The regathering of our churches for worship and other ministries has been a source of relief, a reason for gratitude and a cause for celebration.
During a long season of necessary isolation from one another, we’ve realized how crucial our physical presence with one another is to life in Christ and in the church.
In addition to regathering – and as important, if not more so – I think that churches need to take time to recover and learn from the multiple and interconnected challenges.
These include the ravages of the pandemic, alarming political turmoil, the clamoring for a long-overdue racial reckoning and the harsh realities of an economic system that continues to widen the gulf between the very-well-off and everyone else.
There are significant questions to ask about how the upheavals we’ve experienced have affected our perspectives on congregational identity, vision, missional engagement, health and vitality.
Fatigue of various kinds has settled in on many of those leaders, both laity and clergy: physical, spiritual, emotional, political and technological (“Zoom”) fatigue.
There’s also the kind of weariness that comes from prolonged uncertainty. Some leaders wonder if they’re on the edge of, or are already in, a ravine of burnout.
In addition to fatigue, leaders feel both anticipation and anxiety about the future.
They’re less sure than they’d like to be about how to guide their churches in a significantly altered world. They have some intuitions and ideas about what congregational life can and should be like in the new now, but the picture is far from clear.
While some congregants want church life on the other side of isolation to be just as it was before, most leaders know that a return to the way things were is neither possible nor desirable.
Even before the pandemic, many congregations faced diminishing participation, weakening institutional infrastructure and stagnating financial resources.
Church leaders were asking questions about how to renew their congregations’ inner vitality while also responding faithfully to the Spirit’s call for their churches to work beyond themselves for justice, mercy, peace and love.
These last 14 months have only intensified those issues, so it’s urgent to give attention to:
- Naming, lamenting and finding hope amid myriad losses, recovering from fatigue, opening to a restoration of energy and experiencing personal and church renewal.
- Tending to the church as both an institution and as a community of faith, hope and love that the institution serves.
- Responding to questions about how to engage in mission in ways that enhance the flourishing of everyone and all creation, contribute to just mercy, make peace, seek reconciliation and spread joy.
- Reaffirming the gathered and embodied nature of the church, including its incarnational and sacramental realities.
- Asking theological and pragmatic questions about uses of technology to enhance and extend embodied involvement in the faith community and to provide connection for participants when circumstances prevent their being present in person.
- Exploring what our times apart might tell us about the effectiveness of our ministries of proclamation, faith formation and transformation.
We have a unique opportunity to take a searching look at who we are, why we do what we do and how we do it.
There are now – or, rightly used, could be – unprecedented openings for transformational change and growth. In the often-quoted words of Winston Churchill, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”
I hope we go through the openings and take advantage of the opportunities, so that the church can respond in the name and spirit of Jesus to the hurts, longings and needs around and within us.
Editor’s note: Throughout the summer, articles will be published from faith leaders reflecting on the pandemic ministry adjustments they enacted, looking ahead to the future or both. If you’d like to submit a column for consideration, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. A version of this article first appeared on Sayles’ blog, From the Intersection. It is used with permission.