By Josh King
If you’re stumbling through ministry life like you were just punched in the gut, you’re not alone. And if you’re trying to breathe and see as clearly as possible through watering eyes, welcome to the club.
I can’t imagine any church leader would say that ministry in early April 2020 is the same as it was in April 2019.
Now that the smoke has cleared a little, ministries have developed rhythms and patterns they’re leading with. Like you, I’ve learned some things about ministering in our new, hopefully temporary, normal.
Here are a few of the necessary ministry shifts my church has made in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
1. Connection is more balanced with content.
Before, most of our work was done in the area of content. We would work hard to offer quality Bible studies, retreats, and weekly sermons.
Now we’re compelled to reconsider the important role of person-to-person connection. In the past this was assumed.
People gather for the worship service or small groups and there they connect. It was the conduit we used to deliver content.
Now that conduit is missing. We have to help them form new habits or use new mediums in order to connect to one another. Many churches have moved their small groups to Zoom meetings, which is a great idea.
Our student pastor, Nathan McDivitt, has built daily Instagram activities that are primarily about the students connecting to one another. Not only do I think this is a smart approach, it’s highly effective.
For most of my ministry I felt like events or gatherings that were only about community—and not biblical content—were a waste of time. I now see community as the necessary focus of much of what we do.
You’ll soon find your church fray at the edges and maybe even evaporate away if you don’t facilitate, develop, and maintain meaningful human-to-human connections.
2. Efficiency trumps ritual.
In any organization as old and vast as the Church there will always be some excess waste and inefficiency.
However, where we find ourselves now, we don’t have the luxury of continuing to allow that to happen. We’ve determined to be faithful stewards of what Christ has entrusted to us as local church pastors and ministers.
One example of is our time in developing sermons or lessons. For nearly 20 years now I’ve developed a weekly rhythm that begins with a text on Monday afternoon and ends with a sermon (mostly from memory) on Sunday morning.
Now, with pre-recordings being done on Wednesday afternoon I have to smash all of that preparation time into nearly half the hours and minutes. This has forced me to be a better steward of my time.
It also seems nearly all churches have looked at their yearly budgets and made decisions on what can stay and what needs to go.
Even missions support is being evaluated, not whether or not it should be given (it absolutely should), but to whom and when in order to maximize the dollars that make it to the field.
3. Strategy has overwhelmed style.
Much of what has been done for years is simply a matter of preference. Pastors dress a certain way, use a certain pulpit, lead certain weekly lessons, and speak into certain settings.
All of that was acceptable and sometimes even effective. However, now the style is not nearly as important as strategy.
We’re forced to ask why we’re spending time and energy in a direction. If the answer is merely tradition, it’s often found lacking.
Standing behind a large wooden pulpit and demonstratively declaring the Word of God doesn’t translate through online mediums how we might want.
If everyone is participating in the Sunday morning online worship service in casual attire it may feel unnatural to be in a suit and tie.
None of this is wrong, but for the sake of effectiveness we need to ask why. Churches that ignored strategy for years, choosing to continue doing what has always been done, are struggling now to pivot the way we’ve been forced to do.
It’s past time, but nonetheless a good time, to evaluate if the efforts the church is involved in are the most strategic uses of the resources we have. If they aren’t, now may be a strategic time to dismiss them.
4. Relationships have taken the place of regions.
In my ecclesiological tribe, we’re divided into regions. States and countries serve in most cases as the demarcation for cooperative relationships. Those relationships are largely facilitated by meetings.
Now, we’re online. There are no states or counties on the internet. Where many of my weekly conversations with other ministers were those who are serving near me, they’re now those who are serving like me.
I’m in an almost constant conversation with peers about the struggles and victories of the week, and none of them are local or even in my state. I’m beginning to see these cross-regional connections as necessary.
I would never want to dismiss the closer-in-proximity relationships, but for the current season I’m being enriched and motivated by those who have a similar philosophy, context, and goal.
Ministry has changed quickly over the past several weeks, and I’m confident there will be more changes around the corner.
But I’m also convinced the church leaders who focus on connections, efficiency, strategy, and relationships will not only weather the storm; they’ll come out on the other end poised to tackle challenges that lie ahead.
JOSH KING (@JoWiKi) is the pastor of Second Baptist Church in Conway, Arkansas, husband of Jacki, and father of three boys. He’s also the co-host of the EST.church podcast.