No one was ready for the virus, but we are called to respond
According to the great philosopher Mike Tyson, “everyone has a plan until they get hit in the mouth!”
According to Tyson, the former World Heavyweight Champion known for his vicious fighting style, everyone who fought him had a plan to defeat him. When the fight started, however, their plan evaporated under the storm of Tyson’s punches. Getting punched in the mouth will do that to you.
I serve a church that loves to plan. We have reams of paper with plans and contingencies plans. We have plan “A” and plan “B”. If this happens, then this is what we do. We have plans for what happens during a fire, a gas leak, and if there’s a train wreck with dangerous chemicals next to the church. We’ve rehearsed what we would do in case we had a shooter in the building or if our staff was robbed during working hours. We’ve rehearsed what we would do if someone had a heart attack.
We’re pretty good at making plans. We’re pretty good at making our plans work.
Then, on March 3, 2020, the greater Nashville area was hit was with a series of devastating storms. Tornadoes destroyed homes, crashed churches and demolished schools. While several people were killed, but after seeing the damage, we’re amazed there wasn’t more deaths.
But we have a plan for tornadoes. In a matter of hours, our members were canvasing the neighborhoods assessing damage and needs. Our disaster relief team cranked up their chain saws, and uprooted trees soon became firewood. Connections were made with other relief agencies, tents were erected, and bottled water appeared by the truck load. While the recovery of these neighborhoods will take years, we did a pretty good job of responding.
After all, we had a plan.
Then, the Center for Disease Control told us we couldn’t gather in groups over 50. That number was later decreased to 10. Americans were told to practice social distancing and stay home if they could. Overnight, businesses closed. Restaurants closed. Concerts, basketball tournaments, the NBA and the NHL all canceled. Schools closed until April.
All because of the corona virus. We didn’t have a plan for corona virus. That’s what happens when you get hit in the mouth.
Have you ever been punched in the mouth? It hurts. Your head screams in pain. You recoil from the shot and try to regain your balance.
Then, you have to come up with a plan. Do you fight or run?
With identification of the corona virus, a lot of experts have advised us not to panic. Well, most of us had already panicked. Stores ran out of paper products and hand sanitizers. Overnight, we became a nation of germaphobes.
But panic doesn’t help. It never does. If you’re a leader, you don’t have the luxury of panic. You need a plan.
How do you do church when you can’t gather as a church? What do you do when you can’t preach to your people in the sanctuary? How do you stay solvent when you can’t pass the plate?
First, take a big breath. We’ve been here before. Throughout the history of the church, believers have gathered in homes and other small venues. Believe it or not, it’s worked and worked well.
Second, get a plan. Remind your people, church hasn’t been canceled. Church has been scattered. Now, more than ever, our church will have the opportunities to live out their love of Christ in their homes and neighborhoods. Use social media to encourage and train your people you reach and minister to their neighbors and friends.
Third, get engaged in social media. Yes, there are a lot of problems with certain platforms, but for right now, the good outweighs the bad. Think about it. With the right set up and processes, you can reach everyone in your congregation at the same time. This is one of the new realities of our post-modern world. Have you ever wondered why you get so many emails trying to sell you various products? The simple answer is: they work. Connecting with your church and community will work as well.
Fourth, set up a process where your people can give online. I know some of our people will never adjust to electronic payments, but a lot, if not most, of our people will. Help them make the transition.
Lastly, take another deep breath. Things will never go back to the way they were. While I doubt we’ll find ourselves having to go to church totally online, we’ve crossed that river. More and more people will find it more convenient and workable for them and their family to stay at home and watch online. Every church will have to develop a strategy to engage online members.
The other major change is communities are watching to see how churches respond to their communities. Those who minister well during these challenges will be “validated” by their communities and new doors of evangelism and ministry will open in the future. Seeing the love of Christ lived out in real and life impacting ways will never be forgotten by our neighbors.
God gave creation seasons for a reason. Winter, spring, summer and fall each serve their purpose. The current challenge is forcing us to get to the essence of church. God is paring us back to the essentials of our faith. Winter prepares the way for spring. I’m confident God is up to something in all of this. Let’s be faithful to Him in the hard months of winter in order to see His glory again in the coming spring!