Category: church as abbey

Church Resources for Coronavirus

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Our church has begun to address the possibility of the coronavirus affecting our worship and day-to-day ministry. Sunday morning worship is important, but if health department guidance requires us to cancel worship gatherings, we are still the church. The best things we do already are caring for one another and our community. In light of the coronavirus impact, our church is developing plans to do four things whether we can meet for worship or not.

First, we plan to communicate with our members and our community. We have in place an online telephone calling service, OneCallNow, which can easily be expanded to call hundreds of households. In addition, our deacons have about 10 families each that they care for, and they will be in contact with these families personally during any crisis. Finally, the CDC suggests a “buddy system” so that community members can check on each other. While many of our members do this informally now, we hope to formalize that system to insure that everyone is included in daily wellness checks.

Second, we plan to provide transport, where possible. Our community has a large number of senior adults. Many have children who live away from Chatham. Helping folks get to doctors, grocery stores, pharmacies, and shopping is something we already do now, but will expand in light of the coronavirus outbreak.

Third, we plan to insure that those in our community have the necessities of daily living, including food, medicines, household goods, and so on. This may become vital if numbers of our residents are required to self-quarantine. We already have two food ministries providing groceries to homes around our church, and backpack meals to elementary school children on weekends. We will simply expand our grocery shopping and drop off necessities to those in our town who need them.

Finally, above all, we have and will continue to pray for the coronavirus situation worldwide. We pray for government leaders, health professionals, and those affected by the virus. Please begin to pray and plan now in your churches. The best-case scenario is that our plans will be an exercise for readiness. The worst-case is that our plans will provide vital ministry to those affected by the coronavirus.

Here’s a lengthy resource from Northshore Church in Kirkland, WA — a center of the coronavirus impact. This document contains situational guidance, as well as sample letters and emails that you can adapt for your church situation. 

“ALL THINGS CORONAVIRUS”

ALL Material below is free/fair use

Updated 3/6/20 at 1pm

  • The following document was put together by Northshore Church in Kirkland, WA – the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak)
  • They are a large (2,000+ attendees) church with multiple staff.
  • Not all of this information will be useful to churches of other sizes and budgets, but there is still quite a bit that can be gleaned.

Approach

Your communication around the coronavirus should be a two-fold approach: pastoral and tactical. Communication should be pastoral because, in a time of fear and crisis, people will need to be reminded that God is their refuge and strength an ever-present help in times of trouble. Communication should also be tactical as people will want to know there is a plan and be reassured that you are taking their health seriously.

Before you get into any discussions around pastoral and tactical communications, we recommend you take the following actions:

  1. Get decision-making leaders together to be on the same page
    1. Don’t try and manage up if you are not a decision maker
  2. Learn about the virus here and here to help inform decisions
    1. Don’t let fear drive decisions, there is a lot of false information out there
  3. Contact your local State/County/City health office as soon as possible
    1. You’ll want them to know you exist as a church and in the event of an outbreak for them to give you guidance

Tactical Questions

Before you begin any form of tactical communication, we recommend you ask your leaders the following questions:

  • What does our cleaning/sanitation process currently look like?
    • Are all our frequently touched surfaces involved in the cleaning process (ie doors, handles, water fountains, tables, sinks, check-in stations, touchscreens)?
    • Do we need to take extra cleaning measures?
  • What will we need to do around service elements?
    • Will we stop Communion during this time?
    • Will we stop passing the offering buckets/plates (if applicable)?
    • Will we stop passing out bulletins/programs (if applicable)?
    • Will we stop doing a greeting time (if applicable)?
  • Are we asking our volunteers/door greeters/welcome teams to refrain from shaking hands?
    • Are we asking them to frequently wash their hands?
  • Do we refrain from offering coffee or other treats during this time?
  • What does our cleaning/sanitation process look like for kid’s rooms?
    • Are all our frequently touched surfaces involved in the cleaning process (i.e. toys, doors, handles, water fountains, tables, sinks, check-in stations, touchscreens)?
    • Do we need to take extra cleaning measures?
  • Are we visibly doing things that help people see cleanliness? e.g. putting out hand sanitizer stations, having staff/volunteers wipe surfaces while people are around)
  • Do you have a plan if an individual in your congregation tests positive for the Coronavirus?
    • Do you take attendance of kids and volunteers, in case you need to reach out to a group that was around that individual?
  • What would cause us to have to cancel services?
    • Does a certain number of people have to get sick in your congregation?
    • Do the local health office recommendations have an impact on our decision making?
  • Where are we posting our closures? (e.g. building signage, Google My Business, phone messages, email, social media, website)

Tactical Communications

Your leadership’s approach and answers to tactical questions should inform your communications at this point. We recommend getting ahead of the issue so you are not caught unprepared. Determine now what communication channels you plan to use (e.g.. website, social media, email, text, from the stage).

  1. If the coronavirus was just discovered in your area, we recommend letting your congregation know you are aware of it and are keeping an eye on it. You want them to feel safe and that there is thought behind it. Here is an example (borrowed heavily from Menlo Church):

Dear XYZ Family,

At XYZ Church, we want to care for our congregation in all respects, including the physical well-being of our community. To that end, we are asking you, our congregants, to take precautions to keep yourself and others safe, especially in light of recent developments with the coronavirus (COVID-19).

 Please be mindful of the guidance from the Virginia Department of Health and the CDC, including: 

  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • While asymptomatic travelers from China are not mandated to observe a 14-day quarantine, we urge you to consider refraining from attending church events, classes and services until the 14-day time-frame has been observed. We also ask that anyone returning from a high-alert area (currently South Korea, Iran, Italy, Japan) consider doing the same.

The uncertainty of this outbreak is creating anxiety in our workplaces, schools, and day-to-day activities. Yet we remain certain of God’s steadfast presence and careful attention to all that is happening. Please join us in praying for those who are affected by this illness, as well as their caregivers and those who are working around the clock to minimize the impact of this virus.

 In Psalm 46, we are reminded that it is God who is our refuge and strength, and our ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, let us not fear, but with confidence use this opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus through our prayers and our care for others.

 In Christ,

  1. If the coronavirus is spreading in your area, we recommend letting your congregation know your plan of action and what your expectations are of them. It’s also important that you give them an opportunity to feel heard in this communication. Here is what we published when we knew it was spreading:

Dear XYZ Family,

I want to update you on what’s happening at XYZ in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in our area. Like you, I’ve been following this evolving story with great concern. I’ve also reached out to local city officials and spoken with a number of other pastors in the area to gain perspective on how to best move forward. Please read through this entire email as it contains detailed plans for keeping our campus safe, and how you can help.

 At this time, officials are not recommending the cancelation of public events or Sunday church gatherings. We will remain open and we will continue to have services on Sundays and midweek programming. In the event that local and state health officials do recommend closure or we determine it is in the best interest of our Northshore family to close, we will inform everyone to the best of our abilities through our website, emails and social media.

 During this time, here’s how we are committed to keeping our campus clean:

  1. We will sanitize highly touched surfaces before and after every service such as doors, handles, tables, water fountains, check-in stations, and sinks.
  2. Our staff and volunteer teams will wash their hands frequently and stay home if they are sick.
  3. We will provide additional hand sanitizer stations around the building for everyone to use.
  4. Offering buckets/plates will be relocated to the back of the auditorium so you don’t need to pass them down the row.

During this time, we are asking you to help stop the spread of the virus in the following ways:

  1. Stay at home when you or a family member are sick.
  2. Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  3. Cover your sneeze or cough with a tissue or your arm.
  4. Get in the habit of NOT touching your face so often.
  5. Forgo shaking hands at church for a wave or a friendly smile.
  6. If you or someone you know tests positive for COVID-19, please let us know so we can find a way to help, pray for everyone involved and take any necessary precautions.

For families with kids:

In addition to keeping our campus clean, we will be taking extra care of our kids’ spaces. Kids’ toys and rooms will be sanitized before and after every service.

Questions or concerns?

If you’d like to share your thoughts, concerns, questions, and ideas with us as we navigate our response to this situation, we’d love to hear from you. Your input and feedback are truly important to us. Please email ____ or call ___.

While we cannot control the virus, the spread or the impact it has in our church, we’re doing everything we can to make our facility as safe and clean as possible. We appreciate your cooperation and commitment to help us do just that. We must also remember that God has not called us to live in fear but in faith. As the apostle, Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 1:7, “For the Spirit of God does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.” My prayer is that God will fill all of us with these three gifts, no matter what comes our way.

Spiritual Questions

Before you begin any form of spiritual communication, we recommend you ask your leaders the following questions:

  • What are we doing to encourage our congregation to not live in fear?
  • What opportunities do we have to help our local communities?
  • What are we doing to encourage our volunteers to show up and serve?
  • What are we doing to help people who are staying home to stay engaged with our church (ie livestream, digital content, phone calls)

Spiritual Communications

Your leadership’s approach and answers to spiritual questions should inform your communications at this point. We recommend spending twice as much time communicating around this than tactical communication. People will remember more how you’ve impacted their hearts than the list of procedures. Every church’s approach to this will be completely different; you will know what the best approach is for your congregation (know your audience).

  1. We recommend your pastors or hosts acknowledge the crisis from the stage. Here is a sample of one weekend we talked about it (skip to 15:25 & 1:00:15): https://boxcast.tv/view/northshore-online-1100am-lamoawxgmijwc2gxoi89
  2. We recommend the leaders of volunteers send a video, text message, or phone call to your volunteers letting them know how their service is making a difference. Remember people often come back to the church in times of crisis – this time they might simply reach out from afar. Don’t guilt them into this, let them know how they are valued and how they personally make an impact. Volunteers may be tempted to stay home during this crisis, which is why this is important to do this. (I’ll try and track down one of our leader’s video they sent to their volunteers)

 

  1. We recommend looking for ways to make an impact in your community during this crisis. For us it was simple, we wanted to help out the staff and patients of the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington – the epicenter of the coronavirus where unfortunately many residents passed away. We decided to provide the staff with Chick-Fil-A lunches one day and the next day we delivered care packages to the residents. We posted this on social media and it gained A LOT of traction in our community (especially in community Facebook groups). You’ll notice a lot of fear and negativity on social media feeds during this time, so this is a stark and welcomed difference.

Chick-Fil-A post: https://www.facebook.com/northshorecommunity/videos/483234312352107/

Care package post:

https://www.facebook.com/northshorecommunity/videos/230841131411054/

Here is the email we sent out asking for our congregation’s help:

Northshore Family,

 It’s been quite a week. Whether you joined us in person or online, Sunday’s gathering was an amazing opportunity to be reminded of the power of God’s love, even in uncertain times. If you haven’t watched it yet, make sure you do. To watch this Sunday’s message, click here.

We’re continuing to pray for wisdom on how best to prepare and respond to the recent coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in our area. We’ll be sending an email out later today with a more detailed approach on how we are responding and doing our part to keep our campus safe and clean. In the meantime, we’ve been praying and thinking about ways we can be together for our neighbors with all that’s happening. We’ve been in touch with the leadership at the Life Care Center of Kirkland. As you may have heard, they are dealing with a number of potential coronavirus cases and are in quarantine.

They were excited and encouraged by our offer to bring care packages for their residents and staff with treats, activities to do in their rooms, and other items to help brighten their days through this difficult time. They have 104 residents and around 150 staff members. If you’d like to help out, here’s what you can do:

  1. Please bring items to fill the care packages to Northshore this evening and tomorrow morning.The main lobby will be open until 9pm tonight and our office opens again at 9am tomorrow. Here’s a list of suggested items:

–       Playing cards/jigsaw puzzles/puzzle books (word searches, crosswords, sudoku, etc.)

–      Individually-packaged, non-perishable snacks (granola bars, fruit snacks, crackers, canned drinks, etc.)

–       Hand lotion

–       Fuzzy socks

–       Magazines

–       DVDs

–       Premium facial tissues (the kind with lotion to soothe irritated noses)

–       Please DO NOT bring any homemade food, items with nuts, or used items that could carry germs or allergens.

 

  1. If you feel healthy, please join us at 10am on Tuesday (tomorrow) morning at Northshore in the Glacier room to assemble these care packages, which will be delivered later that day. Childcare will not be provided, but older children are welcome to help assemble the packages.

 

  1. If you’re unable to drop off donations or help us assemble care packages, you can donate to our efforts by visiting northshore.church/give and selecting the fund “Together For.”

 

It’s part of our DNA as a church to be together for our neighbors, the next generation and those in need, so that the Puget Sound and beyond can flourish. We believe God calls us to be agents of love and care for those who are hurting, especially in times like this. This is our chance, Northshore! Thanks for being part of helping those at risk, however you can. 

Other Communications

A couple of other pieces of information your leaders should consider:

  1. Staff communication. Always let the staff know your plans before anyone else. Always. They are your team members and can help answer many questions on your behalf.
    1. What policies/closures does the staff/volunteers need to be updated on?
    2. What does it look like for staff to work remotely?
    3. What does PTO/Sick Time look like?
    4. Who is the point person for communication?
      1. You’ll want this person to set the standard for all forms of communication
      2. You’ll want your staff and volunteers reiterating what has already been communicated – be consistent and clear!
    5. Are there staff/volunteer social media policies in place?
      1. You don’t want staff or volunteers mentioning they think they know someone who attends your church and has the virus

 

  1. Dealing with the press. Be prepared for the press to come knocking. This can be a great opportunity for exposure in your community — if you’re ready and have a plan!
    1. Who is the point person to talk to the press?
      1. You’ll want that person to have knowledge of the entire approach and policies.
      2. They’ll need to be consistent with what is posted and said – the presspicks up on inconsistencies!
  • Try and control some of the narratives and stay positive, encouraging and calm.
  1. Avoid letting them walk up to people in your congregation whom you don’t know. It could be someone’s first day there and you don’t want them feeling out of place and uncomfortable.
  1. Try reaching out to or tagging the press if you are making an impact in the community.

 

Washington Post Article:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/coronavirus-spread-kirkland-washington/2020/03/01/5e112fb8-5c10-11ea-9055-5fa12981bbbf_story.html

 

Daily Mail Article:

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-8066783/Panic-epicenter-coronavirus-outbreak-Kirkland-Washington.html

 

Q13 Fox:

https://q13fox.com/2020/03/03/cornavirus-deaths-tied-to-kirkland-nursing-facility-increase-to-7/

 

Spirit FM:

https://www.spirit1053.com/2020/03/05/northshore-community-church-catches-the-spirit/

 

Cancellation of Services

Church isn’t something you can cancel. It’s what happens whenever ordinary people show the world the good news of Jesus. So, whatever you do, don’t use the word or any variant of the word “canceled” (I know I just did in the heading, but it was to get your attention). Instead, find ways to take church to your people. But what happens if the coronavirus starts to impact your church services/ministries? A couple pieces of information your leaders should consider:

 

  1. Mid-week services/ministries should be easier to make plans for, but ask these questions:
    1. What ministries meet throughout the week on your campus? (e.g. students, MOPS, Bible studies)
      1. How large are these groups? If the groups meet in close quarters or have 10+ people in them, the CDC and local health officials recommend not gathering in person.
      2. Are the people in these groups considered high-risk? People who are generally at high-risk are those 60+yrs old, women who are pregnant or those who have underlying health issues.
    2. Can any of these services/ministries meet virtually?
      1. Have you looked into any free or paid digital content providers? Facebook and Youtube are a great way to broadcast for free. Zoom is a great way for groups to gather and is free for up to 100 people for 40 minutes! Rightnow Media is a great paid resource for countless Bible study curriculum for adults and kids.
    3. What criteria are you using to postpone or move these services/ministries online and for how long?
      1. Are the criteria based on local/state health officials, school districts, or Mayoral/Governor’s Office? We recommend going with whoever has the most impact on your day to day operations and is most respected.
        1. For all of Northshore’s Mid-week services/ministries, we follow our local school districts lead regardless of what the issue is (snow, power outages, coronavirus, etc.). We follow their lead because they are the most respected and have a direct impact on mid-week ministries/services. If school is closed, cancelled or delayed, many of the parents that would normally come to these ministries/services have to make plans around caring for their kids. Our local school district recently decided to close for 14 days. This means for the next 14 days we are taking church online for these ministries.
      2. What communication channels will you plan to use if you are postponing or taking church online? (e.g.. website, social media, email, text, from the stage).

 

  1. Sunday services is the most difficult to make plans for, but ask these questions:
    1. What criteria are you using to postpone or move Sunday services online and for how long? A number of factors should come into play when figuring this out.
      1. Outbreak – If you’ve found out someone has tested positive in your church, this should be cause for concern for the health of your church.
      2. Government Recommendation/Edict – if there is rapid growth in your community, at some point the government will publicly recommend the suspension of large gatherings. We strongly encourage you to heed their advice.
        1. It’s been our experience that when the local government announces these recommendations, they’re already several days behind the curve of when they should have announced these recommendations.
  • Optics – Your local community and congregation will be watching and judging your response. You may personally feel canceling is an overaction (and it may be depending on the situation) but what are you silently communicating to them? That your church doesn’t care about their health and the good/well being of the local community. Reality is how people perceive things and if the reality to everyone else is a big deal, then it’s a big deal! This doesn’t mean you should make decisions based on fear or pressure but use wisdom. But ask yourself this question, what happens if your community or the press finds out the coronavirus has spread at your church due to negligence? It doesn’t matter how much good you’ve done in your community through your various outreach programs, your church reputation is tarnished and it will take a very long time to dig out of that hole.
  1. What options do you have when it comes to taking church online or postponing?
    1. Do you have the option to livestream your services?
      1. If so…
        1. Do you have a plan for backup staff or volunteers to help run the livestream in case they become sick?
        2. Do you have a backup plan for a live-stream service or equipment failure?
          1. With Wes quarantines, many more people in your community will be online and could affect data speeds.
          2. With many more churches going to livestream, does your livestream service provider have the bandwidth to handle the recent surge in broadcasting?
        3. Will you have a simple worship set or the same worship set?
        4. Will you continue your message series or will you adjust to meet people where they are at?
      2. If not…
        1. Can you record a message/sermon and set it go live/premiere on Facebook or YouTube?
        2. Can you approach a local church who has the capability to do live streaming and ask them to record a message in the middle of the week so you can broadcast it from Facebook or YouTube on Sunday?
        3. Would you consider asking your congregation to tune into another church’s live stream until you are able to gather again?

 

Here is the email we sent out letting everyone know we are doing Sunday services online:

Northshore Family,

I’d like to take a few minutes of your time to update you on what’s happening at Northshore as we navigate the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in this part of the world which we call home.

First of all, I want to say how proud I am of this church family. The care packages that were assembled for residents of the Life Care Center, the resources that have been given and the prayers that have been prayed have been such an example of love in the midst of uncertainty. People of all ages are coming together for our neighbors, the next generation and those in need. 

We’ve received phone calls from people who don’t go here to say thank you and strangers stop by to donate money. One local artist even auctioned off a painting and gave the proceeds to Northshore. All of this happened because people are seeing a church that’s living out of faith, rather than out of fear. So thank you Northshore for your courage and generosity.

Last fall, when we launched Northshore Online, we dreamed about how this could help more people hear the good news of Jesus and take a next step in their faith.  What we didn’t know then, was that God was actually preparing us for this moment when we would be called on to adapt how we do church together to meet the needs of our community and reach the hearts of our neighbors. So here’s what’s coming next.

Online-Only Sunday Services

This Sunday, March 8, our services will be held online only. Service times will remain the same at 8, 9:30 and 11am. Our hope is to be able to gather together on our church campus in Kirkland as soon as possible, but in the meantime, we believe we can continue to learn and grow together as a church by worshipping together in our homes with friends and family. And you can still invite your friends!  If you’ll be watching the livestream on Facebook, we encourage you to share it on your feed. If you’ll be watching on our website, consider inviting someone to join you by sending them the link.

To watch the livestream on our website, click here

To watch on Facebook, click here

 For Families with Kids

Please know that your families will continue to be in our prayers as we navigate these circumstances together. Our hope is to keep your kids engaged and provide ways for them to grow spiritually. We’ve curated online curriculum for your kids through Right Now Media, which we highly encourage you to utilize. It’s super easy to register and is a great way for kids to do church online along with the rest of your family! We provide anyone who calls Northshore home free access to this service. After you register, head on over to the Northshore Community Church channel on the left side and you’ll be able to see all of the curriculum that has been uploaded to the NKids section. There are several videos for kids with optional discussion questions and activities that can be downloaded.

 

Mid-Week Programs

Since our midweek programs traditionally follow the Northshore School District scheduling, we are suspending all on-campus ministries for the next 2 weeks.  We will evaluate this decision week to week as the situation around the outbreak continues to unfold.  In the meantime, we will be providing alternative ways for you to grow closer to God and learn more about Him. 

 

Opportunities to Serve & Give

While the impacts of the coronavirus mean some changes to our daily lives, the physical, spiritual and emotional needs of people have not been put on hold and we must continue to care for those around us. The residents and staff at Life Care Center of Kirkland have been going through a difficult time and we want to come alongside them to provide encouragement, hope and practical help. One way we can help is by providing meals for the employees there.

 

We’ve coordinated with the leadership at Life Care to arrange two meals a day for their staff through Saturday, March 14.  We’re asking people to sign up to deliver store-bought or restaurant-made meals to feed either 10 or 25 staff members. You will not need to enter the facility or come in contact with any staff or residents.

 

Sign up here.

 

Consider gathering a group of friends or neighbors to share the cost. If you cannot provide a meal, consider donating to this effort by going to our giving page and choosing “Together for” from the dropdown menu. All donations will be used to support this initiative as well as others being impacted by this outbreak. We’ll be sending out an email soon with more information on how you can sign up, so be on the lookout for that.

 

Even though we’re not gathering in-person for church, you still have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others by giving your tithes and offerings through our giving page.

 

Final Thoughts

Even though our world has changed, the power of God has not changed. The truth of Scripture has not changed. The hope of Jesus has not changed. Our mission as a church has not changed. Let us not give in to fear. Rather, let’s fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.

 

In Christ,

Scott Scruggs

 

  1. Easter services are the hardest one to plan for right now. The coronavirus is rapidly spreading across the globe and is lingering in cities for several weeks/months. Unfortunately, the timing of this will leave many churches in limbo. Here are some questions (we don’t have answers for) that you should ask:
    1. How many services should we plan for?
    2. If you are meeting in a public place, is there a possibility those places could be closed during that time due to an outbreak?
    3. Are you hiring any guest speakers or musicians that could get sick or cancel?
    4. Are you planning on using communion?
    5. Are you planning on baptisms?
    6. Are you planning serving any food or drinks?
    7. If you are asking your congregation to invite people, regardless of method, will people actually want to come to your Easter Services during an outbreak?
      1. This should help you use caution around how much money you’re spending for marketing/promoting Easter
    8. If you can’t meet for Easter, is there something BIG you can do for your community instead?

 

A New Subtitle: Churches as Communities of Reconciliation

The new subtitle of this blog is Churches as Communities of Reconciliation. Let me unpack this phrase one element at a time.

Let’s start with churches. This blog began with a focus on small congregations, but over the past seven years’ of writing, I have come to the conclusion that size is the least significant factor in church vitality. Rather, a church’s sense of mission — missional consciousness, to use the jargon — is a better gauge of church vitality than size. Churches with a clear sense of purpose, whether large or small, thrive and are vibrant members of their communities. And, just to be clear, my confidence is in churches, not other organizations, to embody and exhibit the Kingdom of God as a contrast society in contemporary culture. Those churches can be traditional, seeker-sensitive, neo-monastic, denominational, or any of the other flavors that churches come in today. The form is less important than the way in which local congregations live out their calling to be salt and light to their communities and the world.

Secondly, I’m interested in churches which are practicing reconciliation. The Apostle Paul wrote, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…” (2 Corinthians 5:18 NIV). I’m convinced that the Bible is the story of God’s reconciling love beginning in the Garden of Eden and concluding with the New Heaven and New Earth in Revelation 21-22. The reconciling love of God finds its highest expression in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul continues the theme of reconciliation in 2 Corinthians 5:19: “that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”

Down through the ages, Christian churches, evangelical churches in particular, have emphasized reconciliation between God and humankind. However, there exists also the unmistakable idea that we cannot be reconciled to God — we cannot say we love God — without being reconciled to one another. Theologians have called these the cruciform (meaning “cross-shaped”) aspects of reconciliation. We are “vertically” reconciled to God, while being “horizontally” reconciled to those around us, even our enemies. If God has given us the ministry of reconciliation — and I believe along with Paul that God has — then reconciliation should be the signature ministry of churches.

I wrote my DMin dissertation at Fuller on the subject of The Reconciling Community: The Missional Mending of Spiritual and Social Relationships Through Local Church Ministry. In my research and writing, I explored not only the theological and theoretical aspects of reconciliation, but the practical, applied aspects as well. Of course, I wasn’t the first to come to this awareness, and I discovered that scores of churches in the US (and, other places), are actively practicing reconciliation in their communities.

Finally, to put it all together, I am focusing on the result that churches practicing reconciliation are building peace communities. In reconciliation studies, much of the literature is theoretical. Authors focus on the theology of reconciliation, the multi-disciplinary nature of reconciliation, and stories of reconciliation in places like South Africa and Rwanda. However, I found very few resources that could describe what a ministry of reconciliation looked like on the ground in real life. To that end, I synthesized the best of the theoretical research to develop a list of criteria for what reconciliation looks like. I’ll list those in a later post, but my point is that for churches to be able to engage in a ministry of reconciliation, we have to know what one looks like, and what result we seek as agents of reconciliation.

The goal of churches which practice reconciliation is, in my opinion, to build peace communities. I don’t mean peaceful communities, although they certainly would be. Peace communities are those neighborhoods and areas included in a local church’s ministry influence, that have been transformed in measurable ways by the practice of reconciliation.

When Jesus sent out the 70 (or 72) disciples, among other things he instructed them in the practice of peace: “ “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’  If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you.” (Luke 10:5-6 NIV). We have neglected this idea of speaking peace, finding the person of peace, and “staying in one place” to bring about transformation of an entire community. That’s what peace communities are — communities that have been transformed by the shalom of God into places where Kingdom ethics are lived out, hurts are healed, relationships are restored, and God’s children live in harmony. If that sounds like an improbably fantasy we must remind ourselves that Jesus said some pretty improbable things.

In future blog posts, I’ll tell the stories of churches that are practicing reconciliation and building peace communities in their own neighborhoods. I’ll also present resources, books, seminars, and organizations that can be helpful in your church’s quest to become a reconciling community. I’m convinced this is the church of the future — engaged, vital, and transformative — and I hope you’ll continue the journey with me.

Don’t Confuse Authority With Power

The church growth movement helped foster the idea of the pastor as the authoritative leader of the congregation.  I know because I studied church growth at its height at Fuller Seminary.  The premise of the theory of “pastoral authority” was that churches grew faster and larger when the pastor asserted his authority as the leader of the congregation.  The numbers seemed to verify the idea of absolute pastoral authority.

Of course, the idea of pastoral authority also appealed to the egos of lots of pastors.  “I can make it happen” pastors thought, “if only the deacons, or committees will give me the authority to take charge.”  The ecclesiastical landscape is littered with the train wrecks of that kind of thinking.   What some pastors really wanted was power, not authority, and therein lies the problem.  Power is not what we as pastors are called to exercise, but too often we confuse authority with power.

“Authority in the church is never the monopoly of the ordained few — whether bishops or clergy” writes John Chryssavgis in his helpful book, Soul Mending: The Art of Spiritual Direction.  Chryssavgis, an Orthodox priest and professor of theology, corrects the notion that spiritual authority belongs exclusively to the professionals.  Rather, Fr. John argues, “All too often authority is confused with power, meaning the ability to compel others to do something.”  He continues, “It is not control over others, but commitment to them, even to ‘the least of one’s brethren’.”

Although his book focuses on the ancient art of spiritual direction, much of what Chryssavgis says applies to pastors in general.  Our ministry, he says, is built upon the tradition of obedience and authority of those who have gone before us.  Only those who have submitted to the spiritual direction from others, can assume the responsibility to offer spiritual direction to others.

We also are called to mutual submission with our congregation before God.  Granted, pastors have special responsibilities, but our authority is, to paraphrase Rush Limbaugh, “on loan from God.”  It is an authority not inherent in any human being, but an authority that resides in the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  This is similar to what Alan Roxburgh says about finding God’s direction for a congregation.  It doesn’t lie solely with the pastor, but Roxburgh believes that “the future of God is found among the people of God.”

Finally, Chryssavgis says, “Ecclesiastical authority must be seen in terms of service and not rule; in relation to ‘diakonia’ and dialogue, not domination.”  Good direction from one who knows what it means to be under authority.  I recommend the book.

Finding Our Place Among The Hungry

empty_bowls2More world citizens and more Americans go hungry each day than ever before in the history of the world.  One billion people out of the 6-billion who inhabit the earth, do not have enough to eat.  Almost 17% of the world’s population — 1-in-6 people in other words — are undernourished or malnourished.

In the United States of America, the numbers are no better:  16%, or 49-million Americans do not have access to adequate food.  Again, 1-in-6 in the most affluent country in the world go hungry.

The reasons for this record rise in world hunger lie in the global economic crisis coupled with the rising cost of food.  Food costs worldwide have increased 24% in just 4-years.  Civil unrest has followed the increasing cost of food and threatens to be the next global catastrophe.

But, here’s the interesting part:  In a newly-released Pew Forum survey, a majority of Americans prefer that religious groups feed the hungry and homeless.  Faith-based programs remain popular with the American public, and 52% said faith-based organizations are best able to feed the hungry.  Interestingly, those numbers are actually up from 8 years ago when the same questions were asked.

But are faith-based groups, churches included, doing what we can to feed people?  If 1-in-6 persons are hungry in America and the world, they should no longer be invisible to us.  Unfortunately, the hungry are disproportionately poor, minority, and marginalized by society.  They remain invisible to a vast majority of Christians because our paths do not cross, our children do not go to the same schools, and our social calendars do not coincide.

But this is a golden opportunity for faith-based groups to step up and fulfill the vision that America has for us.  If we as churches can do what our culture thinks we ought to do, which includes feeding hungry people, then we might find our place again in our own culture.  With church attendance continuing its 50-year decline from a high of 40% to today’s 17.5%, we need to reclaim our place in the world.

Wouldn’t it be interesting if the church reclaimed its place in culture by finding its place among the poor?  Of course, that’s what Jesus did.  And he fed them, too.

Urban Church Connects with Local Artists

P1040079_lgIn its heyday University Baptist Church in Baltimore overflowed its expansive neoclassical sanctuary.  Designed by the same architect as the Jefferson Memorial, the church’s impressive dome now shelters fewer worshippers each Sunday.  But changing times haven’t discouraged the members of University Baptist Church.  Instead the congregation continues to find new ways to impact its urban neighborhood.

Located across the street from Johns Hopkins University, University Baptist Church draws dozens of students each week for its Sunday evening service, “The Gathering.” But as the neighborhood on the other side of the church evolved into an arts enclave, church members wanted to reach out to these artists as well.

“We are in our fourth year of hosting an arts camp for children,” Associate Pastor Robin Anderson explained.  With that experience, and a growing arts presence in their neighborhood, members sought new ways to engage with their creative neighbors.

A casual conversation about art galleries led Robin to ask, “Would it be a dumb idea to do an art gallery at the church?”  Church members thought she might be on to something.  The result was  Art Under The Dome, a gallery show for local artists hosted by the church.  Twenty percent of show sales went to the African HIV/AIDS ministries of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.  On the night the art show opened, an African drummer stood on the steps of the church, beckoning passersby inside with the rhythms of authentic African drums.  Almost 500 people attended the art show opening, and 400 of those had not been to the church before.  Dozens more viewed the show during its two-week run, and many signed up for a small group study.

Here’s how they did it:

1.  Direct mail and internet sites advertised the event. The church solicited artists through art-related internet message boards.  Direct mail invitations to the show opening were sent out to the neighborhood surrounding the church.

2.  A gallery team coordinated the show. One member acted as curator, selecting artwork submitted by local artists.  The curator’s choices were reviewed by the entire gallery team for final approval.  Over 20 artists participated in the art show.

3.  Professionalism was important. The gallery team maintained a professional atmosphere by replicating a real art show opening at the temporary church gallery.  This approach showed respect for the diversity of artists and patrons, while inviting further contact with the church.

4.  The community came together for a good cause. Johns Hopkins University is world-renown for its research, including research into HIV/AIDS.  Raising money for this cause helped draw both church members and artists together for a worthy endeavor.  In addition, local HIV/AIDS groups were invited to display brochures about their work in the Baltimore area.

5.  Follow-up included a small group study. Over 30 people signed up to study “The Artist’s Way,” a book written by a Christian artist, but directed toward the broader arts community.

The church is already preparing for its next art show.  The majestic church sanctuary is now a landmark recognized by the arts community as a place where faith and creativity meet under the dome.

— This article first appeared in Outreach magazine in my Small Church, Big Idea column.

A New Model Merges Pastoral Care and Social Action

I am speaking tomorrow at Duke Divinity School to students in the Rural Ministry Colloquia, a monthly gathering of students involved in, or interested in, rural church ministry.  I have been asked to tell our story of how we started a community center, community music school, and several other projects here in our small town of 1300 people.

In addition to telling our story, I’m also going to share some very quick thoughts about the role of small churches in rural areas.  I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the theology and practice of pastoral care in a missional church, and how that is different from pastoral care in traditional churches.  I think I’ve come up with a least a few questions, if not fully-formed answers.  Here’s some of what I’ll share tomorrow:

  1. Missional theology and praxis calls for contextual, incarnational engagement with the community.  How does “the care of souls” fit into the missio Dei and our part in it?
  2. Why is pastoral care largely ignored in the on-going conversations about the tranformation of the church?
  3. Given the social structures of rural society, and the aging populations of small town and rural America, shouldn’t “the care of souls” be a part of our intentional ministry, and not just an afterthought during times of crisis?
  4. Considering the rampant poverty, increased alcohol and drug abuse problems, lower educational levels, and other social issues affecting rural areas, shouldn’t our care of people also include care for the community, and the transformation of communal issues?

I am also proposing tomorrow a new way to look at pastoral care and social action (which is not a term I like, but I can’t think of another more descriptive).

The typical pastoral care model is a dyad of both the spiritual and psychological care of a person or family.  The typical “social gospel” model (or social action model) is a dyad of  spiritual and sociological engagement with a community, or group in a community.

I am proposing a new model that is a synthesis of both pastoral care and social gospel — a triad of the spiritual, psychological, and sociological concerns addressed by both individual approaches to care, and communal approaches to care.

In the Bible, salvation is often seen as coming to a people, not just individuals.  Certainly, the salvation of Israel was not thought of as future, but as a present reality that God could, and often did, provide.  This does not diminish the importance and necessity of a personal response to Jesus’ call to “come and follow me” but rather it broadens that call to include the salvation of social systems and communities.

I believe that “the care of souls” is going to burst into our theological imaginations in new and exciting ways.  Some of those will be that care will be more relational and less educational; and, more contextual and less general.

The “care of souls” will also fill the gaps in the social fabric of rural communities who have lost much of their social framework to chain stores, increased mobility, and the loss of public spaces.  I am convinced that we need to see our communities, not just as potential additions to our membership roles, but as “sheep without a shepherd.”

Creating networks of caring, training spiritual directors, offering healing solutions to intractable social problems — these are some of the new ways in which pastoral care in the missional church finds new expression.   One of the primary tasks of churches is to make meaning out of life’s stages and events.  By viewing our communities, and the individuals and families within them, as in need of Christian care, I believe we change the tone and effect of what we are doing.

What do you think?  How has your church, small or large, had opportunity to express care both for individuals and the entire community?  How have you brought about community transformation through “the care of souls?”  I’m really interested in gathering examples of churches doing this because I think it’s the next new awareness of the missional movement.

The Care of Souls as Outreach

My latest interest focuses on exploring pastoral care as outreach.  I talk to lots of small church pastors and leaders, picking their brains for stories of smaller churches doing effective ministry.  More and more I’m hearing stories of people helping people — people caring for people —  as a means of outreach.

Pastoral care, to use the well-worn phrase, has not been in vogue in the past 20-years or so — really since the church growth movement changed the pastor from shepherd to CEO.  (But that’s another story for another post.)

David Augsburger, Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling at Fuller Seminary,  bemoans the neglect of pastoral care in evangelical churches today.  In their new book, Connected, sociologists Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler point out that 12% of Americans have no one in their network with whom they can discuss important matters, or go out with socially.  That in itself should present churches with new opportunities for caring ministry.  But, too often the care of souls, or “the cure of souls” as it was called about 500 years ago, conjures up images of the pastor as pseudo-counselor or chaplain. Hand-holding is not what most pastors aspire to, even if we all have to do some of it on occasion.

But the kind of care I’m talking about isn’t psycho-spiritual navel-gazing.  Nor is it practiced only by pastors.  I’m talking about the kind of care that seeks out those in need and helps them.  And, help isn’t just defined in spiritual or psychological terms.  Help, or care, is that which responds actively — with food, rent, a warm meal, a heartfelt conversation, or a word of encouragement.

Just about every church I’ve written about exhibits some form of caring ministry.  Small churches can do that because caring is about relationships with people; not programs or marketing.  The big kicker is that the unchurched are ahead of us on this one — they think the church ought to do more caring for people in need.

What are your experiences?  Have you used a caring ministry as outreach?  What were your results?  How did caring change both you, and your church?  Let me know because this is a topic I’m going to visit regularly from time to time.