Some of us relish the opportunities that come with conflict (Hello Thomas-Kilmann Collaborators!) But most of us avoid conflict.
So here we are in the throes of conflict and deep anxiety. There are constant meetings to discuss “what to do?” and “how to do it?” in light of the coronavirus pandemic. There is deep sorrow over cancelling everything from next week’s memorial service to long-expected events like Easter concerts, mission trips, conferences, and retreats – not to mention the secular cancellations (prom, senior day games, graduations, weddings, international trips.)
The grief is real.
As I look across the board at Church World, I see that many of us have been slow to make difficult decisions as a 21st Century Church because we are already grieving institutional losses:
- Tiny churches with less than 20 members have been putting off the decision to close because we are talking about closing the church of their childhood where they were baptized and married. It’s the church where they felt close to God and loved ones.
- Churches of all sizes have been avoiding the decision to spend some of their endowment or to sell some of their property. We have congregations who tell me how poor they are but there’s a half million dollars in the cemetery fund or they own 10 acres of land that they’ve wanted to keep for no particular reason.
- Congregations with long-standing staff members whom they can no longer afford have dreaded the moment when those staff members will be asked to retire or find new employment. They have become institutions. How can we let the 80 year old organist go? How can we ask our 72 year old administrator that we need a different kind of staffer who knows how to use a computer?
- Congregations have ignored suggestions to use online tools because people are attached to holding hymnals, receiving paper newsletters in the mail, writing checks, and attending church meetings face to face.
- Congregations have tolerated ineffective leadership because they are waiting for their pastors to announce their retirements, but every year the ineffective pastor stays, the congregation’s viability is diminished.
Perhaps it takes a pandemic to be the nudge we’ve needed to close our beloved church, to spend our congregation’s rainy day savings, to sell off the unused parking lot, to honor the long term educator with a lovely retirement party, to stop electing officers without access to email, to offer Zoom meetings for all committees, to put a Donation button on the website, to have a frank conversation with the pastor about retirement.
It might feel like being pushed out of a plane.
And yet God uses everything – especially times of crises – to move the Gospel message forward. There are great and small shifts we’ve needed to make for a long time for the sake of the Gospel.
Is it possible that God is calling us to use this crisis to nudge us forward into the unknown?
Few of us love loss and anxiety and conflict. But these are tools that God sometimes uses for good. It’s scary, but – in faith – the Gospel will always win. Let’s take the leap.