- Posted by Babs Mullinax
- On February 4, 2021
- 0 Comments
- COVID resources, ideas for ministry, maintaining relationships
As Long as it is Called Today
A common part of conversations lately has been, “I can’t wait until this is all over.” A common headline is, “This may never be over.” Whether we like it or not, the shape of the church body has changed (as has the context culture of the church). COVID has become a long haul. The result is a weary people starved for relationship and contact. Many feel isolated and defeated; especially pastors who feel relegated to the voiceless audience of the virtual congregation. Some are biding their time until church can resume traditional means of gathering and relationship.
But some in ministry are insisting on finding ways to connect with each other despite gathering restrictions, quarantines, and Zoom fatigue (an abundance of ideas to follow) – which brings me to Hebrews. I hope you read this next portion first before jumping to the ideas because the why is so important before we choose the how.
The book of Hebrews has three interdependent themes that are layered over and over again:
- Confidence in the Person of God,
- Perseverance in the long haul, and
- Our relationship with each other as it pertains to the first two themes.
In every single chapter except one, we are given proof and reasons to have confidence in the authority and character of God. Layered between these testimonies and claims of God are stories of full lives – generations, even – whom are being implored to persevere. The end of chapter three gives us a sad example of a lost generation who failed to persevere by faith and therefore never entered God’s rest.
The author of Hebrews has great concern about our perseverance in faith over the long haul. What does that have to do with today?
Preceding the example of the lost generation, Hebrews 3:7 reads, “Today if you hear his voice do not harden your hearts.” The author reiterates this in several other places: Hebrews 3:8, 15 and 4:1. Hebrews 3:12 explains that a hardened heart is “a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” This happens one day at a time, as I infer its meaning. Therefore, there is another “today” that the author is also concerned about:
But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first (3:13-14).
See again how today is layered into the long haul? Another place where our day-by-day relationship plays into the long haul here:
Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another and all the more as you see the Day approaching (10:23-25).
Chapter twelve and thirteen give even more examples of our day-to-day with each other so that we can persevere in the confidence of our faith for the length of our life. Admittedly, this gets difficult with restrictions on gatherings, fragile health, and quarantines. However, ask God to give you ideas on how to do this day-by-day for the purpose of persevering in your faith. You need it as much as the next person!
I believe that’s why Hebrews is layered like it is. God knows the weariness of life. He wants to remind us again and again just how big and powerful and understanding he is. At every turn in Hebrews he redirects our attention to Him, and he reminds us that we are not alone in this journey.
I want to emphasize this: You’re not alone… We didn’t know how long this pandemic season would last. Today we’re going to refresh your approach to ministry. Today we’re going to encourage you. Today we’re going to find ways to meet with one another and spur each other on toward love and good deeds. Today we’re going to pursue relationship rather than a one-way stream of information. Today we’re going to fix our thoughts on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.
Why? Because day-by-day relationships build our perseverance in faith for the long haul.
Ideas for Pursuing Relationship Despite Restrictions
Following are some ideas I discovered for pursuing relationships during an isolated time while polling the churches in the Midwest District. Keep in mind, relationships are built on shared experiences, interests, and dialogue. Therefore, these ideas are heavy into experience and interest which will lead to dialogue. What demographic/subculture are you trying to reach? What are they interested in? For more ideas, ask our international workers how they maintain relationship with their families for years while overseas!
Below are several tabs with out-of-the-box ideas on how to pursue and maintain relationships. Have fun clicking through each of the tabs and let me know what ideas you’re going to try!
For creative ideas using technology and video meetings, go to our Technology resource page here: mwcma.org/resources/technology. I highly recommend it if you feel like you are in a rut and your responsiveness/participation is low.
Call on your ministry leaders and small group leaders and Sunday School teachers to help you with this one. Or better yet – make it a church challenge. Many churches rise to the challenge of Christmas shoeboxes for Samaritan’s Purse, so why not have them reach out to each other to break the relationship isolation? Very important note: Make sure to include a handwritten note with every doorstep package you create! Here are some ideas of what kind of doorstep packages you could make.
- Art supplies
- Date night basket
- Random cheer
- Get well soon
- Bible study accessories
- Games and puzzles
- Craft kits
- Recipe and ingredients
- Is there a holiday coming up? Let that inspire you!
Take the Pew to the Parking Lot
In Church Planting Basics, an intensive training for church planters in our area, a core value is be the church in your community before you even have a formal church service. With indoor restrictions and increased economic and emotional strain on our communities, how can your church be the church? What would it look like to take what you’re learning in the proverbial pew out to your parking lot?
Ask your elders and ministry leaders to be active in their HOA’s and community boards to start learning what the felt needs are in the community around you. Give it a good 4-6 months of participation so they know they can trust you. God will start to reveal how your church is uniquely equipped to meet the needs around you.
Until that happens, here’s a short-term challenge: I know your church budget has events and hospitality included in it that is probably being underspent. Think beyond your traditional expenditures for ways to gather and love your people.
- Community partnerships/Food Pantry (drive-thru style) à Financial Peace classes
- Yard signs (immediately informative or inspirational or entertaining)
- Outdoor services/concerts with low-power FM transmitter
- Puppet play/juggling act and songs for kids (something to entertain them, but not have them on top of each other) – especially if your parking lot is surrounded by apartments or an HOA
- Tailgating events for small groups (consider investing in some commercial patio heaters so you don’t have to wait until ideal weather)
- Drive-in Movies
If your once busy facility is now eerily empty, you might consider one of these options:
Learning Center (especially for kids who have both parents working)
There is training available to help you set up a good center, but here are some tips from churches who are doing one already.
- Students often have their own devices and can navigate lesson time on their own.
- More in-person help is needed with homework and personal interactions social time during lunch and class breaks
- People should sign up at least a day in advance; no random drop-offs
- Lunch or snacks should be considered (often the school district provides these).
How do you communicate you have a learning center?
- School web sites
- Church web site
- FB page
- Yard signs
- Word of mouth
- Local bulletin boards
WHO CAN HELP?
Bloomingdale Alliance Church | SAFC | Alex Culpepper
Home School Coop
Many more families have chosen the home school route, which means coops are bursting at the seams trying to find space for their teachers and students. Sometimes the teachers just need a quiet place to record their class content for online delivery. Either way, make sure the participants using your building have a good cleaning protocol when they are done. Below are some churches who have participated in home school coops so you can get an idea of what their arrangements were (cleaning protocols, how to offset utility costs, access to your church, etc.).
WHO CAN HELP?
Auburn Alliance Church | Westview Alliance Church
Find the people in your church who aren’t using their garage as a storage shed, pull the vehicles out and use it creatively in some of these ways:
- Put up a backdrop and use the awesome abundance of natural light for recording videos
- Make it a workshop for spread out crafts and activities for the neighborhood (kids or adults) – advertise it in the neighborhood social media group (Facebook/Nextdoor) in addition to the church web site and Facebook platforms
- Ask for broken things (engines, furniture, or clothing depending on your skill set) and start a group that wants to learn how to repair or upcycle these types of things. TV networks are making a killing on these topics, so there is obviously an interest. The intention behind the repairs is that the conversation around this sort of activity will naturally lead into how God restores and repurposes people, which will open up all kinds of heart-to-hearts.
NOTE: If hosting a CAC worker, make sure NOT to livestream your service or their videos UNLESS you’re using a private IP address or posting to a private YouTube channel that is NOT indexed by search engines.
Make Virtual Missions Conferences Interesting
You may be worried about not having an in-person speaker for people to engage with, and (if we’re honest), not everyone is a particularly engaging in-person, let alone on video or long distance. Here’s the key: Their sweet spot is engaging in the culture they’ve been sent to rather than trying to relate it to Americans who probably don’t have a box for the sort of stuff they are working with. Of course, let them share what they want/need to, but also give them assignments to let them shine in their sweet spot and create a shared experience with Americans.
Ideas for Videos from Workers
- Ask the international worker to film a friend in the culture preparing a meal (maybe toward the end of the meal preparation so it’s not such a long video) and explain what the food is. The international worker can easily explain they are filming so their family can see what life is like in this country.
- Ask them video what their version of a grocery store looks like and feature some common food items/snacks.
- Ask them to take you on a tour of their home. What makes it different than the home they had in America?
- What does the money look like there? How much does the food cost (McDonald’s, ground beef, cereal, soda pop)?
- What are they looking forward to and why? What have they been encouraged by?
- Ask them to show how COVID has affected their daily life in that country. How did they adapt ministry? What have they learned as a result of this season?
- Ask them to do a mini language lesson and teach a simple song – yes, even to the adults!
- Ask their family to present a fashion show of what people where in their culture – and why (weather, religion, culture, economic reasons).
- Ask them to share cultural and language blunders or other moments they found funny.
- Ask them if they can receive care packages (it’s always an interesting story if they can’t); what do they LOVE to get in those packages and why? Take notes and act on what you learn!
- How are birthdays celebrated in their culture?
- What holidays are popular there and how are they celebrated?
- What have you learned about God while being in another culture?
- What have you learned about yourself while being in another culture?
- What have you learned about people while being in another culture?
Be kind: Request pre-recorded video so they don’t have to get up in the middle of the night due to the time difference. There is usually 6-10 hours difference, which makes evening events difficult for our workers. If they insist on being available live, then go for it; but otherwise, please be considerate of the time difference!
More Virtual Strategies for Missions Conferences
Read and Respond
Have everyone read the prayer newsletter and challenge them to respond to the worker after they have prayed for them.
Personal fundraisers for the GCF
Encourage people to babysit, sell a pie-a-month, organize closets, hire themselves out for handyman jobs, or do a physical challenge to raise awareness and funds for the GCF. Have them post their activities and progress on your church Facebook page. See how creative your congregants can get!
Virtual cards (via Google forms)
Gather notes of encouragement or verses you are praying for a missionary family via a Google form in lieu of passing around a physical card for everyone to sign. This will include those who can’t be at a missions conference in person and is more sanitary for those who are there in person.
Flat Stanley idea
International workers are often visited by “Flat Stanley”, a character from the book Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown. In this book, Stanley is flattened when his bulletin board falls on him while he is sleeping. He takes the opportunity to go on many exciting adventures because he is only a half-inch thick. Classrooms across America make their own “Flat Stanley” and see how far around the world a postage stamp will take him. Why not take the international workers on a similar adventure within your church family? Create flat versions of the family members with their prayer requests on the back, and then take them around your church for a week, taking pictures with them.
International Meals & Snacks
If you can reproduce the meals/snacks featured by the international worker, have them available to your church members. You can at least offer the recipes and have families post pictures of them preparing the meal on your Facebook page, if they “nailed it”, and what their reactions to the food were.
Zoom Rooms Ideas
- Prayer groups
- Small groups
- Pursuing the call – those who feel called to missions
- Kids Korner – what does your culture look like to the kids? Teach them a simple song in your language. Can you replicate a popular snack (fun to see the facial responses as kids try the snack)?
- A cooking class using cultural recipes
- Culture awareness study of the country the international workers serve in (make it a show and tell format)
- Meet with the ministry strategists in your church (How did the international worker identify ministry strategy in their context? How can they help you identify some ideas in your context?)
When it comes down to it, in this virtual world there is more weight given to the old-fashioned means of relationship because it seems so much more intentional and authentic.
- Go buy a pack of cards and write some handwritten notes. The church administrator would love to give you some church member addresses if you don’t have a traditional directory.
- Use your phone as a phone. Don’t worry about whether or not the person is available. Just call. If they answer, tell them you called just to catch up and ask if they have about ten minutes to talk. If they don’t answer, leave them a fun voicemail.
- Stop by and visit someone at their house. I would recommend keeping it through the door or outside for two reasons: 1) Health concerns, obviously, and 2) so that if they really are busy they can get back to their day/evening more quickly and they don’t feel the pressure of inviting you in. But… The fact that you went out of your way to stop by will speak volumes to their souls.
Don’t Forget Your Pastors
If you have read all this and you aren’t a pastor, then this is my opportunity to encourage you to encourage your pastors. They have exerted a lot of effort this past year in ways that don’t often generate a lot of feedback. Consider any one of these ways as inspiration on how to encourage your pastors.