Church Roulette

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I already know that you might be uncomfortable with just the idea, the image of church and roulette in the same title. I get it. I also hope you will take a moment to think through this with me.

In my last post I wrote about how everyone is just trying to figure out how to land the plane, and church leaders are no different. I know that churches are figuring out how to respond as we emerge from the pandemic. And this is being done without a playbook. No church leader has experience with this re-emergence process. In a sense, any move forward is a gamble. The outcome is uncertain because no one knows exactly the right next step.

We are living in a new world.

Many leaders and thinkers are writing about the post-covid life and post-covid church – and I’m not sure we are post-covid (certainly not on a global scale). Gaining inertia when there has been nothing for over a year has proven to be a huge challenge. There are as many attitudes as there are individuals. How do you pull people together when they are as splintered as ever? The church is presented in Scripture as a unifying presence, but finding unity in a divided world is going to take a Divine miracle. We are living in a new world. We have never had to start from scratch and we never had to start with the roadblocks of covid leftovers in our thinking.

We need to pray for our church leaders. No matter how much thought and wisdom go into our path forward, the truth is we do not know where this is going to land. Spin the wheel, try to win. Create a new program. Try a new approach. Revamp a class we used to have. Give people options or do not give people options. Meet more often. Meet less often. Maintain social distancing. Forget social distancing. Are online-only attenders really attending? You can land in the red slot or the black slot – and there’s not a lot of control over the situation.

Leaders have a lot to lose.

  • Loss of clarity, as they attempt to provide a common path forward for diverse members.
  • Loss of members, as people choose to go and worship someplace else or just remain online.
  • Loss of sleep, as they worry about and pray for those who are choosing not to worship any longer.
  • Loss of revenue in the church that could force difficult choices (some churches have even closed their doors).
  • Loss of focus on shepherding, opting instead for easier less confrontational busy work.
  • Loss of respect from those who mis-interpret the leader’s actions as political or appeasement. It’s hard when the members of the church make the leader’s work harder – there’s a verse telling us what God thinks about that.
  • Loss of insight as they try to lead people who are suspicious of others, on both sides of every issue.
  • Loss of spiritual energy if prayer is neglected during this trying time.

This is brand new territory for all of us. None of us have recovered from a pandemic before! There’s nothing easy about it.

Much of what we do at this point is consider the alternatives, pray, and then take a chance. Turn the wheel, throw the ball, and see where it lands. And I do not think anyone is comfortable with this. While there are losses and potential losses, there are also wins.

  • Leaders win when they decide to keep on trying and never give up.
  • Leaders win when they connect with individual members and express care and concern.
  • Leaders win when their prayers are for the healing of the churches / church.
  • Leaders win when their practices are not dictated by politics nor by politically charged members.
  • Leaders win when they are willing to think out of the box and risk something that may fail.
  • Leaders win when they care more about restoring fallen people than restoring previous programs.
  • Leaders win when they keep pushing forward when it would be easy to just let things go on as they are.
  • Leaders win when they support and encourage one another.
  • Leaders win when God gets the glory, Jesus is the key example, and the Holy Spirit is the chief source of guidance.

The idea of Church Roulette simply recognizes that as we move forward we do not always know what to expect. We are not always sure about what to do next. We find ourselves open to trying some new approaches and taking some new chances. Sometimes it will turn out well, and sometimes not. But we keep moving forward anyway – not taking foolish chances, but willing to risk everything to minister to the saved and reach the lost.

What chances are we taking to move forward? What risks are we making to reach out? How willing are we to trust God with the ending and just move forward? It’s stretching our faith and that’s a good thing.

How To Land The Plane

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Depending on who you talk to (or who you believe), the pandemic is coming to a close … at some point in the not too distant future. Vaccinations will proliferate and so many people have antibodies from having COVID-19 that there will not be many more places for the virus to go.

Of course, I speak as a non-medical layman, but we’ve all become pandemic experts, haven’t we? I can’t speak for everyone, but I do think we are coming around the corner. Many of the experts I listen to said all along that it would be well into this year when we could breathe easy again and that seems to be coming to pass.

Something I’ve noticed about me, and some others as well, is that we have spent over a year doing our best to navigate all of the mandates and rules of the pandemic. We have decided which ones we are going to observe and which ones we are going to reject. Now that it’s time to feel a little more free, we’re not sure we can do that.

I liken that experience to landing the plane. It’s more complicated than it might seem. There are several different practical and emotional things going on at once here. We spent a year being diligent (many of us). We followed the mandates and advice of the highest level of agencies and scientists in our country. We kept up with soaring numbers of increases in deaths, hospitalizations, cases, and how many ICU beds were available in our state. Most heartbreaking of all we kept up with the people we knew who were suffering in ICU or worse, who died. I think often about my neighbor who I last saw in person after Hurricane Laura helping to rake up leaves and limbs in my yard. That was August. Then came COVID-19, and by November she was with the Lord. When it is just a remote list of numbers it is easy to dismiss. When it is close to home, you can’t forget.

But we’re not under restrictions forever. We have to land the plane. That might be done in stages, keeping an eye on all the instruments. Even though there is a lot of information, the descent has started. Stay aware, but also continue on the path forward…downward. It’s not sudden, nor is it without thoughtfulness. For us in North East Louisiana, all relevant numbers are downtrending. Vaccinations are increasing. For those of us who have been careful, attentive to our practices, and trying not to be carriers of the invisible enemy, we are starting to breathe a little easier. When the plane comes to a stop, we do need to get off. I think for a lot of people, landing the plane is going to be a challenge. You’ll get there, friends. Hope remains.

Other Posts and Observations About Our Experience with Covid-19

Covid Undermines Relationships

Covid ReWrote My Job Description

Another Casualty of Covid

One Year With Covid

Covid: Why We Cannot Give Up

We Won’t Know For a While

Coping With Pandemic Losses

Another Casualty of Covid

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I do not mean to speak lightly about the casualties of COVID-19. Globally, it has been a disaster for the human race. I acknowledge that many are left in deep pain over the losses in their homes.

There are many casualties of COVID … but one I am not sure we’ve paid attention to is the unity to which Christians are called. The pandemic has set us all on edge and in some congregations it has delivered a fatal blow.

Just scrolling through the social media of Christians and hearing reports from across the nation, I am caught by surprise. Examples?

  • Christians who refuse to attend worship because the congregation is observing the mask mandate of the Governor.
  • Arguments that break out over whether or not to be vaccinated. I’m not talking about expressing opinions – we can learn from one another. But I’ve seen too many seek to ridicule and embarrass those who disagree.
  • I read of a minister who was fired because he asked parishioners to wear masks.
  • There are those who say crude things about those who choose not to wear masks.
  • Some have been at home alone for so long that they are no longer interested in being with other Christians.
  • Members who made it hard on church leadership teams who were doing their best to keep the congregation as safe as possible.
  • Church leaders who have pressed congregants into gathering when they didn’t feel comfortable doing so yet.
  • People flinging Bible verses at one another (from any perspective) to try to crush their opponent (and fellow Christian) with the Word of God.

It’s my guess that if you have been on social media at all, you’ve seen these things happening. More, the entire world has watched this play out among Christians. So, our witness to the lost world may be a casualty of COVID. But in many cases, the unity that we talk about has taken a fatal blow. We’ve rejected unity and embraced a crass and casual weapon of words.

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Ephesians 4:3-6, NIV

I realize someone may even think I’m using that verse as a weapon. I mean it as an appeal to build up, not to destroy. Our world has been upside down for a year and there is a lot of anger attached to that. But I am to make every effort. I must focus on the one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God … these things call me to be united with all who believe in them. Even those who differ with me in the details of life.

I’ve seen enough angry fingerprinting and belligerent name calling. Really. Nothing forces me to keep reading the things that discourage me so much, so I don’t.

Finding and keeping unity has always been hard, but it’s worth the effort. It is what God has called us to pursue.

Further Reading:

Ten Tips For Disagreeing in Love

Covid Undermines Relationships

Covid Undermines Relationships

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The devastation that COVID-19 has caused in the global community is difficult to assess, but I think everyone would agree that it has been massive. Painful realities accumulated day by day. There was a staggering loss of life. Heartbreaking stories of loneliness as people suffered in hospitals and nursing homes alone. Many of us settled into a foggy mental confusion as we tried to figure out how we were going to address this in our own lives. The vulnerable have never been more vulnerable.

One area that is often overlooked is the way that Covid undermined relationships among friends and family. One family member is quarantined while another family member is maskless wandering around the grocery story. One friend is carefully sanitizing hands while another friend is still shaking hands with people. We can be standing six feet away from the person in front of us in line at the store while we can feel the breath of the person behind us on our neck.

The messaging didn’t help at all. I don’t have to point fingers. We all know that there were mixed messages. Some of them were from scientific gains in knowledge. When you learn more, sometimes the message changes. Some of the messages were politically motivated. Massive organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization had problems with succinct and consistent instructions and information. Daily ‘updates’ from Governors and Presidents were common.

Even so, there was massive disagreement about the nature of COVID-19 and how to deal with it.

That’s where I saw relationships being undermined. Friends were leaving snarky posts on one another’s Facebook and Twitter feeds. Blanket expressions of dismissal and pronouncements about motives cut away at relationships. Accusations abounded. Reposting half-truths as if they were the total picture. Labeling people who do wear masks and people who do not. Ridiculing people who were vaccinated; ridiculing those who would not be vaccinated. People lined up behind their favorite sources of information and took offense at any challenge to them. I think people stopped listening to one another and took to their feeds to participate in a war of posts.

I’d like to say the Christian community did better.

I’d like to. But I can’t.

I wonder what damage has been done to our relationships in the church? Will those harsh words and accusations be forgotten? Will we be able to talk to and love one another while the names we were called linger in our thoughts?

Physically separated, ideologically at odds, emotionally estranged. Covid undermined our relationships and as sure as we are going to have to do whatever we can to win the victory over this virus, we are going to have to rebuild the connections we have with people.

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“I am not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet…” – Amos 7:14

Depending on who you listen to, we are either headed toward normalizing our lives again or we are headed toward a massive resurgence as Governors remove restrictions. I honestly don’t know. But after all the involuntary losses I do not want to lose the relationships that mean so much to me.

I’m going to have to see the person behind the argument, and love them.

I’m going to have to understand that not everyone will see things as I do. And be ok with that.

I’m going to have to forgive others when they fail to realize how their statements hurt me.

I’m going to beg them to forgive me when I failed to love as I should have.

I may not be able to prevent an invisible virus from creating destruction in our world, but I can do all I can to cultivate love and forgiveness in my personal world.

There have been a lot of losses with covid. Let’s not let our relationships, our families, our churches, our friendships be among those losses.

Refresh

I spent some time with some old friends a while back. They were on a retreat to think through some ministry plans. I’m so glad they decided to rent a place nearby. I’m especially glad that they invited me along for some of the time together. It was a moment of refreshing.

Too often we get entrenched in a hundred different things going on in life and forget to refresh our spirits. Well, at least I forget. This week’s visits reminded me of some simple ways to refresh when we are feeling compressed and distressed. I want to think through the time spent with old friends and make some notes here about why this was such a special time. Maybe these are some ways to experience renewal when the pressure is on.

Photo by Min An from Pexels

Get outside for an hour. Yes, a whole hour. You forgot how good that feels.

Talk to an old friend. Oh, go ahead and do that for an hour also. You need the break.

Laugh about something in the past that continues to bring you joy.

Listen to someone else’s struggle for a bit – not to fix them – just to hear them. What a gift you’re giving. And receiving.

Eat some good food with friends. Practice whatever distancing you need to, but the conversation over a meal can be enlivening.

Reflect on how God has carried you through a lot of stuff just to get to today. And be grateful for today.

If a memory makes you cry, let the tears fall. They are God’s healing balm for broken hearts.

Compare thoughts, share ideas, energize your observations, get excited.

Decide now to do this again sometime soon if possible.

Thanks to Jeff, Doug, and Daniel for a couple of days that have left me refreshed. I hope I never wait this long to refresh my spirits again.

…whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. -Proverbs 11:25

Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people. – Philemon 1:7

…that times of refreshing may come from the Lord… -Acts 3:19