(This was originally posted on March 18, 2020)
"They didn't talk about this in seminary!" How many times have you thought that in your pastoral ministry? While educational institutions did their best to prepare us for ministry, the reality is that there are no classes for much of what we face in ministry. How do we pastor in this coronavirus world?
I want to share four realities for today's pastor in this post. I hope you find it encourage and helpful. Leave some notes in the comments; I would love for the conversation to continue.
1. Correct answers to complex problems do not come quickly.
Most U.S.A. pastors (if any) have never had to think about how to minister to people when we cannot meet together. It's been 102 years since my church has had to respond to banned public gatherings, and I wasn't around then to be part of those planning discussions. Today's circumstances are new and complicated for us.
The information is changing rapidly; therefore, so are our plans. As the days and weeks unfold, we will have a better idea of how to minister to our people. We will find a healthy rhythm and know better how to meet the needs of those we love in our churches. So, for now, we do the best we can. It may take several ideas that do not work too well before we find what is best for our churches. But we must keep trying. So, don't stress out if you don't have a great solution right away.
That leads to the second reality.
2. Insufficient solutions are better than no solutions.
People rarely hit a home run the first time they get up to bat. This is the first time most of us are dealing with not being able to gather together on Sundays. You may not be able to minister in the way you would like right now, but still minister. Maybe you want to do a Livestream and can't because most people in your church do not use a computer. Then do something else. Mail out a letter to your church on Tuesday or Wednesday with a devotional, prayer guide, and a written-out hymn/worship song.
The reality is that even if you can do a Livestream, it still isn't church. People may be listening to a sermon, but they are not experiencing church. By definition, a church is a gathered group. Facebook and YouTube do not capture the essence of biblical fellowship and gathering.
Don’t misunderstand me, my church Livestreams every week. It was something I started when I came to the church in 2013. So, I’m not against Livestreaming. We just need to remember that Livestreaming is an insufficient solution to gathering together. But it is a good option for right now.
We are in a time where most of what we do will feel insufficient. These feelings may be part of God's design for this crisis. We need to value once again what God has sanctioned. Namely, gathering together each week and connecting to fulfill the one-anothers in Scripture.
*See my note at the end of this post if you are looking for simple options for Livestreaming and online giving
Insufficient is better than nothing. So do your best, as inadequate as it is. But do what is best for your church. That leads to the third reality.
3. We do what we can for our church, not what another pastor is doing for their church.
You are probably seeing what other churches are doing right now. Some have great ideas and are executing them flawlessly (or so it seems). Others….. not so much. Your pastoral reality is that God has called you to your church and not the other church in town.
The makeup and needs of your church are different than my church. We are livestreaming and doing Zoom events at my church. The Small Groups are trying to use Skype, Facetime, and Zoom. That may or may not work (still too early to tell) for us. What you are doing for your church may be completely different, and that is ok…just seek to serve the individual people of your church.
We need to learn from and be inspired by each other, but we do not have to imitate each other to be faithful shepherds. We need to stay true to God's calling to be a faithful shepherd. That leads us to our last reality.
4. Biblical priorities do not change even if methodology must change.
What informs the priorities of your church? Acts 2:42 is an excellent model to follow when determining what your church should be devoted to: And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
As our Elder team considered how to adjust to the new reality, we went back to our guiding principles found in Acts 2:42. We looked for alternative methodology to accomplish what we are devoted to at our church.
We strategized how to get the Apostles’ teaching to our church members. Livestream, weekly email, and a mailer for those who have no internet access were our solutions.
What about Fellowship? Zoom Events, Small Group connections, and phone calls to those not in Small Groups were our solutions.
Breaking of Bread. In my opinion, there is no biblically viable solution until we can gather together again. I know there may be disagreement here, and you are welcome to be wrong about it (just kidding…..kind of). :-)
Prayers. We are setting up playlists in Spotify for people to access (remember, worship singing is prayer). We will use the breakout rooms in our Zoom Events to have people pray together, and our Small Groups will be praying together online or over the phone.
None of these are sufficient (see reality #2 above), but they are our attempts to remain faithful to biblical priorities for our church. You don't have to do the same thing but stay committed to your biblical priorities for your church.
In conclusion, we are ministering in a different context right now. Embrace it and be amazed at how God is going to use this for His glory. Understand that it will take time and that we will have to use insufficient means for now. Be free from the tyranny of comparison to other pastors/churches and stay true to the biblical guiding principles for your church.
Above all, do all for the glory of God.
Facebook Live is probably the easiest, fastest, and least expensive way to start live-streaming immediately. You can use your computer or phone. Here is a video that explains how to use Facebook for broadcasting live video.
Our church broadcasts through YouTube, and we use a program called MimoLive to do so. There are a few helpful videos on how to use YouTube. I believe you have to use an external software program (several free options) to broadcast to YouTube. Here is a video that explains the process.