“Pastoring these days feels like throwing with my left hand,” a pastor told me. “I’m a righty. I know how to do church in person, but I’ve had to do it online.” Another pastor chimed in, “After eight weeks of the Covid-19 pandemic, deciding when to reopen church is an even bigger challenge.”
All the Lead Pastors on this Zoom call felt the pressure of making the right decision for their church and city.
One church leadership coach advised pastors to do a grand reopening with signs, balloons, and celebratory music. But a pastor in the Midwest who was able to reopen his church found it anything but a celebration: the turnout was low, it was hard to sing with masks on, people seemed distant, and church wasn’t like before.
What do you do when you don’t know what to do? All of us in our work and families are sometimes pressured to make decisions without enough information. Especially today. There has not been a global pandemic like Covid-19 for over 100 years.
It’s confusing and conflictual. Some governors have been telling churches in their state not to open. Some churches have been suing their governor; they say, “If hundreds of people can safely go to a home improvement store then we can make church safe too.”
In ancient times the prophet taught us to follow the Lord’s higher ways and thoughts (Isaiah 55:9). Often ways come before thoughts. To make wise decisions we need to follow the Lord’s way of prayerfulness and relational process.
Here are 5 ways to help us reopen church:
1. Don’t hurry—wait on God. When Covid-19 hit pastors and leaders needed to act quickly to minister to people online. But deciding when to reopen church involves safety and legal issues and navigating tensions in your church and city. Before we act we need to wait on the Lord (Psalm 27:14).
2. Accept your Jesus school. In this Covid-19 trial we can learn to be more like Jesus (Romans 5:3-5). This is much more important than which week to reopen church. It’s a posture of submission to God in a crisis that inspires compassion and innovation.
3. Listen to people. Whatever your work or ministry, the people you lead need your empathy. Before they’ll follow you they need to feel understood and cared for (Matthew 7:12-14; James 1:19). Listening to them will also give you better thinking on the decisions you need to make (Proverbs 11:14; 15:22).
4. Empower other leaders. More than ever, pastors need help from church leaders with gifts like speaking to a camera, using technology for ministry, coordinating new ministry activities, outreach to the needy, and giving generously.
5. Be flexible. Reopening your church before Covid-19 is cured involves issues like encouraging those who are vulnerable (or scared) to participate online, meeting outside if possible (for better airflow), sanitizing your church, spreading out chairs so people can social distance, and providing more venues and/or service times for multiple smaller gatherings. For instance, Mariners Church is reopening in 4 “plays”.
We all want clarity in our decisions about the future. But usually rather than giving us clarity God asks us to trust the Spirit of Jesus one step at a time (Galatians 5:25; Psalm 119:105).
Listen to today’s SoulTalk: The question of when and how to reopen churches is an emotional subject full of contrasting perspectives. So, what do we do when we don’t know what to do? We follow God one step at a time. Join Bill and Kristi in reflecting on how you can grow in trusting God in the midst of this uncertain season.