When it comes to reopening in the wake of Coronavirus, churches in many states have been afforded special rights and privileges as non-profits and houses of worship. We may be permitted to gather and congregate, but there are still recommendations and requirements that should be followed.
We must remember that in all things we need to represent Christ and look to reflect Him and His heart for people to our congregants, communities, and the world. We bear the responsibility to make timely and informed decisions in a reality we were unprepared for but called to lead in nonetheless.
In light of that truth, I wanted to offer some suggestions to help us as we are regathering or preparing to do so. Please know that these are not a foolproof method for reopening, but simply suggestions to help us do this in a proactive and Christ-honoring way. It is not reflective of any one church or methodology, but simply suggestions for how we can think through this as leaders and shepherds.
Don’t rush to get together.
It is easy to push to gather sooner than we should because we so desire community. But we must make sure it is safe to do so. Do not simply gather because you can, gather when you should. Put safe guards in place, communicate well, and honor the guidelines set forth by the church and governing authorities.
Be a force for unity not division.
It seems that for many churches, our ability or right to gather has forced us to take a stand that has lead to much division and fracturing. We cannot be leaders who cause strife and undue division, but instead seek to be voices of the Gospel that honor those in authority as we seek to reflect Christ to this world. I am not advocating for capitulation, but I am saying be mindful of your speech and actions and look to unite people together as Christ did. May we put aside biases, personal agendas, and political parties, and simply be a force for the Gospel of Christ.
Root your decisions in the Gospel.
It seems that for many churches the guiding principle to gauge reopening has been if their rights have been infringed upon. But that isn’t how we should measure if and when we gather again. We must remember that we are not due any rights because of our inherent sinfulness. I know we could go back and forth about our rights here in the USA, but why do we find our identity in our country and assumed freedoms? Shouldn’t we find it in Christ, and Christ alone? If we understand that in all things we must reflect the full Gospel, then we should know that reopening must be rooted in representing Jesus by caring for our churches and our communities.
So we must ask ourselves if what we are doing is a proper reflection of the Gospel, or a manifestation of rights we believe we are owed. We must remember that first and foremost we are to be a voice for the Gospel. Everything we do should reflect Jesus to our world. How we go about reopening, the safeguards we put in place, and the ways in which we minister to our people should all be outlets for the Gospel. Our care, love, and motives should all be to reflect Jesus.
Guard your speech.
It is so easy in today’s context to use our speech in non-constructive ways. We can hastily fire off a Facebook post, share something on our social media to push an agenda, or have a flippant conversation that is overheard and could bring about difficulties for the church at large. We as shepherds of our people must guard what we say and make sure we are not contributing toward tension, frustration, or dissension. All of those will only further fracture and divide our churches. Instead, seek to listen and engage in healthy and constructive dialogue that looks to encourage and build up the body of Christ.
Be proactive not reactive.
As you prepare to open back up, think about ways to keep everyone safe and healthy. This may mean you start with multiple layers of safety procedures and changes which are okay. It is easier to remove safety procedures than it is to add them. We want to be shepherds who do all we can to protect and care for our people, and as new information and data are made available, you can always scale back to adapt. If our people just see us adding more restrictions because we didn’t do it in the beginning, it may cause their trust in us to wane.
Don’t do things just because you can.
Lots of churches are meeting and lots of churches are doing things differently. But before you do things, let me ask you a question: why are you doing them? Is it because you can? Is it because it makes a statement? Is it because of external or internal pressure? Let me encourage you to think through the “why” before you do anything.
I know many churches that have relaunched and have gone back to “normal,” but we have to ask ourselves if this the best thing to do. When restaurants, malls, communities, and countries still have measures in place to protect people, should we as the church buck the system just because we can? Instead, I would encourage us to do things in a thoughtful and measured approach to show how we love and care for our people.
Hear and respond to criticism.
Criticism happens. In fact you have probably seen or heard a lot of it since this pandemic began. But here is what we as leaders and shepherds must do: listen to our people, hear what they are saying, and respond well. When people criticize it is often a representation of a deeper heart issue or concern. We must listen to them and truly hear what they are saying. One of the last times I preached I received an email that heartily disagreed with what I said and how I said it. I am not going to lie, it hurt and I wanted to respond in kind. But I knew that wasn’t right.
Instead, I sought council from those over me and on my team, and I ended up personally connecting with the individual who sent the email. I heard their concerns, I asked questions, and ultimately we agreed to disagree. But then I took the conversation in a different direction and thanked the person for sharing, and told them how much our church loved them. The change was staggering. The person was so thankful and moved, and they emphatically stated that even though we may disagree they will always call our church home.
My point here is this: no matter what decision you make in regard to reopening, no matter what safe guards you follow, and no matter how much you communicate, there will always be criticism. But it is essential to respond with love and understanding and seek to emulate Christ in all things.