The lockdowns are slowly ending and churches are tentatively re-opening. Of course most are opening during vacation season so have begun with a much-reduced schedule of programming—typically Sunday morning services and not a whole lot else. But summer will soon be past and the busy fall season will be upon us. It’s safe to assume that come August or September, most churches will hope to start up the rest of their programs—youth groups and men’s breakfasts and women’s meetings and potlucks and mid-week prayer and Sunday schools and small groups and young adult fellowships and choir and children’s ministries and senior’s meetings and moms n’ tots and all the rest.
As the pandemic swept across the world, as it shut our schools, closed our workplaces, and shuttered our churches, many of us were left gasping with pain and fear. Would we lose our jobs? Would we lose our homes? Would we be able to make it through? And how would we hope to endure it all while separated from the local church and its means of grace? These have been difficult days for all and agonizing days for some.
But even as we uttered a collective gasp of pain, many also breathed a quiet sigh of relief. Though we were now grappling with a great measure of uncertainty, it came with a commensurate loss of activity. In a moment our lives had been reduced to the bare essentials. Gone was the busyness that seems to creep in on us until it has captured us and enslaved us and forced us to do its will. In the past few months many have told how this has been an unexpected blessing amidst all the trauma. They have been forced to quiet down and slow down. They have gained clarity on just how much they were attempting to do and how unsustainable it was. Perhaps a bit sheepishly, many have admitted that it wasn’t just work, hobbies, and little league that was draining them, but church as well. While all of us immediately missed Sunday morning worship, I don’t think nearly so many missed all those other activities and ministries. At least, not to the same degree.
In the coming weeks a great many churches will be considering the programs and ministries they will offer in the fall season and beginning to spin them back up. And this has gotten me thinking about what we may learn from the pandemic and from the sigh of relief many breathed out over the course of the lockdown. It is my sincere hope we will all think carefully about our church-based commitments before returning to all of them. I said in the early days of the pandemic that it isn’t often we get a do-over in life, but this situation has given us one. Doesn’t it make sense to take it?
So what does that kind of a do-over look like? I have already suggested what it may look like on a personal and family level, but let me also suggest what it may look like for members of a church. (And let’s begin with the assumption that all of us are going to be attending Sunday services and consider that the one great non-negotiable.)
I guess the place to begin is with thinking about what it means to live a purposeful life—to faithfully steward your gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of others and the glory of God. Having done that, it makes sense to think about what it means to be on mission to fulfill that purpose within the local church. How can you faithfully steward all of that for the good of the people you’ve covenanted with? Next, you will need to consider your other areas of responsibility—work, family, friendships, and so on. What else has God made you responsible for and how do you intend to fulfill your God-given mission toward each?
And then comes the great balancing act. You need to determine the best way to do good for others and bring glory to God not just in church, but in every other area of responsibility. And right here I think you may find where you may have gone wrong in the past (until a pandemic enabled you see it). You may have been so busy with church activities that you neglected responsibility toward family. Or you’ve been so busy with learning that you have neglected mentoring. Or you’ve been so busy being equipped that you’ve neglected building relationships and sharing the gospel. Church activities are so objectively good that we are prone to allow them to displace our other responsibilities. But even when busyness comes from the best of motives, it can still be draining and still distract us from other important obligations.
The fact is, as churches re-open their programs, you may need to say no to some good things. Some very good things. But if you are to be productive in all of life, you probably cannot participate in every church program and go out to every ministry. A good principle to integrate into your decision-making is to say a quick no and a slow yes. In other words, as ministries open, as opportunities present themselves, and as invitations flow in, say yes to only a few things, but then fully commit to those few things and do them to the fullest of your abilities. Don’t spread yourself so thin that you’re running hither and yon and giving almost nothing to almost everything. Don’t let yourself fall into the old thinking that the only faithful way, or the most faithful way to serve the Lord, is via church activities, as if more activity equals more faithfulness. Obviously you need to participate in the life of your church and obviously you ought to serve its people. But guard yourself against thinking that quantity of participation is better than quality.
I will close as I closed some earlier reflections on do-overs. In God’s providence, he has taken nearly everything away from us for a time. In God’s sovereignty, he has interrupted so many of our habits, both good and bad. It is too early to be too confident in interpreting what he is up to in all of this, though we can be sure that it is for our good and his glory. But surely it will do us no harm, and in fact do us a world of good, to take the opportunity to carefully ponder how, as we emerge back into local church participation, we can best deploy our gifts, talents, time, energy, and enthusiasm for the good of the members of our church and the glory of the God of the church.