Shifts in Ministry

“Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and yoru father’s house to the land that I will show you. …’ So Abram went…” -Gen. 12:1, 4

Other than Jesus, is there any greater example of faith in the Bible than Abram?  The story goes like this: “The Lord said…So Abram went…”  That’s faith.  One of the most remarkable parts of this story is that Abram leaves everything he knows for a land that, in our terms, is TBA.  Abram doesn’t know where he’s going, but he goes anyway.

In a lot of ways, this is the story of faith.  Don’t get me wrong, we know the ending of the story: Christ will come again in final victory.  God’s home will be among mortals.  There will be a new heaven and a new earth.

Even though we know the end of the story, though, that doesn’t mean we can predict the end of every chapter.  What will happen with grandma?  How will this school year go?  Will the job come through?  Can we keep this relationship together?

In each of these, we often step forward in faith, trusting the Lord will lead us into and through the uncharted territory we’ve found ourselves in.

New Normal

And, wow, are we in uncharted territory now.  At one point when we thought we were in the middle of the pandemic—you know, months ago—I shared in plenty of conversations about a “new normal,” about how this experience is redefining what will be normal going forward.  That some things will return to something that at least looks familiar, but other things that have changed will stay changed.

For a little while I imagined that from the perspective of church and ministry, we were sort of doing place-holder ministry.  We were keeping things going, stretching ourselves, responding to the moment, but that soon enough we’d be able to pick back up where we left off.  I spent a good bit of time sifting through CDC and health department guidance, interpreting Conference guidelines.  I was trying to get everyone safely back to the building.

A few weeks ago, the Lord pressed on my heart that I was asking the wrong questions.  And that I needed to redirect my focus.  Hear me out.  I’m not masking my personal desires with pious God-talk.  God said, “You’re asking the wrong questions.”

What we’re doing now is not place-holder ministry.  It is ministry.

Now, don’t get me wrong, we’re going to get back to the things we know.  One day, we’ll be back in the sanctuary.  One day, we’ll get to shake hands and hug.  One day, we’ll be belting out hymns.  But in the meantime, the word from the Lord is to “Go to a land that I will show you.”

What we’re doing now is not place-holder ministry.  It is ministry.  We are not biding our time or jogging in place waiting for the safe-crossing light to come on.  We are moving forward in faith.  To do that means we need to make some shifts in ministry.

6 Shifts

From In Church to At Home.  This has to do with worship and faith formation.  This is a shift from being gathered around the Lord’s Table to gathered around a coffee table.  When it comes to worship, how can you prepare, participate, and respond in worship?  Can another person or family join you, while maintaining safe distance—indoors or out?

For faith formation, when it comes to families with children, this is a shift from volunteers teaching kids, to the church empowering parents.  How can the church provide parents with resources, content, and connection as they take on the primary role of raising their kids in the faith?

From Gathered to Connected.  While we are not together in the flesh, maintaining connections with one another is perhaps more important now than ever.  What once happened casually when we all showed up in the same place at the same time, now requires more effort.

From Doing Missions to Being Good Neighbors.  Because of the pandemic our world has all of the sudden gotten smaller.  We feel this in a real way when our travel is reduced to the grocery store and work.  For the church that means we aren’t able to be involved in missions in the way we would like to be.  But what if when Jesus taught us to love our neighbors, he had in mind the people who lived next door.  You know, our neighbors?  How can we take responsibility for those closest to us—to encourage, call, serve them?

From Isolated to Interconnected.  While in some ways our world has gotten smaller, at the same time, the world has gotten bigger.  Maybe it’s all the news watching and Facebook scrolling, but we can’t help but be affected by movements happening outside of our community.  Like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  A highly contagious virus has been a tragic illustration of how we are all connected, even when we think we’re not.  We are learning that we are, in fact, our brother and sister’s keeper.

From Doing to Being.  Formerly it was easy to be defined by what we do.  I am an athlete.  I am an usher.  I sit here.  This is how I serve.  But when we aren’t able to “do” like usual, who are we?  Our faith teaches us that our identity comes from our relationship with God.  We are God’s children.  This is a time to lean into that relationship.  That may mean more stillness, or study, or silence.  None of which is wasted.  In his book Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson remembers his grandmother saying, “When you lean in close, you can’t help but be changed.”

Shift in Metrics.  We used to look at numbers like average weekly attendance and giving to determine how we’re doing.  Those old metrics were never the best indicators of how we’re doing.  And now we’re having to discover an entirely new way of answering the question, how do we know that we’re doing what we need to be doing, and doing it well?

Some of these shifts are not novel.  And some of them are more obvious than others.  How we flesh each one out is important for how we share in ministry right now.

What will stick, and what won’t is hard to tell.  But think about it like this: We’ve gotten used to having a Temple, but we’ve got to remember what it means to travel light with the tabernacle.

Destination TBD

Abram had no idea what was ahead of him.  But he knew God was with him.  So he went, journeying on by stages, the story says.  Knowing God was with him was all he needed to have enough faith to leave behind the things that were familiar.

Let’s go together, journeying on by stages.  It’s hard to know what’s ahead of us.  But God is with us.  And that’s more than enough.


*I expect to keep fleshing each of these out, at least for my own sake and also on here.  I wonder…what “shifts” are you seeing take place in your life, the church, faith, your work?