I lead a church called Redeemer King in Chesterfield, a church I planted six years ago with friends.
After the lockdown announcement, I posted this on Twitter:
I know this is contentious. But we won't be physically meeting as a church @Redeemer_King Just because we can doesn't mean we should. Obvs many considerations including context, deprivation, protecting vulnerable people, local witness. Every leader has to make their own decision.— Carl Beech (@mrbeechy) January 4, 2021
A heart for the poor
Covid-19 is not illness that affects us all equally. There is and will be a disproportionate impact and burden upon poorer areas. (There is of course also greater impact in BAME communities, among carers, the elderly etc).
While our church has both the wealthy and poor within it, I personally live in an area of deprivation and my day job running Edge ministries is focussed on “forgotten places” across the UK.
Leaders of churches in areas of deprivation or who have a special heart for the poor are more likely to either close their physical doors or restrict meetings to those who desperately need support and contact (or aren’t online). It has been a shock to some leaders to realise that not everyone has internet in their home or a smart phone/tablet.
My community is still divided over the miners strikes of the 1980s. Memories are long here. If my church became known as a “super-spreader” and people died, it would affect gospel witness for many years to come.
Shouldn’t we stand in solidarity with those who are unable to work or have had their businesses shut down? This is not persecution. Its inconvenience. We are in the same boat as everyone else. In fact, we are in a better and freer boat than a gym owner under the current restrictions.
Practice what you preach
For years we have said church isn’t about the building or Sundays. Time to prove it.
Nowhere in scripture does it proscribe that we should meet on the Lord's day (there’s a bigger case for daily meetings but that’s for another blog). This isn’t to say that Sunday meetings aren’t important! However a spotlight has been shone on our failure to prepare our people for tough times.
I’ve witnessed quite a number of people coming to Christ during lockdown who are buzzing, transformed, full of joy, the word and the Holy Spirit – and they’ve never been to a Sunday meeting! Simultaneously I’ve seen established long-time believers almost fall apart, in part because of the absence of Sunday meetings. As a pastor I understand this, but I also feel that I have failed in some aspects of discipleship. I therefore view this as an opportunity to put some things right. Covid is a welcome disruption in that sense.
I want to keep people, especially the vulnerable, safe. There will be people who feel they ought to go if you stay open but in reality feel anxious and afraid.
What are we doing instead?
- This is the time to innovate and not replicate. We haven't tried to put on a Sunday meeting as before. We suspected we were in for a marathon so we made things sustainable and not exhausting. Spotify worship playlists, pre-recorded sermons filmed from an armchair. We wanted people to feel like they were having a chat with the pastor in his/her living room. We adopted a more conversational approach.
- We released the creatives and mavericks! I felt that we couldn’t have too much content. We even had a widely read blog series on “trees in the Bible” by a former national tree expert. Strangely compelling!
- We got 80 per cent of the church into small groups
- We ditched plans to buy a building and put 25% of our funds into a hardship fund so that no one would “go under”. This created greater online engagement and witness.
- We purchased tablets and wifi for those who couldn’t afford it. A massive effort went into connecting everyone and caring for all.
- We opened an online pub “Redeemer King Arms”.
- We’ve had regular Zoom prayer nights, quizzes, worship nights, talent shows, game shows, theatre productions and so on.
- We have new believers filming devotions and older believers, being grandparents to the church over zoom and posting sermon discussions live with the preacher.
- We've held monthly magazine style meetings with special guests and testimonies etc
- Run back to back online Alphas, a Bible and discipleship courses.
- Held a Q&A session and been open about our failures as well as our successes.
Its far from perfect and we long to meet physically together again. When we do, I pray we will be humbler, deeper and more grace filled.
I'm aware that each church needs to decide what’s best for their context, and not all will reach the same conclusions we have done. We need to be kind to each other no matter what is decided.
Let's make sure we cheer our leaders and each other on: "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." (Ephesians 4:29)
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