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A Challenging Word for Churches From USA Today

USA Today

Yesterday, the front-page article in USA Today was entitled, “Crisis, then Complacency Define Past Outbreaks.”[1] Two quotes caught my attention:

  • “Every time we have an infectious disease emergency, you see a lot of interest in funding and robust response, and then that disappears when those events recede from the headlines. We have this cycle of panic and neglect, panic and neglect.”
  • “. . . all too often, when the crisis fades and the fear subsides, urgency morphs into complacency.”[2]

These quotes, although they’re not addressed to churches, caught my attention because I fear the same thing will happen to the church. We’re responding now in new ways, but I still wonder what that will look like on the other side of the crisis. Here are some possible ways to maintain our Great Commission urgency post-COVID-19:

  1. View this crisis not as something to endure, but as an opportunity to improve. We’re being forced to think about how we do digital church, but we’re also seeing that we often reach more people this way than we do in person. Bringing technology into how we do church isn’t an automatic weakening of the gathered body. We can do both well.
  2. As a leader, evaluate what you’re learning about your own idols—and genuinely repent today in preparation for leading tomorrow. Some of us are learning about our addiction to work or recognition. Some are realizing we idolize the act of standing in front an audience paying attention to us. Others are learning about the unhealthy power of worry in their lives. Whatever the Lord is teaching us, we who lead God’s church must learn the lesson well and adjust our lives accordingly.
  3. Don’t look forward only to your congregation gathering again, but look forward to sending them out to a world more connected than we’ve ever considered. This crisis has shown us that every one of us is connected to others. We cannot miss this opportunity to foster a spirit of local, national, and international missions among our congregations.
  4. Capitalize on what’s working today, and let it become part of your ministry. In many cases (like, e.g., reaching out to all church members regularly, holding regular staff meetings, offering online giving options, livestreaming our services), these are things we should have been doing anyway. I encourage us not to view them simply as stopgap measures in this strange time.
  5. Remember that fallen human beings tend to return to our idols after the crisis is past – and we leaders must help avoid that pattern. It’s the pattern of the book of Judges, and it’s too often our pattern, too. Unless we guard against it, we’ll quickly go back to status quo—and perhaps even be more reticent to reach out to people we don’t know.
  6. Don’t go through this crisis by acting first and praying second—and, reverse that pattern in your long-term ministry DNA. I trust that COVID-19 has led us to pray more (though I’m not convinced we’ve necessarily changed our pattern of when we pray). If God is taking us to our faces so He might display His glory through us, we need to stay prone before Him even after this crisis is past.
  7. If you’re a pastor, build genuine friendships and support systems with other pastors. We need each other these days for encouragement and prayer—and many are turning to other pastors in fresh ways. The fact is, though, that we’ve needed each other long before this crisis hit. And, we will always need each other in the future.

I pray today’s urgency and creativity in crisis will lead to even more urgency and creativity in the days to come. If that happens, it won’t be because we naturally lean in that direction; it will be because God is up to something.

___________

[1] Bart Jansen, “Crisis, then Complacency Define Past Outbreaks,” USA Today (April 1, 2020), 1A.

[2] Ibid., 5A.

This article originally appeared here.

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Chuck Lawless currently serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary. You can connect with Dr. Lawless on Twitter @Clawlessjr and on at facebook.com/CLawless.