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) https://kenbraddy.com/2020/04/18/20-questions-your-church-should-answer-before-people-return/

Church ministry this fall and well into 2021 (though this view is more grim than any of us hope). https://journal.praxislabs.org/leading-beyond-the-blizzard-why-every-organization-is-now-a-startup-b7f32fb278ff

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 mike@ascendingleaders.org.

Be sure to subscribe to this blog for more conversation around this and other discipleship and church vitality topics.

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