Matt Lahmann: CHURCH CLEAN UP AFTER COVID
Post COVID-19 ministry (can we say POST yet?) is a lot like cleaning the basement after my four-year-old twins played in it all afternoon. The basement looks like the aftermath of a hurricane that ripped through the Caribbean, leaving splintered piles of debris everywhere. Having to clean up the wreckage of barbies, plastic fruit, mixed with stuffed animals and legos is enough to make a grown man cry. Yep! Hurricanes and messy playrooms are a fitting description of ministry after COVID-19. You have worked for years to lead your church to where they were in March. You were ten weeks into your 2020 vision, complete with Keynote, 3D models, and a catchy alliterated action items, then KABOOM! Someone or something obliterated your vision. Now there are pieces everywhere, and you are struggling to sort through the rubble to find something that feels "normal" or makes sense.
Our church was not exempt from COVID. We went through quarantine, lockdown, zoom groups, and online services. We are still doing our best to social distance and minister to the high-risk people, and the people who's lives have been drastically rearranged by this virus. We spent several weeks attempting to sort through all the chaos of COVID. We learned better techniques for live streaming and how to mute people in Zoom calls as Jesus surely would have done. But, no matter how many tips or tricks we picked up, it still felt like the church could explode, implode, or disappear at any moment. One day in a leadership meeting, I said, "If only I had taken the elective in college: Leading During Pandemics.” Unfortunately, there was no such class at my Bible College. However, as we began to seek the Lord, He gave us a new and better 2020 vision that we have started to implement. I hope that sharing our story and process might help you and your ministry regain clarity and momentum as you mobilize your members for COVID clean up.
Living through this level of change can leave you as a leader and your ministry disoriented and unable to find their bearings. As with any great aftermath, whether it is a hurricane or damage done by my twins in the basement, a good clean up will bring clarity to your situation and assist you in effectively assessing how to glorify God in this new normal.
Here are four areas we reestablished in our ministry as we emerged from quarantine.
1. Reestablish the How of Ministry. When ministry becomes messy, we must sort through the wreckage to uncover the source of our strength. "How" are we able to effectively minister in the first place? There is always a great temptation to lean on something or someone other than God during turbulent times. Remembering that God is our only source of strength helped us reestablish the "how" of ministry. Christ knows and loves His church more than we do. He sovereignly planned 2020. No year is a good year to stop relying on God, especially 2020. In Isaiah 7:2, Ahaz's heart moved because the Syrians joined forces with Ephriam to attack Judah. God wanted Ahaz to seek and depend on Him (v.11), but Ahaz desired an idea more than Immanuel. Can you identify with Ahaz? All of our hearts "moved" from resting in the sufficiency of God, at least for a moment, when we couldn't physically meet with our church each week, and the temptation to fix this with flesh is real. Ahaz forgot "how" God provided in the past.
Pastors and Church Leaders, if COVID made a mess of your ministry and you feel overwhelmed, remember "how" you and your church got to where you were in March-Immanuel, not Ideas. God is essential before, during, and after pandemics. Thankfully, God is with us and in us. Our only responsibility is to abide in Him (John 15). Remembering that we have one source of strength will help us clean up the clutter and confusion of ministry, Pandemic, or not. 1 Corinthians 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.
2. Reestablish the Why of Ministry. Check your motives. During times of crisis, many leaders respond out of fear and anxiety instead of love. It's not that "what" they were doing is wrong, but it's "why" they are doing it that is a concern. If we minister out of fear of losing people, or fear of having a smaller church, the motive isn't love; it's manipulation. Ministry by manipulation is exhausting and stressful, aggravating, and annoying. This type of ministry will not produce God-glorifying spiritual fruit (John 15). The next time you experience extreme negative emotions in the middle of ministering, stop and ask yourself, "Why am I doing this?" You will most likely discover a personal idol that took the place of sincerely loving God and others. The "why" matters more than the "what." "Love seeketh not her own" 1 Corinthians 13:5.
Because of our sinful nature, our motives will rarely be 100% pure all the time. If you detect that you are ministering with the wrong "why," you don't need to stop, but you need to ask God to change the "why" so that we lead our church in a way that glorifies God. 1 Corinthians 13:3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. John 13:34-35 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. 35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples if ye have love one to another.
3. Reestablish the What of Ministry. What were we trying to accomplish? What was the purpose of training leaders, asking people to give, or inviting people to attend public worship gatherings? There is nothing like a pandemic and social uncertainty to bring great confusion to "what" God wants your church to accomplish. At City Light, we felt led to cut through the clutter and reestablish "what" we were doing. Clarifying the "what" allowed us to help people focus and unite around a single, God-given purpose. After a couple of meetings and filling the dry-erase board several times, we settled on this statement: "God satisfies. We shine. Others see." See what? That God satisfies. Then they shine, and others see that God satisfies. I can't adequately explain to you the help this short phrase has been to our ministry. We previously had a mission statement (Shine: To Be Jesus On Display In Our Every Day Lives), and core values for our ministry, but we had failed to clarify the purpose for which we SHINED. God used COVID to help us see this missing piece in our ministry vision. Reestablishing "what" helped me develop our church's sermons series, counsel, train leaders, encourage staff, and guide our people through one of the most challenging times in their lives.
Does your church know "what" they are doing there? Are they united around one common goal? If not, perhaps removing the clutter in this area will help your ministry to move forward. Your statement will look different and should match the context and culture of your church. Reestablishing the "what" is critical to gaining clarity anytime but especially after a catastrophe.
4. Reestablish the Who of Ministry. Perhaps our most significant accomplishment of 2020 was reestablishing our Leadership Team. There is nothing like a pandemic to reveal whose with you can who is not. We realized early that our church would never be the same. Every church will look different when life returns to "normal," and that's okay. Don't try to put things back just the way they were in 2019. I believe one of the reasons God allowed COVID was so that churches would change. We saw this shakeup as a blessing and opportunity to reestablish and recruit people to partner with us in leading our church into a new era at City Light. We are a smaller church, so there are only three paid staff members. While we have dozens of amazing volunteers, we wanted to recruit a small group of people to be a part of our leadership team. We wanted people who sensed a calling to the specific ministry area and desired not just to volunteer in a ministry but also to develop and lead it.
With a few helpful tips from the book Hero Maker, we started recruiting, training, and discipling our leadership team. We selected people that we believed already possess our heart and vision for how our church fulfills its purpose. We spent several hours with each of them discussing the gospel (for saved people), philosophy of ministry, and laying out clear expectations and job descriptions (this is extremely important for unpaid leadership positions). After preparing each team member, we presented them to the church through a short informal video (link) and a commissioning type prayer where they received the church's blessing. The interview video, public introduction, and prayer time helped me demonstrate to our church that these new leaders were called, equipped, and authorized to lead their specific ministry. We continue to meet with these leaders on a bi-weekly or monthly basis to keep our hearts knit together and provide ongoing training and assistance. Please click here to view one of the video introductions and here to see the on stage interview and time of prayer with our church. (starts at 01:12:45)
While COVID brought many challenges that I would never want to endure again, it forced us to do the difficult work of ministry clean up. Do you feel overwhelmed by the current condition of your ministry? Are your people aimlessly filing through the aftermath, looking for clarity and direction? Do you find yourself struggling to sort through the chaos and give clarity to the people God called you to lead? May I encourage you to start cleaning up the clutter by reestablishing how, why, what, and who. There is no simple one-week solution. The planning and execution of this clean-up took four to five months and is still ongoing, but cleaning up these four areas brought clarity, unity, and momentum to every part of our church. Let's continue to pray for one another as we enter this new phase of ministry.
What have been the messiest areas of COVID ministry for you? What has helped bring clarity to you and your team? Let us know in the comments, and we can help you with some of your clean up.
City Light Baptist Church - St. Louis, MO