It’s not lost on anyone that the Western Church is in a state of upheaval right now with the spread of the novel coronavirus. People are losing their jobs, bills are piling up, church buildings remain empty and church finances are already beginning to creak.
Largely, the church’s response has been to pause all in-person programming and quickly innovate through taking everything online, using tools like Facebook Live, Zoom rooms, livestreaming and a whole host of other digital options.
In the last few weeks, along with some friends of mine across various organizations, we’ve been able to cobble together a network of coaches around the country and have started dozens of temporary coaching groups to help them create a custom church response plan; to date, more than 800 churches are in an ongoing group.
What’s become glaringly clear to most everyone is churches were largely unprepared for such an immediate shift. Most churches struggled (and many continue to struggle) to move online. Many small group leaders have no idea how to lead the people entrusted to their care. Many pastors and church leaders are realizing how so much of their church expression was based on the two “Big P’s” of Western Church life: Personalities and Programming.
So what happens when you largely unplug access to those two things in the way we’re accustomed to?
My friend Rob Wegner has a really interesting metaphor for this. He says what’s happened is akin to a string of old-school Christmas lights. When you pull just one bulb out, the whole thing goes dark. There’s been a centralization to our church expression that relies so heavily on Personalities and Programming that many churches are reeling as a result. Do the people of God know how to be the church and not simply go to church?
In the midst of this, a number of prophetic voices have been stepping up (and quite loudly so) with a kind of “I told you so” message and tone.
And it’s this response that’s been troubling to me.
Right now, the Western Church is under tremendous pressure, not unlike a thirteen year old who was playing with firecrackers and blew his hand off. The most important thing for a parent to do is to get the bleeding under control and make sure the child doesn’t go into catatonic shock and bleed out. They need to calm down the terror the child is feeling and get them to the hospital as quickly as possible.
In this scenario, the worst thing the parent could do is decide to focus their energy on saying things like, “See! I told you so! I told you not to play with firecrackers! What were you thinking?!”
The rightness or wrongness of where the church finds itself at this exact moment in time is beside the point. We have to triage the place we find ourselves in and care for those right in front of us.
What this highlights is a shift that prophetic voices need to make in this current climate. (And a shift that many are having a hard time making.)
I was talking about this shift with a close pastor friend of mine and member of the Catapult team, Andy Graham, who himself is deeply prophetic. I thought he made a really astute observation about the prophetic voice:
“In a time of plenty, the prophetic voice should bring challenge. But in a time of great crisis, the prophetic voice should bring great hope for the future.”
What I’m hearing is a great lack of those prophetic voices bringing hope for the future. We need prophetic voices more than ever, but we need them to shift to the moment we find ourselves in.
There are prophetic voices we need more of right now, and prophetic voices we need far less of. The thing I’ve been reflecting on, praying through in my own life and leadership and having discussions with quite a few leaders about is that clarion call of hope right now. It isn’t that we won’t have a different conversation in one month, three months or whenever it’s the wise time to do so. In the same way that eventually that parent will have a conversation about playing with firecrackers.
But when surrounded in darkness, we need to point to that glimmer of light and say, “There. That light? That one flicker? More of that is coming.”
Why? For “that light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it.”