The last few months Bishop Lowry, I, and members of the cabinet have been meeting with two groups of your peers; one group represented several of our large church pastors and the other group a more representative yet innovative group of pastors. Part of this partnership has been “Covid-19 Learnings”, meaning things we have learned, are learning, and need to learn in this season as we prepare together for the next. This will be a series of enotes that I hope will encompass the important and helpful things we are learning together (the common denominator is a basic teaching of “Leading beyond the Blizzard). Writings from Praxis that forecasts that every organization, and every church is and will be a new start, something we are discovering more and more is absolute truth.
Much of what I am going to send you is from the clergy in these groups. I am not going to give credit individually as these are the learnings from the groups that I am making available. If there is a thought you want to dig deeper into, please contact me and if I can’t answer your question I will put you in contact with the pastor where the information came directly from or who has a more personal insight from their context.
One of the key takeaways we discovered is that many of the basic obligations of church members was more entrenched than we thought.
People still give generously and were quick to connect online, in worship, and in other ways, and even daily. They stayed invested in the life of the church (though some researchers say this is declining). Part of the reason for this is that long-term members, older members and attenders, and traditional Methodists know the rules for the church and have these rules, disciplines, and expectations deeply embedded in them. Giving, attending in some form or another, and staying connected to their pastors is what Christians do, especially long-term Methodists. Churches have proven to be resilient and adaptable as has clergy and staff (though many clergy, staff, and church members are becoming more and more weary).
We are also seeing clearly “we are reaping what we have sown”.
Where we have sown healthy seeds, good disciplines, and positive Biblical values, we are reaping healthy good and positive stuff; such as, people continuing to give and connect online. Many continue to connect with mission opportunities. When a church has strong spiritual core and a Christ centered focus it is much better prepared for a crisis season. Many are praying for their pastors and each other. Many are willing to sacrifice if it will help others. Many can be counted on.
Where we have not sown well, we are seeing the opposite. Division reflects this (over masks, meeting in person or not, politics, social justice, etc.) Dropouts reflect this and those that did not have the spiritual stamina to handle this for very long. People dragging their feet on necessary change reflect this, when they are more interested in “going back to the way it was”, rather than, “let’s make disciples and serve others”. Desiring to go back to cherished traditions rather than moving forward into a greater mission. There are the many that hope it goes this way rather than joining new opportunities to be the church in a world that desperately needs us to be the church.
The good news…. where we have not done well (there are many reasons for this, pastors moving too often is one of them) we are learning what this is and can address it in the new season of the church. I would highlight where we have sown well and highlight where we have not. I would begin addressing this now. And I would prepare the necessary and possible changes (remember that culture changes slowly and takes wise leadership) and begin the process that is necessary to begin a more effective “New Church Start”. If we don’t, we will go back to the way we were before COVID-19. I am guessing few of us want that. And I am even more sure God does not.
Rev. Mike Ramsdell, Executive Director
Center for Evangelism, Mission & Church Growth