Let's NOT go back to how we did things before the lockdown. Please

Stop worrying about whether church – especially church attendance – will go back to how it was before COVID-19. Instead, let’s seize upon the creativity and flexibility we’ve shown lately and (with God’s help) aim for a rebirth – a renaissance – of our Christian mission.

That’s the message Ed Stetzer, head of the Billy Graham Centre at Wheaton College (a Christian liberal arts institution near Chicago), gave this week to the Connect 2020 conference organised by Christian Media and Arts Australia (CMAA).

“I don’t think this moment [the pandemic] will undermine what God is doing,” said Stetzer, a pastor, researcher and church planter.

“If we say ‘yes’ to Jesus, we will see a rebirth – a renaissance.”

Describing the work of the Billy Graham Centre – and many churches during the COVID-19 pandemic, Stezer said: “We have focussed on helping people respond well, to respond how the Lord would respond.”

He described the process churches have been going through, in four phases.

  • Pause and Pivot There was substantial change that led to innovation in many churches. “This is not the first time Christians have been through a global crisis,” Stetzer noted.
  • Prepare and planning This is the stage when many determined to be good neighbours.
  • Engage and Execute “… new and fruitful ways to show the love of Jesus.”
  • And a future phase to come out of lockdown. “Churches may need to be like accordions for a while … large then small, then large then small.”

“After 20 years of the missional conversation [that Stetzer has been engaged in, writing books and blogs] of the church leaving the building – God did it in three months,” observed Stetzer.

“I am concerned that churches will go back to being the same as before – but I hope there is a missional renaissance out of all this suffering.”

The pandemic “was not surprising to the Lord. He was not taken aback by it. I was – and you were.”

“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

In faith rather than fear, with the peace that passeth understanding in our hearts – motivated by the cross of Jesus Christ – Stetzer reminded his audience that they have been sent into the world.

Setzer centred his keynote message on John 20:19-20 “… when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’”

Stetzer noted how Jesus twice said “Peace be with you!” He showing his hands and side to his disciples, bringing peace into a tumultuous situation. And then he sent them out.

Stetzer also drew attention to the 40 times earlier in the Gospel of John that Jesus speaks of being sent by his father. And how Jesus then said: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

Sent out into a world with COVID-19. Sent out into a world with race riots. Sent out “not to be religious consumers of religious products,” advised Stetzer, but sent out as “people on mission.”

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