Pastors and Churches Ask, “Now What?”

Equipping each other for post-pandemic life and ministry

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For many months life seemed to slow down. There were a lot less in-person gatherings. Many activities had to stop. The rhythms of our lives were disrupted in some significant ways. We all had to learn how to do life in some ways we weren’t used to—trying to work and stay connected while not being around people in the same ways we were accustomed to doing. It’s been a lot for everyone. 

Now life is changing again. Things seem to be speeding up. Calendars are filling up with activities again. People are starting to get back together. Churches are beginning to get back into rhythms of meeting and doing ministry that looks more like pre-pandemic life. Yet, there are a lot of questions about the future. Questions about what will happen next with COVID. Questions about how we want to live together as we approach (hopefully) post-pandemic life. 

Many people don’t want to go back to living a wildly busy life. Many people realize there is no “going back to the way things were” after what we’ve all been through. We’ve learned some lessons during the pandemic we don’t want to lose track of. We realize there are some shifts we’d like to make, but we’re not sure how to make them. 

Many church leaders wonder if they will be able to find enough volunteers to get the programs and ministry offerings of the church running the way they used to run. This is challenging for a number of reasons. First, not everyone has the same level of comfort engaging with others because of the continuing uncertainty related to COVID. And people have strong opinions about how we ought to be approaching COVID. Another reason this is challenging is because leaders wonder if we even should try to offer the same programs and ministry opportunities we were offering before. We have a sense we need to adjust and offer more hybrid (online and in-person) opportunities, but it’s not clear how to do that or who is going to do it. 

I want to make a couple of suggestions for congregations during this time of figuring out post-pandemic life. These are based on a few of the lessons I think we’ve learned during the pandemic that we want to integrate into our life together.

Lesson #1: We don’t need life to be as busy as it was.

As congregations, we shouldn’t rush to fill our church calendars as full as we can. We need to leave some space in our schedules to discover the opportunities God is putting in front of us now. The goal can’t be to “get back to normal” as quickly as possible. We need a period of time to try some new ways of being church that maybe involve less church activities. 

This needs to be stated by the leaders of congregations so that pastors and key leaders don’t feel pressure to get everything up and running like it was as soon as possible. Instead of expecting our leaders to help us ramp things back up, we need our leaders to help us process what we’ve been through and what God might be calling us to do next. How might we create a light weight and low maintenance approach to this season of church life so that we don’t get overwhelmed trying to “get back to normal?”

Lesson #2: We’ve all been through a lot.

The theme I keep hearing from many people is about the need for healing during this time. The pandemic has impacted all of us in very different ways. It continues to impact us, and people all around the world, in life changing ways. Beyond COVID, we continue to struggle with essential questions about racial justice. The events and conversations over the past couple years have profoundly impacted our understanding of how we’re divided along racial lines. There seems to be very little space to process the impact of these events. 

We need some simple, repeatable practices that offer opportunity for healing. One practice might be simply asking others to share what their life has been like the last year or two years. Give other people space just to share their story with you. There is some healing that can occur just by giving people a chance to share and acknowledging how hard it has been. It would be great if our practice of gathering as church created these kinds of opportunities for story sharing during this time.

Lesson #3: Many people are searching for meaning.

The last couple years have raised some very deep questions for just about everyone. What really is meaningful to me in life? What do I want my life to be about? Who do I need to stay connected with? Where has God been in the midst of all of this? These questions (and many more I’m sure) are being asked by lots of people, not just people in congregations. This seems to me to be an opportunity God’s Spirit is opening up that could help people find how God is central to the meaning of their life. How might God be inviting followers of Jesus to help people process these kinds of questions as we enter this next season of life together?

One of my fears is that congregations are going to be so busy trying to figure out how to get all their ministries and programs up and running that they will miss the opportunities to help people process these questions. Empowering Christians in this season needs to focus on helping them have eyes to see and ears to hear what God is doing in the lives of the people around them. We need to help people notice these opportunities and feel confident stepping into them.

This can be as simple as asking a neighbor/co-worker/friend to share what life has been like for them during COVID and listening well to their story. It can mean offering to pray for healing as a response to the many challenges people have faced. It might mean experimenting with online or in-person gatherings simply focused on helping people talk about what they’ve learned from living through the pandemic and what they think is most important to focus on going forward. 

Much of Jesus’ ministry focused on healing. All kinds of healing: spiritual, emotional, physical, relational, financial, etc. Wherever Jesus went, he always offered healing. Many of the people who sought Jesus out needed healing. 

We are certainly in a period of time where we all need healing. We don’t just need to get back to normal. We need Jesus to heal us. And we need to learn some new ways God may be inviting us to offer that healing to other people. While that might sound intimidating, maybe it doesn’t need to be. Jesus empowered his followers to offer healing to those around him. He did that by teaching them to be with other people, listen to them, and pray for them. What if empowering people in our congregations focused on that, in this time? 

Your turn

What ministry experiments will you try, to create space for people to share what they’ve been through and what next steps they want to take? 

Perhaps start here, paid staff and lay leaders together: Make a short list of people in your life that might be willing to share their experience of the pandemic with you. Invite them to talk, listen to them well, and offer to pray for them as they figure out their next steps. 

Keep a list of the healing needs of those you listen to and bring those needs to the whole congregation to be offered up in prayer to God. This is one way we might be able to offer the healing of Jesus to those around us. What other ways might we do this together?

This is a time of opportunity. The Spirit of God is at work. As tempting as it is to try and get things back to normal, let’s pray God would show us the opportunities that exist all around us to love our neighbors in the name of Jesus.

  • Michael Binder

    Michael Binder is a professor, pastor, and church leadership consultant. He currently is on the faculty of Luther Seminary teaching ministry leadership; Michael also serves on the Innovation Team at Luther. He helped start Mill City Church in Northeast Minneapolis in 2008 and continues to serve there. He also consults with congregations and denominations in the U.S. and Canada. He lives in Saint Paul with his wife and three children.

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