Reflections From A Pastor On Return To Normal Ministry In The Local Church
“It feels so good to be back to normal.”
Whether this was spoken or unspoken this past Sunday at our church, all embraced the sentiment. After 15 months of doing ministry in an abbreviated manner, we returned to our normal worship and ministry schedule this week. It felt somewhat like coming back to the comfort of your house after a long time away.
There was excitement seeing both services fuller than they had been for months. There was joy hearing the voices sing in unison together. There was delight in praying and sitting under the Word together as the church of God returned. There was laughter around coffee in fellowship. Smiles adorned faces young to old, and children crying was a welcome sound.
We are thankful for how God gave us tremendous grace and love for each other during this season. There were moments of heartbreak, and there have been moments of awe at how God worked in our midst.
But as we look back on this time, what have we learned? What has God done in our midst that He would have us open our eyes to and affirm together as the church? Here are five realities we have learned during the pandemic that was Covid-19.
1) The Church Can Worship Remotely
We learned that the church could worship without gathering in a building. For a season, we gathered entirely online for worship. We were able to worship through an online video together, but I think we would all agree that online worship was less than best. We learned that the church doesn’t require a building to praise the Lord in the remote worship season. We can do so corporately, even at a distance from each other, gathered around the same liturgy of worship online. It is less than best, but it can be done. And on that note…
2) The Church Worships Best In-Person
Yes, the church can worship remotely, but the biblical ideal and God-ordained means for best worship is done together, in community and physical proximity to each other. So Hebrews 10:25 encourages the church to “not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some.” Gathering for worship bodily with other believers is the best kind of worship.
When we returned from online-only worship to in-person worship, there was an encouragement of being together that we took for granted pre-Covid. Seeing each other, hearing each other sing, praying together, and sitting under the word of God together reminded each of us that we are not alone in the Christian journey. The fellowship of believers, physically, is an encouragement to our faith and designed to empower our worship. No online worship can replace the fulness of what is found physically together in worship.
3) Unity is Worth Pursuing
The pandemic was a devastating season for unity where division was sown regarding all things from politics and masks and vaccination to how churches should respond. For the church, in particular, division has been and will remain a real threat and temptation. It always has been.
However, I am thankful that God enabled the leadership of our church to pursue unity and not give in to the temptation to divide. Our Elders were united in how to care both for the physical and spiritual well-being of our congregation. They didn’t bicker but instead chose to put unity at the forefront. That decision for loving unity spilled out into our congregation. It was a difficult season, but not one in which our church imploded from division like so many others. Our congregation sensed the unity of the leadership, and it influenced how they responded in the season. Unity is worth pursuing for the glory of the Lord and the good of the church. To my fellow Elders, thank you for fighting for unity. Psalm 133:1, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.”
4) The Desire For Relationships Grew
Many of the introverts loved the season of being alone, myself included to a degree. The extroverts in our midst struggled far more with not being around others as much as they would like. But one thing I saw universally during the pandemic, whether you were introverted or extroverted, both types longed for relationships.
We sensed something had been lost in our every day relationships and we missed it. From coffee dates, meals together, working out with friends, small groups in our homes, we found this fellowship missing and lamented it. Yet, we weren’t content with becoming pandemic hermits because God built into us a desire to know each other. After all, we are made in the image of God, and God is always in relationship with Father, Son, and Spirit. At no time has this been more evident to me than our first church meal together at our picnic service in the park. The joy of food and fellowship together was remarkable.
5) Some Churches Were Better Prepared For Covid
The list of churches that have closed in the last 15 months is staggering. The number of pastors who have quit and moved out of ministry is staggering. Many churches and pastors were not prepared for the crisis. Those who have survived and flourished I believe did so for two reasons.
First, they faithfully trusted in the sovereign purposes of God. They trusted together that God was providentially doing something through the pandemic for the good of His glory and the church. In every hardship, they leaned into the Lord and sought to be a part of His church. They didn’t take a “vacation” from God and His bride. Being faithful to God’s call to be the church was essential to them.
Second, the churches that weathered the pandemic well had strong relationships before the pandemic occurred. Many churches that closed were church plants and churches where relationships had not yet had their roots grow deep. They withered in the heat of Covid and relational separation. Those that flourished leaned into relational capital that the church fellowship had already banked. A strong church community helped our church weather Covid.
Looking back on the pandemic, I am tremendously thankful that God’s grace and mercy were upon our church. He sustained us by His doing. We tried to pivot here and there to respond to the rapidly changing landscape of reality in 2020, but God alone guided us in His direction. I love our church and am forever thankful to God for how He helped us weather the storm.
All that being said, “It feels so good to be back to normal.”