Anthony Hunt says crisis reveals the strength of the church’s ministries of connection and message of hope. Even with changing patterns of interaction, we need ministries of prayer, community support, and missional engagement more than ever.
The circumstances presented by the COVID-19 crisis have presented churches and leaders with unprecedented opportunities and challenges. They have had to discover new ways to lead through crisis. And the lessons learned will likely result in new and different ways of engaging in ministry going forward.
But the crisis has also revealed the vital importance of the church’s spiritual presence and the need to stay connected with one another and serve the broader community. There are several key lessons for how churches can minister and how leaders can lead in the midst of this and other crises.
1. Ministries of prayer and presence are as important as ministries of performance and provision.
In crisis, there is a pronounced sense of humanity’s need for God’s presence, and the church becomes a primary means of such assurance. Thus, ministries of prayer and presence, even when conducted virtually, become critical. Amidst COVID-19, some churches have reported growth in their prayer ministries. Some have started new virtual prayer ministries and small groups aimed at spiritual formation and care.
2. The church remains an essential aspect of community and connection for people of all generations.
Crisis confirms that the church is essentially community or, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer posited over 90 years ago, “Christ existing as community”. In times of disruption, crisis, and isolation, persons yearn for ways to be community, and the church becomes a primary means of sustaining community, belonging, and meaning for many people.
3. The church’s missional presence still matters.
Crises such as COVID-19 often result in a heightened awareness of and need for the church’s missional presence in the broader community. This has been confirmed with rising unemployment rates in communities surrounding many churches. Through the COVID-19 crisis, many churches have continued to engage in vital and necessary community ministry. For instance, Epworth Chapel in Baltimore has partnered with the Maryland Food Bank and other entities to distribute over 31,000 pounds of free fresh food to its neighborhood.
4. The church can never go wrong when it preaches and practices hope amidst crisis.
Christian hope is and will continue to be the antidote and antithesis to existential despair. Martin Luther King Jr. intimated in his sermon, “The Meaning of Hope,” that “hope is the refusal to give up despite overwhelming odds.” A half century later, Walter Brueggemann wrote in his book, Gospel of Hope, that “Hope is the deep religious conviction that God has not quit.” Amidst any form of crisis, personal or social, persons essentially look to churches to be heralds of hope and agents of the promise of God’s future that is better than the current condition.
The future vitality of churches and all other organizations will depend on their flexibility, resilience, and ability to change dynamically in response to the challenges of external change. Many leaders are thinking about not only the new normal but the next new normal and several other new normals to come in the near future. But it is equally important to acknowledge what is unchanging — the connectedness of the Body of Christ and the church’s essential mission really do matter, especially in crisis.
- Get Ready for the New Normal by Doug Powe
- 11 Provocative Thoughts and Questions About What’s Next by Bill Wilson
- Resurrection Hope and the Response to COVID-19 by Ann A. Michel