Category: Missional Church

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?

 

Podcast: The Unknown God

800px-Areopagus6

Last Sunday I preached from Acts 17:22-31, which is the story of Paul’s visit to Athens and his sermon at the Areopagus. In many ways, just as Paul faced a different world in Athens, we are living in a different world than the Church has ever encountered before. Paul adapted his approach and message to meet the Athenian philosophers and pundits where they were, but he effectively communicated the Gospel as well. Here’s the audio from last Sunday:

Why We Still Need (Some) Monocultural Churches

Immigrant-children-ellis-island
Immigrant children at Ellis Island. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Multicultural churches are all the rage these days. Conferences are packed with pastors learning how to start multicultural churches, or how to turn the churches they pastor into one. That long-overdue trend is welcomed because God is the God of diversity. In light of God’s call to reconciliation, churches ought to reflect the diversity of their neighborhoods.

But, we still need monocultural churches, particularly among newly-arrived immigrant populations. Here are six reasons why.

1. Monocultural churches can provide a safe haven for minorities within a dominant majority culture. After the Civil War ended in 1865, emancipated African Americans left their former white masters’ churches to form black congregations. The rich history of the American black church is one not only of worship, but as the hub of the African American community. For minority populations, especially newly-arrived immigrant populations, monocultural churches can provide this same safe haven today.

2. Monocultural churches allow for minority perspectives to develop and be heard. On a national scale, American Christianity was shocked into reality with the publication of Dr. Soong-Chan Rah’s book, The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity. The subtitle should have been Freeing the Church from White Cultural Captivity, because Professor Rah writes compellingly of the “white captivity of the church.” Dr. Rah’s advocacy for other voices — voices of minorities — to be heard and respected could be realized if white churches and leaders recognize and listen to the voices from Korean, Laotian, West African, African American, and other churches whose members are in the minority in American cultural life.

3. Monocultural churches can provide a connection to home, customs, language, ritual and power structures that generations of immigrants wish to retain. The myth of the American melting pot has been debunked as Americans of all ethnicities have attempted to connect with their ancestral roots. For those in the minority, the identity fostered by language, dress, ritual, and customs is difficult to retain, but important to remember.

4. Monocultural churches can become points of transition, assisting newcomers to America as they navigate their new culture. When I traveled in China, I was always interested in talking to Americans who had lived and worked in China to find out what restaurants they frequented, where they shopped, and how they learned the Chinese language. The same need exists in new immigrants to this country. Those from their own countries can help new immigrants negotiate the meaning and pace of American life.

5. Monocultural churches help resist the marginalization of minority groups. The danger any minority faces is not only being assimilated into their new culture, but being absorbed and marginalized by it. Monocultural churches, like the black church, have given rise to a unique expression of the Christian faith, and established a unique place for its people in American church life. White churches and denominations must reject outreach to minority populations because they are the answer to white church or denominational decline.

6. Finally, monocultural churches do not confirm the notorious church growth teaching called the “homogeneous unit principle.” Church growth studies advocated that because people (usually white) found it easier to be with people like them, it followed that homogeneous churches would grow more quickly and easily. However, monocultural churches are not excluders, but incubators that allow potentially fragile populations to establish themselves, grow, develop a unique witness, and thrive in the rich diversity of American church life.

Of course, none of these reasons is intended to sanction prejudice, discrimination, or exclusion in any church. In the Book of Acts, the church in Jerusalem cared for its Jewish widows and its Greek widows as well.

However, before you jump on the bandwagon of exclusive multiculturalism, remember that historically monocultural churches like German Lutherans, English Baptists, Scottish Presbyterian, British Anglican, and others established themselves in colonial America. These monocultural churches became incubators for those who came to these shores seeking freedom, which included the freedom to add their past to a new American future.

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.

My Dissertation Arrives

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Two bound copies of my dissertation arrived today. The title is The Reconciling Community: The Missional Mending of Spiritual and Social Relationships Through Local Church Ministry.

I lived with writing this for almost two years, so it is very gratifying to see it done, bound, and approved. Still waiting for my DMin degree to be posted and for my diploma to arrive.

The next project is converting the academic research into a more accessible form for publication. Two years to publication probably. Sisyphus redux.

The Pastor as Artisan

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Over the centuries of church history, various metaphors have been used to describe the role of God’s chosen leaders. Some metaphors have lodged permanently in our collective consciousness, while others have not passed the test of time. I suggest that there is one more metaphor for the pastor’s role that might be a welcome addition to the others — the pastor as artisan.

Perhaps the oldest metaphor used to describe the pastoral leader is that of shepherd. The second metaphor used in the New Testament for church leaders is overseer. Both of those metaphors are enduring and widely used today.

Another metaphor that emerged in the early centuries of the church was that of pastor as the “physician of souls.” Sin was viewed as a disease and pastoral care was seen as the “cure of souls” with the priest as the administrator of that cure.

As the church growth movement took root in the 1980s, the popular metaphor of pastor as CEO was drawn from the corporate world. Successful churches, church growth advocates argued, concentrated authority in the pastor as CEO because this was the most effective means toward church growth. However, in retrospect the metaphor of pastor as CEO and the church growth movement have both proven to be inadequate for the complex task of shaping and leading twenty-first century congregations.

Of course, there are other pastoral metaphors in use as well. The popular triad of pastor as prophet, priest, and poet brings together several facets of pastoral ministry. From the sports world, the idea of the pastor as coach plays off popular sports imagery with the pastor as team strategist, and church staff and members as team players who execute the game plan.

To this wide-ranging mix of metaphors I would add one more — the pastor as artisan. At their height in the middle ages, artisans were skilled master craftsmen who produced goods that were beautiful and functional. These artisans included goldsmiths, blacksmiths, wheelwrights, weavers, tailors, shoemakers, hatters, tinsmiths, carpenters, potters, stonemasons, and so on. Master artisans took apprentices and trained them to become master craftsmen after apprenticeships lasting seven or more years. Artisans organized themselves into guilds which set standards and ensured that their particular skill and craft would endure.

There are six reasons I believe the artisan is an appropriate metaphor for pastors and their work.

1. Artisans focused on one product. They learned one trade which required them to learn how to select raw materials and how to craft those raw materials into a unique, finished product. Artisans lived in the vertical silo of their own trade. Silversmiths did not work in leather, cobblers did not make barrels, and carpenters did not branch out into stone work.

2. Artisans trained apprentices to continue their craft. Skills, insights, and trade secrets were passed from master artisan to his apprentices carefully. This hands-on training and mentoring assured the continuation of the traditions of each craft, but also allowed for advances and improvements as new tools and techniques were developed. Artisans brought on new trainees each year, assuring their workshops a continuing supply of understudies at different stages of learning.

3. Artisans were successful when their workshops produced both quality products and skilled apprentices. An artisan without an apprentice limited his future and the future of the trade in which he was engaged. Successful master artisans realized that their survival meant not only producing goods today, but continuing the trade for generations through the lives of apprentices they trained.

4. Artisans maintained important traditions while incorporating best practices as they became available. The purpose of the apprentice system was to pass on the skills and trade secrets developed over decades of skilled work techniques. These traditions became marks of pride, honor, and identification for each artisan guild. Guilds guaranteed that standards were followed, while also vetting newer practices. This process assured that the entire guild would continue to be well-thought of, and its products would be valued and purchased.

5. Artisans depended on other artisans for products they did not produce. The carriage maker, for instance, depended on the wheelwright for wheels. The wheelwright, in turn, depended on the blacksmith for the iron bands wrapped around the wooden wheel. Because artisans specialized, they depended on and supported each other’s work and products.

6. Artisans were themselves master craftsmen. While this might seem self-evident, they knew what it was like to be a novice, and then to progress to the more complex skills as their knowledge and craftsmanship developed. Master artisans knew the frustrations of apprenticeship, learned to endure the seven or more years their apprenticeship covered, and valued their training as they set up their own workshops as master artisans. There was no shortcut to becoming a master craftsman, and no absentee ownership of a skilled craft workshop. Artisans were hands-on masters, trained to train others while producing their own quality products.

In summary, the pastor as artisan is an apt metaphor and here’s why.

 Like artisans, pastors…

1. Focus on one product — proclaiming and practicing the good news of Jesus Christ.

2. Train others to do what they do, thereby ensuring continuity of Christian witness now and in the future.

3. Are most successful when they not only produce effective ministry results, but when they also work closely with others to do the same.

4. Value age-old traditions, such as doctrinal orthodoxy, while incorporating new expressions of the faith into their practice.

5. Depend on others, as members of the body of Christ, to provide those gifts they do not possess in order to function faithfully as the Church.

6. Have learned important lessons from skilled leaders who have gone before them, and have incorporated those lessons into their own mature practice of ministry.

Viewing pastors and other church leaders as artisans helps us to take a long-term approach to ministry. Apprenticeships that lasted seven years required patience, consistency, and perseverance from both master artisan and apprentice. However, by taking the long view , artisans created beautiful products and an enduring legacy. Pastors could learn from their example.

The Possibility of Church-led Reconciliation

Almost fifty years ago, a Baptist minister stood before a sea of hopeful people in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial to share the dream God had given him. On that day the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”[1]

Regrettably, Dr. King’s dream remains unrealized in many communities across America. Rather than diminishing with the gains of the civil rights movement, alienation and inequality between races and classes is more prevalent in American society today than it was in 1975.[2] Black and white, rich and poor, educated and unskilled – these represent some of the groups at odds in today’s American communities.

Martin Luther King Jr. recognized that churches have a role to play[3] in tearing down barriers and in building bridges to that vision he called “the beloved community.”

“The end is reconciliation, the end is redemption, the end is the creation of the beloved community,” according to King. In the beloved community persons and groups are reconciled to one another by God’s “divine love in lived social relation.”[4]

The Apostle Paul affirmed the church’s mission as one of reconciliation. “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:18 NIV). While many churches understand reconciliation primarily as a “private affair between God and the individual,”[5] less emphasis has been placed on reconciliation between persons and groups within local communities.[6]

Reconciliation, according to the Ubuntu theology[7] of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, is “bringing together that which is separated, alienated, ruptured, sick, or broken.”[8] Reconciliation, Tutu argues, is the ministry of the Church and the “center of our life and work as Christians.”[9]

In communities throughout the United States, there is much that needs to be reconciled. In my state, Virginia’s history boasts both the grand and glorious, and the dark and ignominious. From the colonial era through the Civil War, Virginia’s slave trade was robust. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” – words penned by Virginian Thomas Jefferson – did not apply to Africans brought in chains involuntarily to the South.[10] The lingering effects of slavery, and the living descendants of slaves and slave-owners, make it impossible for those in our community to escape easily the injustices of the past.

Reconciliation has also been defined as “a journey from the past into the future, a journey from estrangement to communion, or from what was patently unjust in search of a future that is just.”[11] Given Virginia’s colonial history, its role in the Civil War, and its resistance to desegregation, reconciliation must revisit the past with honesty, and then forge a new way forward.

In December 2005, our small, historic white congregation opened its doors to host a Boys and Girls Club, the first after-school club in our county. As a result of that decision dozens of children, black and white, descended on the church fellowship hall each weekday afternoon. This was the church’s first experience hosting a racially-integrated program.

Because of the church’s involvement with the Boys and Girls Club, Chatham Baptist Church was asked to host the 2008 Martin Luther King Day celebration in Chatham. At the conclusion of the program that day, the African American pastor who moderated the meeting asked everyone in the congregation to stand, join hands, and sing “We Shall Overcome.” Before we began to sing, he looked at me as I stood at the front of the sanctuary. He said, “Pastor, people notice what you’re doing here.” His words of encouragement confirmed what I had hoped for: reconciliation was possible in our community.

Some might argue that the alienation brought about by slavery, Jim Crow laws, and segregation is a forgotten chapter in a long dead past. Douglas Massey, however, argues against that notion:

‘History aside, there are also good social scientific reasons to expect that categorical mechanisms of racial stratification will prove resistant to change. We know, for example, that once learned, cognitive structures do not simply disappear. Racial schemas honed over generations tend to persist in the minds of adults and get passed on to children in conscious and unconscious ways.”[12]

The story that is passed on to the children of any community is important. For too long the children of our nation in both the South and the North have been bequeathed the cultural legacy of prejudice and privilege, or difference and discrimination. For that to change, churches like mine must imagine and bequeath a new legacy through a ministry of reconciliation. That would be a new story for this community, and one worth passing on to future generations everywhere.


[1] Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have A Dream: Writings and Speeches That Changed The World, 104.

[2] Douglas S. Massey, Categorically Unequal: The American Stratification System, xvi.

[3] King, I Have a Dream, 95-98.

[4] Charles Marsh, The Beloved Community: How Faith Shapes Social Justice, from the Civil Rights Movement to Today, 1-2.

[5] John W. de Gruchy, Reconciliation: Restoring Justice, 34.

[6] Ibid., 19.

[7] Michael Battle, Reconciliation: The Ubuntu Theology of Desmond Tutu, 5.

[8] Ibid.,180.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Putnam, American Grace, Location 588.

[11] de Gruchy, Reconciliation, 28.

[12] Massey, Categorically Unequal, 52.