And just like that, the world changed…
As the reality of our current crisis begins to set in, and most of us are realizing that we need to figure out how to be the gathered church in a new (socially distanced) way, we’re also wrestling with the growing realization that whatever plans we had for Holy Week and Easter services this year will most likely need to be radically rethought.
Let me offer a hopeful perspective for this time, as well as point you towards resources that Missio Alliance has gathered that we hope will be able to serve you during this unusual Easter season.
First: we can use this time to accelerate what most of us have been struggling to do all along.
How many times have we wished more people in our churches would connect on a real, personal level with each other? Or that more would be involved in small groups? Or that more would take ownership of meeting the needs of others?
At this moment (and ever more so in the coming weeks), people are longing for connection. They want to see and hear the familiar faces and voices of those in their church community. They are waking up to the needs of their neighbors, their communities, and others in their church.
I’m increasingly hearing stories of people who probably wouldn’t walk through the doors of a church on a Sunday pre-pandemic now connecting digitally to church gatherings and groups.
Approaching this season as merely looking for workarounds to connect until we can get back to the “real” business of the church—meaning, gathering in large groups for well-produced services and events—will only land us back in the same place when we come out of the current crisis: struggling to get people to connect and largely failing to connect to the unchurched and formerly churched.
But what if we see this season as a chance to lay the groundwork for transitioning from the dominant model of ministry being done by ministry professionals to a more robust (and biblical) model of leaders equipping, blessing, and sending the people of our church communities to do the work of ministry in their families, on their blocks, and in their neighborhoods? Wouldn’t that be amazing?
Second: there’s grace in this season.
These past couple of weekends, congregants that were used to worshiping in packed auditoriums, featuring full bands with amazing sound systems, projection, and lighting have instead gathered in their living rooms to join single worship leaders strumming a guitar accompanied by either a glitchy live sermon from their pastor or a pre-recorded message that had been preached to empty pews.
And I’d be willing to bet that very few people were complaining.
For the first time in decades, North American Christians have been forcibly weaned from our “bigger and better” religious consumerism, and most have been grateful just for the chance to gather in some way, even digitally, with those from their church community, to pray together, listen to the Word, and spend time in worship and fellowship. For the first time in decades, North American Christians have been forcibly weaned from our “bigger and better” religious consumerism, and most have been grateful just for the chance to gather in some way, even digitally. Click To Tweet
The only ones worrying about the quality these past few weeks have been the haggard pastors trying to figure out how to make it all work. Ministry leaders—don’t sweat the details during this time. We’re all doing our best, and there’s grace upon grace, especially for the technologically-challenged. One of the gifts of this season is that it is reorienting us back to what the gathered church is meant to be about: connecting with God and with one another, prayer, worship, and proclaiming the Word.
Third, the challenges of this season provide a unique opportunity for us to grow deeper, both as individuals and as church communities.
In the coming days, as the crisis intensifies, Christians will have the opportunity to do what we have done countless times down through history: grieve with those who grieve, rejoice with those who rejoice, serve those in need, and most of all, show how the hope of the gospel radically transforms individuals and communities. But now is when we need to be preparing them to step into the new reality as a distributed church in the power of the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead.
So in this time when we cannot gather in the ways we could just a few weeks ago, whatever you do this Holy Week and this Easter, don’t merely try to produce the service you were going to produce and put it online. Turn your efforts instead towards resourcing your people in celebrating Holy (Maundy) Thursday meals and Good Friday remembrances as families, as online gathered groups, as a church scattered. And think creatively about showing how we can experience the resurrection of Jesus in other ways aside from going to a service and having a big dinner afterwards. This season is a chance for us to do all these things and more.
A number of times over the years when the church plant I was leading was unable to find a space to gather on Good Friday, we produced a written outline/liturgy for small groups and community houses to use in celebrating a meal together. Sometimes it involved traditional Maundy Thursday elements like foot washing, other times it was more of a Passover/Seder meal. But in each case, not being able to gather together forced us to think creatively about what we could do in smaller groups that we couldn’t do if we had all been together.
In that spirit, we want to offer you some resources to stoke your creativity for this upcoming season. Please visit our Holy Week at Home page and use these ideas to celebrate the Easter in ways you may not have ever celebrated it before.
Change, even drastic and unprecedented change such as what we are experiencing now can be jarring and disruptive. But just as the first Easter week demonstrated, disruption is not categorically bad. Sometimes, it’s just what the church needs in order to be able to enter into the holy presence and salvation of our almighty Father. May you find God anew in your distributed faith communities this Easter, united in his Spirit and in the hope we all have in our resurrected Lord.
Check out our Holy Week at Home resource page for more ideas and special offers to help you and your faith communities plan for this year’s virtual and distributed services.