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On the ancient Roman calendar the Ides of March – the 15th day of that month – was a day for several pagan religious observances. In 44 BC it was the day of the assassination of Julius Caesar. Annually it was the deadline for settling debts.
For your congregation, the Ides of March 2021 will be one year since you began responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic. It has now been five months since the Ides of March 2020. We have seven more months to go. How will your congregation be different on the Ides of March 2021 than it was in 2020?
I urge you to use your spiritual intuition and imagination to ponder your life and ministry on the Ides of March 2021. What will it be like? What do you need to do to prepare yourself and your congregation? What is the vision God has for your congregation on that day? What will ministry look like one year into your COVID-19 Pandemic response? In preparation it is important to consider prayerfully and strategically the following questions and issues about the future of your congregation.
What is it that you have stopped doing as a congregation since March 15, 2020? Have your stopped these things temporarily? Or have you now discovered that you can and ought to stop any of them permanently? Were they ineffective, took too many of your precious resources, and have not been missed? If temporary, when and how will you resume doing them? As you relaunch them you can at least engage in some incremental innovation that gives them a fresh feel. If permanent, have you considered replacing them with something that will more empower God’s vision for your congregation?
What is it that you have started doing as a congregation since March 15, 2020? Have you started these things with the hope that they are temporary? Or have you now discovered they are part of new reality for congregational life and they will be permanent? Will they be permanent out of necessity, or because they truly do add value to the life and ministry of your congregation? If they are temporary, when and how will you stop them and transition forward – not back – to refresh and relaunch them? If permanent, can you clearly show how they are adding value to the life and ministry of your congregation, and helping you fulfill God’s vision?
Beware of the stress and the overload of transition and change during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Just as Julius Caesar needed to beware of the Ides of March, you need to beware of the stress and overload of the COVID-19 Pandemic in at least four ways.
First, this time of crisis and forced transition and change caused all of us to learn new ways to do ministry in a very short time. It is almost like your job as a pastor, staff person, or lay leader ended on the Ides of March 2020 and you started a significantly new job with great challenges and a steep learning curve. I can remember that each time I started a new ministry position during my life, the first couple of months were full of both excitement and emotion. The emotion focused on trying to learn how to do the new ministry position in the new context with a whole new set of contextual expectations. There was always the stress of not knowing what it is I do not know. So much about this pandemic has been in the arena of the unknown for all of us.
Second, we have all had the tendency to overload ourselves by trying to do as many of the former things that we can while adding a new set of roles and responsibilities to our ministry. As ministers we want to help everyone and every situation. Thus, our tendency is to add things to our ministry efforts and not eliminate anything. That creates an overload we cannot always emotionally and spiritually handle. Then we are also dealing with the conflicting expectations we hear from our congregational participants about how we do church, when we do church, and whose advice we follow. Often our congregation has added to our overload due to their conflicting demands.
Third, ministry is about people, and it is the stuff of high touch more than high tech. Weddings, hospital and group housing visitation, funerals, baptisms, the Lord’s Supper, and various other aspects of ministry have not been able to happen with high touch. The high tech alternatives are inadequate. For the proclaimer aspect of pastors, preaching to a camera rather than an onsite congregation got old very fast. Wanting a live audience to be in front of us may have caused a return to live worship before the congregation was ready. We even wonder if all our congregation will ever be ready.
Fourth, are money and staff. We all worried about whether or not the tithes and offerings of our congregation would support our ministry. Would we have to lay off staff or significantly change their jobs? These questions are not over yet, even if your congregation has done well to this point. The economic impact of the pandemic is still happening. Some jobs have gone away permanently. Others will come back. Our core faithful people are likely doing all they can to support our congregation. If you received a PPP loan it may now be running out. In the midst of all of these situations, beware of the Ides of March 2021. By this I mean do not act in unwise or foolish ways. Remember our Triune God was with us before the pandemic, is with us in the midst of the pandemic, and will be with our following the pandemic. Spiritually we need not worry. Strategically we must be wise and vigilant as we approach the Ides of March 2021.