A challenge: naming the storm

It’s the 26th of March 2020. New Zealand is in Day 1 of Alert Level 4 for Covid-19. It’s a national lockdown. On the positive side of things, over the last few days my family and I have never seen so many people out walking, never connected with so many neighbours, never seen so many teddy bears in the windows of houses. It ain’t all bad! Still, last night when I popped out for a couple of last minute messages, it felt like a very weird version of Christmas eve… and even a week ago, life in Dunedin felt strangle eerie, as we seemed collectively to wonder, “Is this the calm before the storm? Or is this the storm?”

Getting some perspective: where are we?

This is one of the things I have found myself wondering about: what’s the best way to think about “where we are” as Christian leaders in New Zealand? We are dealing with a very complicated and uncertain situation in which huge amounts of our “normal” activity has been halted, across our society. When activity stops, it seems natural to try to find new kinds of activity to fill gaps and meet needs, and rightly so. That has indeed been what we’ve been doing.

Over the last week, churches across the country have moved very fast to try to adapt ministry activities to the online world. Many moved to to livestream worship services on Sundays, small groups have moved to zoom meetings and online resource groups have been established. This is all fine and good, and the church community I lead, Student Soul, has done exactly the same. Of course this is all important. But through the flurry of activity I have personally been musing (and it’s been more like a subsonic rumble than a coherent thought) about the deeper implications of this national and worldwide crisis. It’s one thing for our ministry activities and church communities to survive a week, or a month, and even to develop some new rhythms and routines. But it’s a whole different thing to try and understand the scale of the changes that are to come.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have the answer… but here’s some thoughts

Like I said, the best I’ve got at the moment is a low supersonic rumble. I don’t really understand where we are or what is coming next. Who could? There are forecasts and trends and wise guesses. There is prayerful discernment. But here are some puzzle pieces I’m working with:

  1. CHANGE IS HERE: I have been expecting communal Christian life to change dramatically for some time. Many people have been writing, leading, creating, experimenting with different ways of “being church” for a long time. So I’m not surprised that we are now there. (But I am still shocked!)
  2. THE “URGENT” MIGHT NOT BE THE MOST IMPORTANT: Last week the urgency was to devise an alternative to Sunday worship. We all adapted. This week it is yet another change, as lockdown takes social isolation to another level (a minor but practical example is that for Student Soul, the studio space set up for last Sunday is now inaccessible). There has been and is still more “urgent” adaption to be done. But other unanswered issues and challenges remain.
  3. AN ONGOING CHALLENGE: I suspect (but could be wrong) that despite that gains or successes that happen over the next few weeks, the months after lockdown (whenever it ends) will perhaps be more difficult ones. What shocks have we not forseen that will hit us in 6 weeks time? What will the implications to the world and NZ economy be following all this? Will energy for Zoom church stay strong during this period, or will it slowly wane? Will our churches develop thick and strong pastoral connections or will this be a shock that is hard to bounce back from? Whatever the reality, I think we should plan for it being a difficult road to winter… and beyond.
  4. THE CAP ON GATHERINGS: Here’s a what if… What happens if gatherings are capped at 100 people permanently for the next two years? 50 people? 10 people? Are our desperate innovations in the art of connection deep and strong enough to nourish and sustain Christ-shaped communities in an uncertain post-pandemic world?

Moody resilience – getting ready for the long haul

So where does this leave us? I believe that if you are a leader involved in shaping the life of a community in New Zealand (or beyond), it’s time for you to draw on all the energy, resilience and resource you can find. It is time to prepare for a great challenge.

Many people in our country and world are already deeply engaged in this challenge. But there are no guarantees of the shape, the contours, the length, the magnitude or the variety of directions this flood could take us.

It is probably wise for us to be thinking how we can empower strategic leaders and “eyes open” dreamers to be beginning work on some “what if” scenarios planning. (Think about 2-year, 1-year and 90-day plans.)

Even if I am, in my own cautious way, over-implying the longer term impacts of Covid-19 upon the life of the church in New Zealand, the reality is that it has heightened us to a state of alertness that is actually suitable for the high-stakes of the Gospel.

Here we are: it’s time to get ready

I’ve been exploring from a perspective of Christian communities in New Zealand whether this moment of March 2020 is “the storm” or if it’s “the peace before the storm”. I’ve concluded that I don’t exactly know… but that it’s probably best to get ready.

With that in mind, my call to you is to embrace a high-stakes reality. Signs are that Covid-19 is indeed setting the tone for a high-stakes future. And the reality of faith is that regardless of what happens, this has always been and always will be a high-stakes life.

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

John 16.33 NIV

We are now in a high-stakes moment. And I am calling upon you to rise to the challenge, in your own particular and unique way. God has created you with the resilience and courage to enter into this. The Holy Spirit will renew your strength and resolve. In Christ Jesus you have both origin and destination, and these are precisely the tools you need to faithfully embracing the mission task to come.

AMEN / LET IT BE

P.S. I would totally welcome any comments and engagement on this, let me know your views, what does and doesn’t resonate. Let’s chat and keep connected. Peace. Tom

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  • Great thinking Tom, this resonates with me and reflects what other thinkers in the church are saying. For those of us that have been banging our head against the immovable institution of church this is also an exciting time to shape something fresh!

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