But brevity alone is not the answer. The issues are too numerous and lengthy to address here, so here is a link from Carey Nieuwhof that may help us all to be better online communicators. (Here are some pro-tips on that).

You can easily make messages interactive. Having live-chat during sermons can allow your hosts to engage with people, and at the very end of the service on Sunday, take live questions from people about the message.

You can start to film in advance and make the messages more creative, almost taking a cinematic approach to it.

To help in speaking directly to the camera, some preachers are investing in readily available, low-cost teleprompters that can be used with smartphones and pads.

 

SOCIAL DISTANCING WILL CHANGE SOME WORSHIP TRADITIONS IN MANY CHURCHES. 

As mentioned above, the “stand and greet” time is dead, at least in the way many have done it. This practice has been on the decline in recent days. Many churches have already abandoned it because of its ineffectiveness with guests, not because of COVID-19 concerns.

Is a physical “pass the plate” offering a thing of the past? How would you feel if you were the 100th person in a worship service to touch the offering plate that 99 other people just touched?

What adjustments will you need to make to Communion, baptisms, and your choir ministry? Do you believe you can conduct communion as you have in the past? Your church’s tradition may involve passing a plate of elements, or it may include drinking from a common cup in some denominations. Will you use the self-contained juice and cracker cups? What about baptism – it’s going to be impossible to practice physical distancing in a baptism pool. And as one reader said, “What do I do about my church’s choir program?” He realizes that people standing side-by-side won’t be practical.

 

DIGITAL GIVING WILL BE THE NORM

Non-digital giving will become an outlierFewer people will want to handle the offering plates or buckets or touch cash. Watch for a dramatic decrease in non-digital giving. Make sure you are moving your church to digital giving.

Have someone in your church who can help the digitally challenged to set up online giving for them.

You and your leadership can explore how to help people understand how to do an automatic bank draft, set up online giving, and even provide a non-pass-the-plate option for those who wish to give their gift when they come to worship.

For a deeper dive into online giving, check out this webinar and summary:  https://www.vanderbloemen.com/blog/online-giving-through-covid19

 

SENIOR ADULT MINISTRY WILL UNDERGO DRAMATIC CHANGE

Because older adults are at higher risk from COVID-19, they may be the last to return to in-person worship and other congregational activities. This is not to say that they don’t want to return, but they do not want to take the risk. In a recent post, Carey Nieuwhof asked this poignant question: “For those who lead multi-generational or older congregations, what if a good chunk of your church shouldn’t gather for a year or two?” 

One older adult friend has remarked that he and his wife do not plan to return to church until there is a proven vaccination. They continue to worship online, connect with church friends, and give, but they will not attend until it is proven safe. They are missing the church, their friends, their volunteer activities in the church. They want to return, but for them, church gatherings can be dangerous. They are hopeful that their congregation will offer online options, in addition to worship, so that they can fully participate in the community in this strange season.

In many congregations, they have organized service teams to reach out to their senior members to help them with errands, shop for groceries, and pick up medications.

One pastor just told me that in the three weeks, he had made more than 300 phone calls, making it a priority to “reach out and touch” the older members of his congregation.

Clergy can make phone calls and write letters. Phone calls and hand-written letters are low tech and no tech. But there is high value in the personal connection they bring.

Help Seniors access and learn a New technology: This might be FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and more. All sorts of online options exist to talk with family and friends. And you for many of these you don’t have to be tech-savvy. Doing the basics is easy, and for most people, fun. If setting up an account is daunting, put together a steam that can help, be on call, and give ready tutorials.

In some congregations, where older people do not have the technology, they are buying Chromebooks (costing less than $300) and purchasing WIFI for those who are not connected. They’ve solicited donations to do this for unconnected seniors, and then have a servant team that helps older folks get set up and are available by phone to help when the new technology seems overwhelming.

Help older members find a ministry by reaching out to others from their homes. It may sound counterintuitive. How can you remain a part of the community and serve even if you are sheltering at home? Seniors can make phone calls to check in on others. They can write letters of encouragement.

Reaching out to residents of Nursing Homes:

Pick a person and a day and shower that person with greeting cards.

Reach out the nursing home social worker and explore having a 10-15-minute FaceTime meeting with the nursing home resident once a month. In that facetime visit, include a familiar hymn, a scripture, a personal check-in, a devotional thought, and prayer.

 

WE WILL BECOME CREATIVE & PERSONAL IN OUR DISCIPLESHIP PLANS

Two options: Online Groups & One-on-One Coaching

Online groups: You can begin by taking your current face-to-face classes and groups online.

Many have already done this.

Take your membership class online.

Here’s some guidance from someone who’s been leading online groups for over a decade: https://catalystchurchcreative.com/coronavirus-online-groups/

One-on-One Discipleship Coaching:

One of the most creative approaches to discipleship that we’ve seen in this time comes from Ken Willard, Director of Discipleship, Leadership, and Congregational Vitality for the West Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church.

It is called Digital Discipleship Coaching. Discipleship Coaching builds on three foundations:

  1. As followers of Jesus Christ, people want and need to grow as disciples. None of us are finished growing into the image of Christ. This is a lifelong process sometimes known as sanctification, or as John Wesley called it, “becoming perfected in love.”
  2. Spiritual disciplines are the building blocks of discipleship. These behaviors and actions are the means by which we best grow as disciples of Jesus. By taking intentional steps in the spiritual disciplines, over time, we become more fully devoted followers of Christ.
  3. Coaching is a partnership process designed to help a disciple best discern their next steps. By asking powerful questions and then actively listening, the coach acts as a spiritual guide.

Discipleship Coaching happens best in one-on-one situations. Most people, no matter how long they have been in church, have never had a one-on-one conversation with anyone about their spiritual growth. With everything suddenly being forced online, now is a perfect time to schedule a conversation. People in our congregations need the connection and the encouragement to continue their discipleship journey. To learn more about this one-on-one discipleship plan, go to https://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/10205/digital-discipleship-coaching

If Ken’s plan doesn’t seem right for you and our context, how could to adapt the program to reflect more of your gift, temperament, and the needs of those in your congregation?

 

BUDGETS AND STAFFING WILL HAVE TO REFLECT THESE NEW REALITIES 

The issues regarding church finances and staffing are too complex and contextual to address here.

So, we will point you to several web resources that offer ideas, models, and plans. What follows is not an exhaustive listing, but it will help you and your leadership to begin a conversation about these critical issues. We encourage you to take a deep dive into these sites and discern what approaches are most helpful for your context.

Finances:

https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/articles/10-ideas-for-church-financial-leaders-amid-the-covid-19-crisis

https://samrainer.com/2020/03/creating-a-financial-plan-for-your-church-during-the-outbreak/

https://www.vanderbloemen.com/blog/leading-staff-reorganizations

https://www.vanderbloemen.com/blog/stewardship-giving-though-crisis

Staffing:

https://www.vanderbloemen.com/blog/critical-components-of-restructuring-staff

https://www.vanderbloemen.com/blog/leading-staff-reorganizations

The coaches at Clergy Coaching Network are available to assist you and your congregation as you navigate these challenging times.  You can learn more about us and our work at www.clergycoachingnetwork.com or you can email me at rickccnet@gmail.com

 

Sources:

What will The Post Coronavirus Church Look Like? https://tinyurl.com/u27wp6o

The Current Crisis is Accelerating the Future Church: https://tinyurl.com/u9xmrpd

The Church is now a Blank Slate: https://tinyurl.com/rg5shmb

5 Predictions About the Future Church: https://tinyurl.com/rowp53a

Five Ways You Will be a Different Pastor: https://tinyurl.com/w8z3qjk

Seven Shifts the Church Needs to Make: https://tinyurl.com/y7ku4ov9

24 Questions Your Church Should Answer:  https://kenbraddy.com/2020/04/18/20-questions-your-church-should-answer-before-people-return/

5 Ways the Pandemic is Saving the Church: https://www.churchandculture.org/blog/2020/4/20/5-ways-the-pandemic-is-saving-the-church

Finding Our New Normal: https://www.congregationalconsulting.org/finding-our-new-normal/

A Financial Plan During the Outbreak: https://samrainer.com/2020/03/creating-a-financial-plan-for-your-church-during-the-outbreak/

For a variety of articles and curated webinars about leadership and finances during this crisis: www.vanderbloemen.com/blog