After COVID-19 #StayHome: Part C Important Questions to Ask in this New Era

Michael Scott Johnson 

Spring 2020

In part A of this blog, with the help of a few other articles, I explored the effect this war against COVID-19 may have for:

  • Church ministry this summer (May-July/August, 2020)
  • Church ministry this fall and well into 2021 (though this view is grimmer than any of us hope).
  • Public health and social interaction past 2021 for years.

What will the new era of discipleship and ministry will look like as the world recovers/changes post-Covid-19? In part B of this post, I asked lots of questions to ponder and asked for some responses from you, our readers.

Here may be some important issues to address in ministry in this new coming era.

  • Some may find the rhythms of their life thrown off and it difficult to get into previous rhythms or adapted rhythms. They may find themselves undependable for participating in face-to-face activities that demand they be at a certain place, at a certain time, attentive and dressed presentably. Online worship SHOULD stay a part of what churches offer!
  • Some may give up on living their life for someone else’s schedule, while realizing relationships are still important for discipleship. This may be one more reason why asynchronous (asynchronous means not at the same time) spiritual growth will be important for churches to investigate.
  • Studies show that in the average church 20-25% of the people are dissatisfied with the role the church is playing in their spiritual growth. I have heard from some of these people, that they have discovered in this #StayHome period the ability to pick and choose what to interact with online. They may listen to some of the music from their home church and the preaching from another. The dissatisfied may now check out more quickly. As church leaders, getting past our egos about will be important. While we want our church people to stay “our” church people, the church is God’s and if God’s people grow closer to God by participating in one worship set and then a different sermon, might that be okay?
  • Empty Nesters have now discovered when they are at their lake house or hill country home or out of town visiting the kids for several weekends in a row, they do not have to check out of their home church. If much is provided also online, they can feel a part of it. Some churches did that in the past, but at times it was not uploaded till the next day or two. The moment of normal worship time is the time slot when people need to be able to access the worship event, even if they are physically elsewhere, in order to stay connected. This is an opportunity to further unify your congregation in a world on the go.
  • Parents of small children often report it hard to be in a small group. I have heard some reporting during the last weeks, groups that Zoom together after the kids are in bed, without parents having to drive to a location (and of course one being left home for safety), might allow them to be involved in a meaningful small group, even with the demands of parenting young ones. Possibly 80% of their group meetings are virtual, gathering face-to-face only periodically. Participating in online small groups could be the norm for some!
  • Pastors and church staff and volunteers have had to work much longer hours to learn new  online ways to engage people. A case in point: my wife volunteers singing back-up on a worship team. They have started to produce songs for the congregation online that the musicians record their part in their homes and then gets mixed into a visual collage (a feat that takes hours of work to complete well), in the style of the Brady Bunch opening. The result was received so well that now they are planning on doing more. My wife finds that recording songs that way, just her part, takes more hours than the four she usually volunteers each week practicing and singing in the worship band. Churches may need to consider spreading out the work over more people and more time.
  • Church staff report working very long hours weeks on end during this time of adjusting ministry to online. One of the hazards of career ministry is the blurring of the lines between career ministry time and personal/family time. Now, with working from home, those lines have become even more blurred. I have heard of higher than normal amounts of pastors leaving the ministry or their church after the energy let down after a crisis like a hurricane. What will the church do about exhausted staff, at a time when planned summer vacations have likely been canceled? What will your church do to provide replenishment for your pastor(s) and church staff?
  • Worship and technology people in churches are working harder than ever. When we get back to gathering, churches will need to take extra care that these people don’t have added work. Hiring additional help even now may be needed.

Whether you are gladdened or saddened, it is highly unlikely life and ministry will return to the old normal. Some talk about a new-normal. What if the new normal is not a consistent normal at all. What if it is that so much of what we counted on for ministry no longer works for many people? Will you drop your old tools and pick up new ones as are necessary, or even invent new ones? Adaptation is hard. Having the resources for adaptation and through adaptation is hard. But if it is our new reality, we must deal with it. And we must find new ways to fulfill Christ’s commission to “make disciples” in whatever new era we find ourselves.

If you would like to talk more about these issues as we all move into a very uncertain future, even though we can trust that God is certain, we at Ascending Leaders welcome the conversations. We need each other at these times.

Leave your comments and ideas below. We don’t all have to agree, but God calls us to learn from each other. Let’s help each other with this!

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See part A

See part B

After COVID-19 #StayHome: Part B How this Experience May Change Our Future

Michael Scott Johnson 

Spring 2020

In part A ​of this blog, with the help of a few other articles, I explored the effect this war against COVID-19 may have for:

Church ministry this summer (May-July/August, 2020)

Church ministry this fall and well into 2021 (though this view is more grim than any of us hope).

Public health and social interaction past 2021 for years.

Let us now explore some of the potential long term changes to the face of ministry.

I was born in 1963, in the middle of a significant era change. Think of the differences in just one decade between 1957 when my oldest brother was born and 1968, when I turned 6 years old. 1957 was a relatively innocent era with the inauguration of Eisenhower’s second term as president. Sending the national troops to Little Rock to protect citizens during de-segregation as seen on black and white televisions seemed so far away from ordinary life of most U.S. citizens. Alaska and Hawaii were not yet states.  The U.S. had not yet put any satellite into space. By 1958, people had seen a young John F. Kennedy elected as President and assassinated in 1963. They saw Martin Luther King Jr. lead the Civil-Rights March on Washington in 1963 and be assassinated in 1968. In this decade the Civil Rights Act was signed, John Glen circled the earth, the U.S. was on a quest to get to the moon, US troops began fighting on the ground in Vietnam, anti-war protests filled television sets and Senator Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. 1963 marked the shift from an era of seeming tranquility (though built on harsh realities), to an era of upheaval and rapid societal change.

Likewise 2020 may be a key marker of a new era, marked by what we do not yet know. Just imagine the isolation that would have been the case if this COVID-19 crisis had happened just a decade ago without high-speed internet and the affordably of live streaming worship available to most all churches.

Just like 1968 demanded a new way of engaging compared to 1958, 2021 is surely going to demand a far different way of engaging and doing ministry than 2019! Matt Lake, pastor of a church in Willamsport, PA, recently shared in a podcast an apt illustration from the 1949 Man Gulch Fire in Montana. Several “smokejumper” firefighters of the US Forest Service were fighting the fire, when the fire unexpectedly jumped a gulch and burned toward them. They were ordered to abandon their tools and flee. Most of the firefighters could not bring themselves to lose their tools, but rather tried to run to safety with their weighty tools on their backs. The fire overran them, and 13 of them were killed. This story may provide an analogy for our current circumstances. If we don’t abandon our old tools for ministry if they are no longer effective or needed — primarily programs and ways of doing church — we’ll be overrun, and our ministry will be burned. Most churches have pivoted well during COVID-19 #StayHome finding various ways to do worship while social distancing. Yet many are still using our legacy tools, just in a different format– streaming worship with the “pros” providing the content, for the rest of us to passively watch and receive. Too often, whether it is worship or small groups, we have simply changed the platform (laptops with cameras, speakers and microphones, using video services on the internet in place of a physical room) but tried to stay as much as possible with our previously planned programming. But will this new era demand of us actually to drop and leave behind our old tried and true tools of programs?

What ministry changes will be a necessary part of the next era? This Covid-19 #StayHome experience has given people new experiences, some for the better and some for the worse that may keenly impact the next era of life and ministry.

I have been asking people what the new era of discipleship and ministry will look like. I have been hearing various answers. There are MANY questions that I will pose in this post (Be sure to read the next post for some additional ideas and possible SOLUTIONS).

  • On Facebook Live people seem to have loved being able to see peoples’ emotional reactions and comments during moving worship or sermons. This is something very good that would be good for churches to keep even when people are once again worshiping together in an auditorium. Might it become a common practice for people to text comments that immediately project on the big screen or in some other ways be able to interact together during a worship time? Might it profit churches to have someone with the skills and experience to interact online with people about the worship they are experiencing?
  • I was part of one Zoom service of one small church. Some spouses who seldom or never come to worship in the building were sitting there with their spouse. Even if people come to physical worship, how could you continue this positive of including spouses virtually?
  • People may have realized that church life does not have to be all sit and listen. How can churches use technology in the future to give people more opportunity to interact with the content being delivered, even at the time it is being delivered?
  • From my experience teaching masters classes virtually, I learned the difference between synchronous and asynchronous virtual learning. Synchronous is when all parties are online at the same time. Asynchronous involves content provided online via a video to watch or an article to read and then students interact by answering questions or interacting with comments (much like Facebook comments, but with more thought and care put into responses). It is called asynchronous because students can do it on their own time, any hour of the day they choose. It does not mean self-learning, for the teacher is interacting with the students in writing often in a week. It is a highly effective means for people to engage content. How can churches provide more asynchronous spiritual growth for people, especially people who may not be able to be online or at a location at a particular time?
  • One pastor shared with us that when he has asked in the past in a smaller worship service for people to provide prayer requests at that moment–very few volunteer to do so. But when he did so on a Zoom call the first week of stay-at-home, he got a flood of interaction. Has it been your experience that some introverts express themselves emotionally better in writing or virtually than they do in person? This provides some who need it, the time to process before they respond. How can you keep open environments that allow people to more freely and fully express their own reflections, even introverts or those who need more time to process?
  • Some churches have provided daily devotionals by staff on Facebook live or some other way. I hear people saying they greatly appreciate that. Early this morning, for my own time with God, I pulled up one a pastor friend had posted on Facebook live for his congregation. What happens when once again the church staff have more face-to-face programming to pull off? Are they going to do that and online daily devotions, adding even more to their workload? What will be lost for people’s spiritual growth if they go back to programming only for in-person ministry?
  • Medium sized churches especially have had to shift the workload of staff, to allow those with some tech skills to work out the changes of ramping up for online ministry. What will your church do as you expect those staff to go back to previous responsibilities, but you still to provide online ministry?
  • As the fight against COVID 19 shifts into the next phase, what is likely to surface is the number of people who fell into old addictions of overeating, or alcohol, or porn or lashing out at others out of their anxiety. Many hit a spiritual wall and rather than finding God present with them, succumbed to self-defeating behavior. Will you be prepared to help these people? Possibly this is the time to start some small groups around recovery, mental health or healthy grieving.
  • While some are feeling intense cabin fever, others are feeling a deep sense of wellness to not have their life dictated by demands and social pressures to be here or there. Some have now seen the rat race for the folly it is. How will people respond when the social pressure returns to get out? Will they have the courage to say “no” in order to keep margin in their lives? Will they not let themselves get guilted into activity or go out of the fear of missing out? How will the church engage their spiritual growth if they are more discerning about what events they attend?
  • I have noticed that when Zooming, people tend not to have the side conversations that can happen in in-person small groups. Zoom is an environment where people need to listen to another speak. How can we use this in the future to encourage people to listen better?
  • Heather Jallad, Pastor of Community Engagement of a church in Jones Creek, GA, recently observed that it may be that some of the things people have had to do without during this pandemic are things they do not really need. Might this experience cause churches to realize some things they were putting time into, were not that important, tools that could be dropped, in order to free up time for tools that are more necessary in this new era?
  • Because of several of the points above, some may respond better to virtual experiences provided at the same time as in-person experiences. It is extremely difficult in terms of tech to provide both an engaging in-person experience and engaging virtual experience at the same time. What will the answer be?

SO many questions! I want to hear your ideas and may share some on my next post. Please post your comments here or email me at

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After COVID-19 #StayHome: What Comes Next for Church Ministry?

After COVID-19 #StayHome:

What Comes Next for Church Ministry?

Michael Scott Johnson

Spring 2020


Like many of you, I lived through 9/11 (2001) and the dramatic changes that brought. My family and I also lived through tropical storms and Hurricanes like Allison, Rita, Ike, and Harvey. The first few times, some things changed, but when Harvey hit, every single person in our community was affected. Our daughter and her husband were flooded. The streets in our neighborhood were flooded, blocking us in our house for 7 days. The helicopters flying over to pull people from their homes did not make us feel more secure. There was no church worship services for one Sunday, and then we could worship together again. On that Sunday you could feel the deep sense of energy– people needed to be together and support each other. It took our family six months to help our daughter and her husband finish the rehab of their home. For a few years, every time it rained hard, some felt a bit panicky (a mild case of PTSD?).

During the current COVID-19 calamity the lapse of time we have not worshiped together in person is for a much longer period than any before. Churches have adapted for online ministry and worship. We are past Easter and ready to hug each other’s necks. But coming out of this Covid-19 is most likely going to be much different than anything any of us have experienced before. Church leaders need to be preparing now for what it might be like to come back together. On Saturday, April 18, Ken Brady shared some thoughts that church leaders should pay attention to in preparation for May-June and even possibly into July and August of 2020.

What if the initial green light in your state is not for groups of 100, but rather of 10 or 20 or 50? Will we be prepared then to have worship in small groups. One church I know of has already structured their worship using a Powerpoint (using Google’s Share Point) with embedded videos for announcements and the sermon and Youtube links for worship songs that groups can play together, then pray together and read Scripture together, following a liturgy that is in the Powerpoint. They have been using this already with shelter-at-home with small groups meeting together using the virtual meeting platform of their choice (Zoom, Google Chat, Skype, Go to Meeting, etc.)

But then we will get back to normal again in the fall, correct? A friend and Discipleship Coach of Ascending Leaders, Bob Johnson, not only has decades of experience as a pastor, but before that, training and experience as an engineer. He loves research and has been comparing this virus crisis to the one of 100 years ago—the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918. Bob pointed out to me that the Mayor of Denver decided to lift restrictions on Armistice Day, November 11, 1918. About two weeks later, new cases of the flu and deaths skyrocketed and Denver’s leaders were forced to enact social distancing a second time. Bob calls this “the 2-humped camel” from the shape of their “cases over time” graph. Many say that we will experience something similar this year as we begin to reopen public life. And no one knows what the fall flu season will bring in terms of COVID-19. Churches may experience unexpected rolling stay-at-home orders as hot spots pop up.

On March 20 Andy Crouch, Kurt Keilhacker, and Dave Blanchard wrote an insightful piece that may point to what the fall and 2021 may look like. They call it a “Little Ice Age” of 18 months or more–Brrrr.

This is all just talking about the virus and its effects on our movements and ability to congregate. What about jobs and human economic flourishing? The economy has taken a hard hit. Jobs have been lost. Wages have been lost. Some businesses that cannot effectively move online are in jeopardy of closing or needing months and even years to recover. The almost three months of loans that the CARES Act is providing will not be long enough for many small businesses, if we do have an economic “little ice age.” What will this do to the economics of the ministry of churches?

So it may be as much as 12-18 months and then we can go back to normal for ministry? Not so fast. How will people’s experiences in this large crisis affect their future behavior? Might pandemics every few years of a new virus with different frustrating qualities be our new normal? How will life be different in new era of life?

Several years ago my doctor recommended in order to get sick less often after I return from travel, I begin always wiping the armrest, seatbelts, light button, tray and anything else I may touch on every flight. That doctor was right, it made a huge difference. I have on occasion received odd looks or been mocked by fellow passengers for that behavior. My wife has always pushed elevator buttons with her elbows (if you pick up a germ you cannot touch your face with your elbow). She has gotten some pretty weird looks. Over the New Year’s weekend 2020, I picked up a bad flu while at a wedding near Seattle. Through a teledoc, I was able to get a script for Tamiflu. I told the pharmacist I was scheduled to fly the next day and asked what I could do to try to keep the rest of my family and others from getting sick. He suggested I wear a medical mask (BTW that is a routine practice in Asian countries when people feel ill). I did through the airport and on the flight. I got some pretty strange looks and early experiences of social distancing. Now, the kind of actions the public once viewed as weird are as appropriate for public health. I’m sure airplane travel will not be the only change we see in public health.

Just as greeting traveling loved ones at the gate after their flight landed is a distant memory from before 9/11/2001, the pressing of hands in a handshake may be a distant memory. Some type of air hand greeting may be the way to greet another.

We have explored here the effect this war against COVID-19 may have for:

  1. Church ministry this summer (May-July/August, 2020)
  2. Church ministry this fall and well into 2021.
  3. Public health and social interaction past 2021 for years.

There will also be ministry changes. Read part B where I address some of the potential ministry changes. How will your church adapt to the new reality, a new reality, the contours of which are a guess to us all?

The Faith Story of Rachel Young

I want to say at the outset that I vacillate between Stages 2 and 3. I have hit significant “walls” now at ages 24 and 34. These walls have a similar pattern: getting caught up in the work of Stage 2 without the intimacy of Stage 3, then burning out and getting discouraged in my spiritual journey. Moving past these walls into Stage 3 has required surrendering my ego and my agenda, and each time I have experienced God’s healing.  Every time I hit and then move past a wall, my experience of Stage 3 gets deeper and pushes me toward the sacrifice and obedience of Stage 4. Rather than share my whole story, I’m only going to take you from my childhood into my mid-twenties – into that first wall and what followed.

Stage 1: Come and See

My parents are deeply committed Christians. Each of them grew up going to church, but both had powerful conversion experiences in college, in which they experienced what it’s like to have a personal relationship with Jesus. My father is a retired Presbyterian pastor.

I never consciously responded to the Stage 1 invitation, but my whole childhood was infused with the invitation to “come and see.”  Church was part of my weekday life. It was where I went to visit Daddy during the week and where I was loved by a multitude of people – church secretaries, Sunday school teachers, nursery workers, and friends of my parents. Worship services, Sunday school classes, Vacation Bible School, and reading Bible story books all taught me about Jesus.

Stage 2: Come and Follow Me

My parents tell me that when I was four years old, I asked Jesus into my heart. As best as I could understand it, I told Jesus I wanted him to be a part of my life and save me from my sins.

I don’t remember this conversion moment. But, I also don’t remember a time when I didn’t want Jesus to be a part of my life.

Growing up as a Presbyterian, I had ample opportunities to grow in my knowledge of Jesus. Even in the small churches my dad pastored, attending Sunday school was a given. And I really liked learning about faith. I enjoyed learning Bible stories and memorizing Scripture verses.

I still have my student Bible – it has notes scribbled all over it and the binding is breaking. Several times as a child & teenager, I tried reading through the Bible, but I usually lost steam after getting through Genesis. I tried to keep a quiet time, in which I would read my Bible and pray.

I also had ample opportunities as a child and teenager to take part in church activities – weekly worship, church potlucks, youth group, service opportunities, summer camp, and a Christian version of the Scouts called Pioneer Clubs. Church involvement was a given in my family, and I didn’t mind. Church was a safe place, with people who cared about me and whom I loved in return.

It was probably no surprise to anyone that in college I declared a major in religion. My very favorite course was called “An Introduction to the Christian Faith.” It covered major themes and subjects related to following Jesus. The information wasn’t new, but I soaked everything in – I took reams of handwritten notes and loved to study.

And it wasn’t just about study. I sought to live like Jesus – to be a kind and compassionate person of integrity. I knew it was important to serve others, so I volunteered in nursing homes in late high school and throughout college. However, I did not like stepping outside of my comfort zone. Then, the summer before my senior year of college, I heard a clear call from God to “go” outside my comfort zone. I took my first international mission trip as a result. I also decided to spend my first year after college as a Presbyterian Young Adult Volunteer and moved to Hollywood to work with an urban ministry.

Stage 2 is a comfortable stage for me. Study fits so well with who I am. I love being productive, doing things for Jesus and for my faith.  But I discovered after college that study and serving lose their luster when I am faced with a crisis. And that’s what Hollywood was for me.

Stage 3: Come and Be with Me

I spent three years in Hollywood, living with fellow volunteers working for the Hollywood Urban Project. For so many reasons that I don’t have time to describe, I hit a faith wall there in Hollywood.  The challenges of living in this neighborhood wore down my spirit. Plus, the Gospel I had learned so much about in college felt insufficient in the face of the deep pain of poverty ravaging the lives of my neighbors. So what if these people went to Heaven when they died if they had asked Jesus into their hearts? What about their lives today? How in the world could Jesus make a difference?

Thank God, I had several significant mentors my first year in Hollywood. They taught me the importance of self-care – of attending to my emotional, spiritual, and physical health. To be healthy person who engages in mission and ministry, I had to be willing to move into increased intimacy with God and the empowerment that comes from it. I also had to be willing to be vulnerable and so move into the embrace of safe, spiritual friendships.

I remembered that back in high school I had experienced a taste of what it meant to respond to Jesus’ invitation to “come and be with me.”  I had gone on my first silent retreat in 12th grade and loved it. So, in Hollywood, I more intentionally incorporated silence and prayer into my life. I read poetry and novels more than nonfiction books about faith; I sought to be with God in places of natural beauty.

And then God worked an unexpected healing in my life. I found out about the opportunity to volunteer for six weeks on the Island of Iona with the Iona Community. Between my second and third year in Hollywood, I spent six weeks in Scotland cleaning toilets, hanging laundry, chopping vegetables, and, in my free time, wandering around this beautiful three-mile-long island. I established great friendships with people from around the world. I participated in morning and evening prayer in the Iona Abbey, and I especially loved the songs we sang.

As I flew back to Hollywood from Scotland, I noticed I had written a prayer by the medieval scholar Thomas à Kempis on the first page of my travel journal. I had underlined, “make clean, make glad, make bright, and make alive my heart.” And I realized that God had done exactly that – without my being conscious of it! I had spent six weeks in the company of God’s people, being with Jesus in ways precious to me (like being in nature and in music), and God had healed me!

It was most clear to me that I had made a shift from Stage 2 into Stage 3 when I began my seminary coursework a few weeks after I returned from Iona. I loved being back in school, but the classes that interested me most were not the classes I so hungrily consumed in college. Bible classes were all right, but the chance to think about urban ministry – and how to do urban ministry in a sustainable way – that was exciting!

I fell into a pattern of spending time with God while I ate my breakfast, sometimes by reading Scripture, other times by reading the words of my favorite spiritual writers. I prayed while I walked to the train station and in my car commuting to school. And, you know what? This heart shift made me a better missionary in my neighborhood. I wasn’t as concerned about outcomes (in producing something) as I was in establishing meaningful, compassionate relationships with the students I mentored. I learned that living like Jesus arises most naturally when we choose to be with Jesus. As we embrace and are empowered by the Holy Spirit, we also engage our world in a deeper and healthier way.

Why Lent?

By Natalie LaValley

We’re in the fourth week of Lent now. In some church traditions, Lent is a very important time, and in other churches, it’s not practiced. I happen to have grown up not practicing Lent, but in recent years I have found, as many others have, that it is an amazing opportunity for rededicating myself to God. The key is to approach Lent out of Christian freedom, knowing that you don’t have to fast from meat to go to Heaven, and God will still love you if you forget it’s Friday and eat barbeque (like I did – whoops).

Lent isn’t about not eating meat. It’s a season focused on reflection, confession, and renewal before God. In many ways, it’s also a season of rest. It often involves giving up something that normally occupies our time so we can be still before God. Social media fasts and limited screen time are becoming popular Lent fasts, and for good reason. I don’t know about you, but I’m so busy that I often wish I could just hit the pause button and reflect on what I’m doing with my life and how I could be living better. We waste too much time living with our grudges, bitterness, fears, mistrust, and insecurities instead of actually addressing them and doing something about them. Lent is basically an annual opportunity to do exactly that. And because it’s forty days, it’s much more effective than just making a resolution on New Year’s Day that you forget in February. Forty days is approximately enough time to start building a habit. Last year for Lent, being an overachiever, I was tempted to commit to some spectacular spiritual discipline. But I knew that I was struggling in my spiritual walk at a much more basic level; my daily devotions were in a shabby state. So I simply committed to having daily devotions in the morning and evening. By the time Lent had finished, I had rediscovered the value and joy of daily, focused communion with God. Even though I still miss some days, especially when a trip or event throws off my routine, it’s become a part of my daily pattern all through the year again.

We’d like to think that we can reform our spiritual lives any time. Why should I practice Lent when I could choose to practice a spiritual discipline any time of year? It’s true, I could. But will I really? I’m an idealistic person full of amazing visions I carry out to completion about 1% of the time. I need the accountability of other people practicing Lent at the same time to help me commit to my spiritual disciplines.

I’d like to think that I can have a perfectly balanced walk with Christ all year long, but, as Ecclesiastes shows us, it seems God made us to live through one season at a time. Right now, this season is Lent. Let it be a restful time of reflecting on your walk with Christ and preparing to celebrate His resurrection.

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