Dear Northway Church —
This week has been like none other I’ve ever faced in my ministry or my lifetime. I’ve shared with several friends that the situation we are facing feels like 9/11, the Great Recession, and the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic all rolled into one. Moreover, it has seemingly been thrust upon our lives in such a rapid manner. Sure, for a couple of months we knew that countries overseas were dealing with this virus, and for several weeks we heard reports of individuals being tested positive in our own country. However, this past weekend, everything turned. Conversations became more serious. Fears were heightened. Various counties began the process of closing their schools. Then, on Friday, churches were asked to cancel their worship services this past Sunday. As of this writing, we have moved our worship experiences to online only through the end of March. We are hoping and praying that we will return to our normal schedule on Palm Sunday; however, there is so much uncertainty right now. We are making decisions on a daily — sometimes hourly — basis.
Even though we are facing extremely difficult and unprecedented circumstances, I believe that our faith community will have four unique opportunities during this time. Through all of this, I’m praying that many will be awakened from their spiritual slumber and that countless lives will be eternally changed. I strongly believe that the Lord wants our church to be a part of what He is and will be doing in these trying times. Following are the four unique opportunities we have now been given:
1. The online opportunity. During the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, only one in three homes in our nation had a telephone and the Ford Model T was only a decade old. The internet and social media wouldn’t be introduced into our lives for decades. It was difficult to stay connected with others.
Now, during the COVID-19 crisis of 2020, our society and our churches have more resources than ever. When our leadership made the extremely difficult decision this past Saturday to cancel our on-campus gatherings for worship, I was so thankful that we had already had in-place our live stream. While not ideal, it was a way for us to worship together and stay connected.
As we continue to meet virtually over the next couple of weeks, we have a unique opportunity. This past Sunday, hundreds (perhaps into the thousands) watched our worship service on Facebook Live. This was more than ten times our normal viewership. Meaning, our faith community is now able to act as a massive marketing team for Northway Church. When you share, like, and comment on our event, it provides a way for many who aren’t familiar with our church to see our worship. With hundreds and thousands of individuals and families watching and sharing our Facebook Live posts, those posts then have the opportunity to go viral (sorry, no pun intended). Perhaps, on the other side of this crisis, many individuals who were formerly unfamiliar with the ministry of Northway will decide to visit our church.
2. The community opportunity. In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul wrote the following: So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up (Ephesians 4:11-12, NIV). At Northway, we have worked to implement this Biblical truth into the life of our church. Our desire and goal has been to equip our members to do the work of ministry. We have made much progress in this and I personally believe the growth of our church has been due to the fact that our members take serious their role in personally serving and ministering to others.
However, during this time, this approach to our ministry will be vital. More than ever before, we need our Home Team leaders, our FE leaders, our KIDS and Preschool leaders, and all of our Sunday morning class leaders to be the ministers for their small groups. To stay connected with and minister to our communities, each of us must step up and be intentional. Do your part in checking on one another. Encourage one another. Do online Bible studies together. Send out prayer lists via email. Use Zoom, FaceTime, GroupMe, or your other favorite tech-connecting app or program. Through all of this, I’m hoping that our small group ministry will become even stronger and more effective.
3. The parenting opportunity. For the first 1800+ years of the church, parents understood that the spiritual formation of their children was primarily and (in most cases, solely) their responsibility. They took seriously the instruction to moms and dads in the book of Deuteronomy: These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up (Deut. 6:6-7, NIV).
However, with the advent of the modern Sunday School in our nation (sometime in the 1800’s), many parents began to shift the responsibility for the discipleship of their children to “the church.” They handed their children to a Sunday School teacher and expected that teacher, in one hour, to mold and shape their children into mature Christ-followers.
This attitude has remained (perhaps intensified) among many parents in our modern day church. They do not feel it is necessary to shepherd the hearts of their children. They have abandoned their responsibility.
During our current crisis, this approach to discipleship isn’t an option. If a child is to be discipled, it will have to be by their parent(s). Our Next Generation team has been and will continue to provide resources for parents to use with their children; however, the responsibility rests with us. We will have to be the ministers to our children. I’m believing that many families in our church will be made stronger due to the inability to physically gather on our church campus.
4. The witness opportunity. Like during any national or international crisis, our neighbors and friends will have questions and many will look to Christ-followers and the church for answers. I remember well the Sunday after September 11, 2001. Our church’s worship center was standing room only. We were not unique in that. Virtually every church across our nation was jam-packed with individuals wanting to know, “What does God have to say about all of this?”
As we face this virus, social distancing, and economic struggles, many will be asking that same question. You will have friends, neighbors, and family members looking to you for answers. In his letter, Peter instructed Christians to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (I Peter 3:15, NIV). We will have unique opportunities to share with others the reason for our hope: Jesus Christ. I’m strongly believing that this crisis is and will present a unique evangelistic opportunity for us.
Please join me in seizing these opportunities we have been given during these uncertain and difficult days. I imagine that the first Sunday we are able to physically gather again — whenever that day comes — our worship center will be filled to capacity. I can’t wait!