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Leadership in Lockdown: Pressures and Potential2 months ago
Resource minister Revd George Fisher talks about church leadership in the midst of the Covid 19 pandemic. As well as highlighting some of the new pressures George’s blog helps us look at the enormous potential in this season.
‘I’m so glad I’m not leading a church in these times of Covid 19!’ I said this to a fellow retired minister after I had led two Sunday morning services including the surreal experience of introducing myself as the preacher on the screens, having pre-recorded the sermon midweek. I then had the torture of listening to my own sermon, twice! We live in strange times and the challenges facing every area of life, including the church, are immense.
As I engage with church leaders of various denominations across the country, I am acutely aware of the pressure that is on them at the moment. Over and above the normal challenges of leading churches, a whole new complexity of problems and decisions unveil themselves as we emerge from lockdown. I don’t know of any church leader who is sure that what they are doing is right as no one knows what ‘right’ is. Balancing the needs of those returning to church with those who do not feel they can, or do not wish to, is almost impossible, and some are even having to deal with conspiracy theorists in the congregation! Sustaining pastoral care holds new complications with competing needs vying for attention. Finances are precarious and the longer-term future for some churches is uncertain with talk of amalgamations and closures.
In addition to all this there is the pain that church leaders share with those whom they minister to when taking funerals and caring for the bereaved. The tragic circumstances that families have faced in being unable to be with loved ones in illness and death takes its toll on caring ministers, added to by the restrictions which make it almost impossible for church leaders to show compassion in the way they normally would.
And yet, alongside the pressure and the pain we see enormous potential. Church members are going deeper in discipleship, spending more time in prayer both individual and corporate (numbers at online morning prayer and other daily thoughts have increased exponentially), and people are starting to use their gifts in new ways in online church.
And interesting things are happening outside the church. A recent Savanta ComRes poll has unearthed a new openness to prayer and worship in society. A realistic assessment of this from Revd Dr Pete Phillips from the Durham University Centre for Digital Theology is to be found at: https://www.dur.ac.uk/resources/digitaltheology/PressReleasereOnlineChurch.pdf.
The headlines are that over 1 in 4 people in the UK have engaged regularly in online organised worship during lockdown; that London is the UK’s capital of faith; and that during the later lockdown period half of the country’s young people (18-34) say that they regularly engage in online faith-related activity including regular prayer and engagement with online corporate worship.
Even allowing for the aspirational nature of polls and the multi-cultural element, these headlines are quite amazing. Britain is not as ungodly as some have thought and there are many spiritual seekers as witnessed by the numbers doing online Alpha and other similar courses. And it’s not only the large churches connecting with new people but many little, local and ordinary churches who are doing an amazing job of combining online church with community service and seeing new life developing.
In the same way that the persecutions in Acts 6 scattered the early church out of Jerusalem and the Cornelius incident in Acts 10 dispersed them out of their cosy Jewish clusters, so Covid 19 has catapulted the church online in a way that has been totally unexpected and unprecedented, pushing us outside our buildings and into the place where many of the younger generation and increasing numbers of older people live and learn – the internet. The early church found in the Gentile world a hunger for the gospel.
Today, having identified an exciting new mission field of people open to spiritual matters, how tragic it would be if we were to retreat back into our cosy buildings and allow alternative spiritualities and ideologies to exploit this and we miss out on being obedient to what God had placed before us. If we are to fulfil the Great Commission of Matthew 28 to reach all people groups we need to find ways, as a church, to thrive both physically in our buildings and also online through the internet so that the life-changing message of Christ’s love and forgiveness is not restricted.
But we dare not tackle this challenge in our own strength and with our own ideas. In Acts 1:8 Jesus promised the power of the Holy Spirit and we need more than ever that same empowerment. How we need to hear what the Spirit is saying to the church in these times both at local and national level and walk in obedience.
One prophetic voice is Bob Jackson in his ‘Everybody Welcome to the Future’ (www.dur.ac.uk/digitaltheology/ewo/). Let’s not withdraw into our buildings but pray for the Spirit to breathe through what is now happening and show us the way forward, trusting that the Lord will guide and provide, as He did in the early church, so that many more people may hear the good news and become disciples of Jesus.