Over the past 6 or 7 months I’ve been sharing regular posts to try and help church leaders think through the risk management implications of the return to in person church and what we hoped would be a gradual move to normality in the United Kingdom.
I wanted to say a little bit more in the light of this weekend’s updates, you see risk assessments like pretty much anything else that comes your way in Christian ministry can be helpful to you or can be used to in effect beat you around the head with legalism. This past two years I’ve seen a fair bit of that kind of legalism at work and it’s left many in church leadership bruised and exhausted. You see, every week has called for new decisions.
- Do we run something on Facebook that everyone can easily watch but doesn’t allow for participation or do we run something on Zoom that limits attendance but enables involvement (a lot of people ended up doing both)?
- Is it okay to share communion via virtual church?
- Could we organise open air services and small groups?
- Should we comply with Government rules banning gatherings?
- Should we begin to return back to our buildings when restrictions are lifted or do we assume that “just because you can doesn’t mean you should”?
- Should we require facemasks or is that allowing the government to interfere in worship?
- What’s our position on the ethics of vaccines and vaccine passports?
And so on and so on. Every time you’ve made a decision, you’ll have had a load of flak from those who disagree and 75% of the time you’ll have felt that everyone was unhappy. For the very same decision, you’ve been told that you have been too ready to compromise with the world and disobey God whilst at the same time been accused of being reckless and uncaring. You’ve probably had the occasional charge of heresy along the way too. Did you know that letting people eat a small piece of bread and drink some juice from their fridge whilst chatting together via zoom makes you a Gnostic? And it’s not just been upset congregants but leaders of big ministries via their blogs and podcasts and it’s been random people with no or little connection to you and your church who feel the need to let you know. Or sadly at times, to let those who are part of your church know how ungodly you have been and why you should come along to their perfect and pure church instead.
So, here’s a quick heads up. God loves you, Jesus died on the Cross for you and rose for you. He asks you to trust him, to love him, to love those in your care, to serve them with the Word and to share the good news with those around you. To be clear, God hasn’t given you a detailed manual tucked away at the back of Galatians or somewhere in the middle of Leviticus about all the things you should and shouldn’t do in a pandemic. Why? Well because he has made it clear what is expected of us and then he’s left us with the wisdom to work out how to go about a lot of that. But to repeat, he loves you, he’s full of grace, compassion and kindness. He isn’t looking to trip you up and catch you out. Will you do things wrong? Sure. Will he discipline us as a loving father disciplines their children, yep. But to repeat again, he loves you and he showers grace upon you.
So, a couple of things here. First of all, don’t forget that when you are drawing up risk assessments that there are really three big questions that you’ve not put down on the page but that the other questions are designed to answer.
- Are we loving God?
- Are we loving one another?
- Are we sharing the good news faithfully.
And that’s really all that matters.
Now, as a kind of footnote I want to say something specific about the situation we are finding ourselves in this Christmas. Most church leaders were probably looking forward to this Christmas and the opportunity to get right into it again. We were looking forward to packed buildings for carol services and nativity plays. We were looking forward to welcoming in the local schools at the end of term. You may have managed to do that but I suspect that with the breaking news of Omicron there will have been the disappointment of seeing the number of visitors down on pre COVID years (though I think that was always going to be the case) and it didn’t feel like a thrill of joy when we sung from behind facemasks, it just felt like a weary world. Meanwhile I know a churches have taken the painful decision to cancel or scale back activities for this weekend.
Apart from the sense that maybe we’ve let our churches down and no doubt that we didn’t enjoy it quite as much ourselves is the fear that by cancelling or changing we missed an opportunity to share the good news. So, I want to encourage you that providing the church family re committed to using every opportunity to talk about Jesus, I don’t think we have missed opportunities, certainly no more than those years when the heavens dumped down a ton of snow on carol service weekend. God is sovereign and it’s his gospel.
Secondly, have a read of this article from Steve Kneale. Again, don’t read this as a telling off about how to do better at evangelism. Rather, hear the grace in it. I remember people saying to me “Isn’t Christmas the busiest time of the year for you as a pastor?” I think they were the same people who thought I normally worked one day a week. My response was “Actually no. I tend to scale things back in December.” You see, I found that people were rather distracted and December wasn’t a great time to get them thinking about their eternal destiny, walk with Christ or major decisions that were required. All of that was going to come in the New Year. The risk was that by the New Year we were too exhausted from all our events and the rehearsals leading up to them. So, hear the grace of an article telling you not to load everything into Christmas. Christ has designed his church for the long haul, to be there faithfully witnessing all the year round.
So, one last time. God loves you, you are his children, you’ve been forgiven, restored and adopted in Christ Jesus. He wants to shower grace on you.