I’ve read a lot of articles about pandemic and local church ministry at this point. I’ve probably read too many and imagine you have, too.
It seems everyone has their own prediction about how this will all turn out “for the American church,” and almost as many seem to have their our answer too. Estimates abound concerning church closures. I’ve seen estimates ranging from five percent to thirty percent of churches across the country have closed. Some articles minimize, and some sensationalize.
Frankly, I don’t know what’s going to happen, and I feel that making broad, universal statements about the plight of the American church is above my pay grade. Though, I do believe at least two things are true. If we believe these two things are true, we can avoid the ditches on either side.
Christ will have a witness.
I grow weary of the ministry pundits who spin this pandemic as the end of the church in America. Social media is fertile soil for sensationalism even without a pandemic. Insert a real, legitimate disruption of this magnitude into the mix, and the sensationalism hits a fever pitch.
Of course, predictions of the church’s total failure from those outside of the church, already antagonistic toward its purpose, should always be expected. Make no mistake, there are many rooting for the church to fail. However, my concern here are those inside the church who peddle in such pessimism. For some, perhaps it is the inability to see God at work in the storm; for others perhaps it is an axe they wish to grind against the established church.
Don’t buy the defeatism.
We have plenty of reason for hope. You know that the promise in Matthew’s gospel doesn’t say the gates of hell “might” not prevail against the church. It says they won’t—definitively. The gates of hell will not prevail against the church. Of course, there is finality to that statement. It doesn’t mean at every moment in every place the church will prevail. Setbacks abound in the 2,000 year history of the church, some lasting generations in particular places. But we can be sure that in the end, the church will prevail in its God-given purpose. The gospel must have its witness. Simply put, Christ will not be left without a witness in North America.
But that witness may not be your church.
We can be confident in the promise that Christ will have a witness, but let us avoid the ignorance or arrogance that assures it will come from our own church.
Christ’s church will certainly make it through this moment, but many local churches may not. We must avoid defeatism, but we cannot overlook the gravity of this disruption. Dismissing this disruption in hopes of returning to some pre-COVID status quo will only endanger the local church. This is a really big deal, and church on the other side must look different in some important ways. I believe it is too soon tell what specifics must change, but I am firmly convinced many will change.
If defeatism is the first ditch to avoid, then ambivalence is on the other side. Ambivalence assumes the status quo will return, and it leads one to inaction. Ambivalence may have many roots. It may be ignorance, merely not knowing how significant the shifts in culture and church practice will be. It could come from arrogance, thinking one’s own means and methods are not vulnerable to the shifts that are coming. Or, it could be a host of other mixed motives.
Confidence and Humility
Nevertheless, my plea to pastors and church leaders right now is to avoid both defeatism and ambivalence when it comes to their local church. I pray we can all avoid the ditches. What we need right now are pastors, ministry leaders, and local church members who are confident in the final success of the church in her God-given mission but humble enough to realize their own church is not immune to the effects of this pandemic.
We need to admit that our methods of ministry may need serious adjustments after a disruption of this magnitude. We must avoid the trap that makes our means and methods more important than the mission itself. The time coming around the corner may be one where we have to lay some sacred cows of local church ministry on the altar. Confidence and humility will win the day as begin the long process of moving past the pandemic.