Yeah, I know. Between supervising your kids’ education, and figuring out how to work from home, and washing your hands for the 67th time today, you probably haven’t given much thought to the way this pandemic has affected your ministry responsibilities at the church.
You probably haven’t thought about what you’re not doing at the church these days or the ways that you aren’t serving anymore in the role you committed yourself to in your membership covenant, or the fact that your membership expired right as this whole situation began! (That’s a topic for a different blog post, don’t sweat that now)
But don’t worry, we have been. In fact, your pastors and elders have been thinking about it a lot. Speaking personally, it’s one of the biggest concerns on my mind—how do we keep people engaged with the ministry of the church when no ministry is going on? Church, after all, is a participative community, and while we can all suck it up for a few weeks and take a forced vacation from our ministry duties, as the weeks and (unfortunately) months potentially roll on, we need to discover new ways to engage in the work of the church that are relevant to the place we find ourselves in. That is what this blog is about today.
What is ministry anyway?
The first thing we need to clear up, is the question of what constitutes ministry at the Church? In the past, we have defined ministry as the things one does to further the ends and goals of the worshipping community. That is the way that you helped the organized local body function. Whether that was leading music, or hosting a small group, or serving in one of our hospitality ministries, or working with our kids, or any one of the many other jobs that are important parts of keeping the machine running. What we didn’t often consider ministry is the work that you did outside of the sanctioned activities of the church. Whether that was serving with a community organization, caring for your elderly neighbours, visiting the poor, the sick, or the homeless, or generally preaching the gospel through your life (with intentionality). Those things were always seen as value-added activities, but if we are completely honest, our institutional jealousy for your time and efforts has made us reticent to make too big a deal about the good you have been doing in the world, because it may mean that you don’t serve here (or don’t serve here as much) as a result.
COVID-19 has been a bit of a wake-up call to congregations like ours who have not had as robust of a vision of ministry as we perhaps ought to have. It
has shown our system and structure to be less than it should have been in the first place and has exposed our shortcomings like nothing else has in a very long time. It is a very humbling experience as a pastor to come to realize that so much of what you have invested your time and efforts into has been torn down so quickly and easily by something as small as a virus. This is a confession of sorts that I have not given as much attention as I should have been to the church’s work in the world and that a re-envisioning of ministry is desperately needed if we are to remain a relevant influence in the current and future post-pandemic society.
The cessation of so many of our in-house ministries has given us time to breathe and evaluate many things about the structure of our congregational life. Some things that seemed so essential before, might need to be released and let go of for the good of the mission we have been called to. Somethings that seemed merely ancillary in the past, have been shown to be mission-critical parts of our identity and need to be re-invested in with a renewed energy; and some things are indispensable, but need radical reimagining to keep them relevant going forward. Over the next couple of months, I will be leading the Elders and Staff through a process of discernment over these things, using the paradigms of Release, Reignite, and Revision. But even before that process yields and concrete decisions, there are opportunities before us today to take hold of.
Several of you have been sharing on social media about ministries of tangible care that you have undertaken in your neighbourhood. From dropping off baked goods and home cooking, to doing shopping for elderly or vulnerable neighbours, to checking in on people you normally wouldn’t make the effort with because you know that they are especially isolated. There are many other things that you and others have been doing during this season to show the tangible love of God to our city, but I don’t know about them. We live in a season of immense opportunity to do ministry in the world in a way that has not been done by this church in many years. To (borrowing a phrase from a campaign we tried, mostly unsuccessfully a few years ago) take it outside of the church walls and live the gospel before the watching culture. Friends, if you are doing this right now, you are serving in the ministry of the Church—perhaps not an officially named and sanctioned ministry of The Bridge Church—but of the Church. And if you are doing that, I want to encourage you and say thank you for being Jesus in this world through this crisis.
If you are not yet doing these things, and if you are feeling increasingly disconnected from church life and ministry because you are not doing anything with what you believe (harkening back to the sermon from this past Easter Weekend), then perhaps we can band together to help one another. What I would like from each and every one of you over the next week or so is for you to let us know what your “ministry” is during this COVID-19 season. What are you doing with the time that you would normally be spending in church activities? How are you reaching your loved ones, neighbours, co-workers, and friends with the gospel? Is there a way that the organized local church can come alongside you to help? Is there a need for more people to do what you’re doing? Is there a communications or resource need that would help your ministry flourish? We don’t know everything that you’re doing, but we want to. And we want to be able to share ideas and initiatives. Perhaps there are three other people in the church who are ready and eager to do the same thing you are doing within their own spheres of responsibility and influence and all that is keeping them from doing it is the idea. If you share your ministries with us, we will make sure that they are shared with the whole church, and then, perhaps we can mobilize this body of believers in a way that really makes a difference—and keeps everyone active and involved.
What about things IN the Church?
Well we still have need for volunteers to work with us to produce the material that goes out on a weekly basis. Those of us on staff and in key volunteer leadership positions have had to learn entirely new skillsets on the fly over this past month. We have never had a ministry of video production before, but now we have several people contributing hours every week toward making the services happen. We have never had such an active social media presence before, but now it is consuming many more of Esther’s hours than it did previously. We have never built our music teams for recording (which is very different than live performance) but now we are learning that the needs are different and are redeploying our volunteers accordingly. We have never had to worry about set-design or camera lighting before, but we have had to start learning (usually by getting it wrong first) about what we need and how to do it. In many ways, the jobs that now constitute in-church ministry are fewer, but more specialized than ever before and I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that we still need more help.
We have been pushing our current crop of volunteers pretty hard this past month and we would be very open to other people with specialized skills, or even a basic aptitude and time to learn, to join the team. Much of the work is done in small groups of 10 or less and is done asynchronously and by remote collaboration. There is capacity to bring some more people onto the team, and to learn from expertise that we currently lack. If this sounds at all interesting to you, we want to hear from you as well.
Specifically, we could use volunteers who know things about video and audio recording and production; people with backgrounds in photography and studio lighting.; artistic and crafty people who have ideas and skills related to set design and creating beautiful spaces; people who have graphic design or video editing skills and experience; and perhaps even people that we don’t yet know that we need, but you recognize a need for as you have interacted with us in the past month.
We still fervently believe that The Bridge Church is a place to believe, belong, behave, and become, and as such, we believe that you have a role to play in the ministry of the church. Whether that is the much larger ministry outside of the walls of the church building, or the much more specialized (currently) ministry of serving the congregation at this time. Both approaches are crucial, and we want to help you do the most with whatever opportunities God has given you.
If you are doing something outside the church and want to share it with us, send your ministry details, let us know through one of our social media channels, or by emailing the church office with the details. If you are interested in helping out with our production team during this time of social and physical distancing, then please email Pastor Jenn with how you can be involved. We’re in this together, and we’re in this for Jesus. Let’s make sure we continue to be the church!