I have spent my entire ministry believing that disruption can be a good thing. Maybe that’s hard to accept in the midst of a pandemic. But when things are disrupted, something new can break in. I recently read an article about how the bush in Australia is springing back to life after the devastating fires last year. In fact there are some seeds which will not germinate until they have been through the fire.
My ministry was born out of a frustration that too often we perpetuate models of church that no longer apply to the world in which we live, excluding and leaving people behind. To me, that is the antithesis of the hope of the gospel. While we may can discuss and plan for change sadly it isn’t until a crisis that change really happens.
Often in business and in life these are called pivot points, where there is a sudden change in direction. For the ‘pivot’ to be successful there needs to be five stages.
Recognition is often the hardest stage in the process. You have to see that something isn’t working.
Human nature predisposes us to retell a narrative suggesting that something is working when really it isn’t. We are afraid of admitting when things start to go wrong. To recognise that something isn’t working does not mean that nothing good has come of it — rather, that the good is fading and we are putting more and more resources into something that is declining.
I believe the pandemic and the lock down has held a mirror up to us and we have to look hard at what we see. Is our church really as wonderful and successful as we like to tell ourselves? Are we now at a ‘come-to-Jesus moment’? Does the church have to change?
We can extend this to the COVID-19 world around us as well. Can’t we recognise that there is something broken in our ecclesiology and in our economics? Can’t we see that our churches’ economic models are failing when the church looks as busy and stressed out as the business world?
It is time to recognize that we’ve been totally out of control and the way we’ve been living hasn’t been good for people or the planet.
Once you recognize that things have to change, you feel loss — and with it, a deep fear because of the uncertainty of what will replace it.
Christians are a people that believe in a gospel of death and resurrection. But too often, we rush from death to resurrection and don’t acknowledge the pain and the loss. The challenge here is not to rush or move on too quickly. We need to acknowledge the loss and make space for our feelings.
With the current pandemic crisis, we’ve lost some of our sense of security. We are separated from others. Our economy is crumbling around us. And one of the hardest things is that we aren’t comfortable with grief. If we cannot acknowledge what is being lost, it is impossible to move forward in a healthy way. Grief needs a way to commemorate and memorialise.
You don’t want to sit in grief forever. In this step, we start to see the things we want to take with us and the things we need to leave behind. We need to find a way to sift through the rubble and pull out the essential and meaningful parts from the past, but we also need to identify the assumptions that were problematic.
In our new COVID-19 world, we are still learning, but some lessons are becoming clear: how fragile our economic and civil systems are, as well as our models of church.
If we really have the courage to be honest, people on the margins have been telling us this all along. The church has been measuring success by the number of people in the pews and the amount of money in the offering plate — as if that reflected authentic discipleship or the existence of beloved community.
Surely, we are realizing that individualism only gets us so far. We are interconnected. The opportunity here is to ask, What, then, is our path toward mutuality and interdependence, toward mercy and justice?
4. Renewed vision
There has been a lot of talk in recent years about “knowing your why.” Why are you here? Not just why is this building here in this place, but why are you in this community? Why are you running these groups? Why are you involved in this mission? If you cannot come up with some serious answers then you have lost your ‘why’ To what end are we working? What is our desired impact? What transformation do we want see in people, places, policies or systems? When you think through the lens of impact and purpose — the why — then you can more easily redesign the how and the what.
This is the step where hope can break back in. It’s where we can be more aware of both the opportunities and the challenges. We understand the reason we exist, and we can acknowledge our false assumptions.
I don’t know the why for the UK or the world in this time of crisis. But for Christians, surely our why takes us back to the fact that we are not meant to serve ourselves but the Lord. We are called to love God and love our neighbour as we love ourselves. Maybe that seems simplistic. But it is the answer Jesus gave when asked what is the heart of the gospel.
5. Re-imagined practice
Once you get clearer on your why and the impact you want to have, then you can re-imagine the how. This is where new practice can be developed.
In stage five, we hit the place where it is time to be brave again. But as we start, we do it with our eyes wide open. Rather than holding on to the complexity we once cherished, this restructuring allows each church to focus on its mission and landscape and live out its prophetic imagination. It should be a new peared down more responsive church not always wondering how can we keep this group or that particular piece of work going a bit longer but where does God want us to be now, where does he want us to be in 5, 10 even 20 years time.
The world needs us to show up as a hopeful people and to be good news people. And this current crisis gives us the perfect opportunity to turn the world upside down with the gospel.
God bless and stay safe,