I recently engaged an old friend on several questions related to how the Coronavirus has changed the way our church (Memorial Baptist Church, New Castle, Indiana) is currently doing ministry. This informal Q&A amongst friends helped me process what I am learning as I lead our church through some valleys.
What I Have Learned.
1. The Officers of the Church Have Had to Take More Responsibility, Not Less.
That’s right. Instead of things getting easier on lockdown things have gotten harder. Our church is a conservative Reformed Southern Baptist Church. We have Elders who provide oversight and soul care and Deacons who serve with great care and compassion. Yet, overall most of the ministry that takes place is led by Spirit-filled lay-leadership.
Discipleship, ministry to shut-ins, outreach to skilled nursing facilities, and meal ministry to some of our seniors and sick is usually led by a body of Christ lovers who feel a deep commitment to one another to meet the needs we have.
But in this season our lay ministry has been laid off in some ways too. The people are at home praying and remaining steadfast, but they are also trying to obey the appeal for us to socially distance ourselves to beat the virus. Which means in many ways more responsibility has landed upon the backs of the leaders of the church than ever before.
2. Communication Has Never Been More Important.
In our normal routine, we would communicate our announcements via the pulpit, a weekly newsletter, and a mass call when we had something big going on (an evangelistic outreach, a special guest, a reminder of an event). But now we are being much more diligent:
- Multiple emails are going out each week.
- Midweek YouTube communication.
- More frequency in texting with key leaders in the church.
- More social media interaction with our church and community.
- More frequency in updating website information.
- Routine Zoom meetings.
- Each staff member, Elders, and Deacons have assigned groups to call and pray for each week.
- Increased frequency in mass phone calls.
3. Our Church was at least 5-8 years behind where we should have been with our technology.
I was always resistant to online formats to broadcast live worship at our church (and there is some ecclesiological convictions behind that, but that’s for another time). Additionally, I had never considered the importance of online giving. Likewise, website updates seemed unimportant in the days of a self-updating Facebook feed.
But COVID-19 forced us to get a little more tech-savvy in a short time. In three weeks, we have:
- Started a YouTube channel.
- Stumbled through FB live and other livestream failure, but making progress each time we try.
- Updated our website to reflect better communication and relevant links for our church.
- Secured a “champion” for our audio/visual team who is in the process of editing our content and increasing the quality of our production.
- Initiated an online-giving platform.
- Made better use of meeting platforms like Zoom.
I won’t pretend that our church is filled with tech-savvy gurus, but we do have some pretty capable people who are persistent to get things done and we have caught up significantly in a short amount of time.
4. An Online Service is not the same thing as an Offline Gathering of the Church.
Many saints have been edified by online teaching. We live in an age when people can get a message from Sinclair Ferguson on the work of the Holy Spirit, then listen to John Piper preach about the God-centeredness of God, and round out the day with the late R.C. Sproul preaching on the Holiness of God.
Let’s face it, we have incredible resources for teaching and preaching. At the same time, we can even listen to incredible hymns and worship songs through Spotify, YouTube, and Pandora. We are blessed with digital exegetical giants and worship leaders, but they are a poor substitute for gathering with the people you have covenanted to love for the purposes of worshiping Christ together.
In short, going online cannot compare with gathering offline with your church family. I miss the gathering and I long for when we worship together.
5. Jesus was, is, and will always be the Center of the Church, not the pastor.
The pastor usually takes a prominent space in the church from behind the pulpit and in leadership meetings. But I have become more aware that the online format could potentially heighten the opportunity for the cult of personality to emerge.
If the pastor is the only one who is being seen, or heard, or teaching then there is a chance that people might conclude (and maybe even the pastor) that the pastor stands at the center of the church when that place is reserved for the King Shepherd alone, King Jesus.
The church doesn’t revolve around one person, one family, or one faction—the church revolves around Jesus because Jesus is the center and foundation, the head of the body of Christ (Colossians 1:18).
I would encourage other pastors and church leaders to take pause and reflect on what they are learning through this process and how God is using it sanctify us and transform us into Christ’s image (2nd Corinthians 3:18).
Tobby Smith is Pastor of Memorial Baptist Church in New Castle, Indiana. Tobby holds a B.A. from Boyce College, an M.A. and Masters of Divinity from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, and is currently a PhD student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Tobby has been married to his wife Rachel for twenty-three years. They have a teenage son name Piper.
Address: Tobby E. Smith
706 Redbud Lane
New Castle, Indiana 47362