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Flourishing Update - January 27, 2021

Worship and Discipleship in World COVID

Dr. Syd Hielema directs the Connections Project for the Christian Reformed Church in North America

I’ve been involved in leading worship for fifty years, and I’ve always seen worship as the central, organizing hub of congregational life. One of my mentors taught me that discipleship is like an hour glass: all of our life’s experiences and actions flow into the narrow middle during our hour of worship, and then all that we are and am flows out, renewed and refreshed to continue following Jesus 24/7.

I now believe I was wrong. COVID-19 has proved it to be false.

Writer and visionary Alan Hirsch describes this change in worship’s role using the form of a parable based on his father teaching him to play chess. (What follows is paraphrased from a Hirsch interview).

“My father said, ‘If you really want to learn to play chess, Alan, take your queen out first. Then your opponent will keep the queen. He’s going to cream you for a long, long time. But you’re going to learn what all the other elements of the chess table can do, and then you put your queen back in.’ And at that point, you’ve actually learned to become a champion without over-relying on a singular function. For highly reformed folk it’s a sermon, or for most evangelical churches, it’s worship. That’s their queen, and they have over-relied on it, and now the queen’s taken out. They don’t know what the other pieces in the equation can do. And I think that’s a working parable for us.” (see for the full interview)

Discipleship - becoming more like Jesus in order to bless the world God so loved - takes place through dozens of different faith practices. Social isolation had already been growing through the use of social media, but is now greatly exacerbated by COVID restrictions. Might this increased isolation be calling us to build capacity for significant conversations and quiet times through which we encourage one another and ourselves as we die and rise in Christ together?

A church planter friend told me his leadership team is practicing “decentralized discipleship,” providing opportunities for folks to bless each other in small “huddles” on back porches (or ZOOM). He now sees Sunday worship as a time to strengthen the opportunities for such decentralized discipleship.

Almost everyone I know laments (but accepts) the state of COVID-restricted worship. I ask them how they are compensating, and here’s a sampling of replies:

Small prayer groups, checking in with others by phone, being blessed by God’s presence in nature, listening to music at home, silence, finding ways to serve those most hurt by COVID, actively pursuing racial justice, listening to podcasts, and more.

In other words, they are learning to play chess without the queen (or, more accurately, a limited queen). It’s not fun, but perhaps it’s an opportunity to grow toward greater and deeper faithfulness.


What We Are Reading

The Church Recovery Guide: How Your Congregation Can Adapt and Thrive after a Crisis

Karl Vaters

In this his fourth book, Vaters offers insights he has gleaned from his 30 plus years of pastoral experience in small church settings.

The author acknowledges that these 111 pages and nine short chapters were structured off the wisdom from over 50 previous articles he has written, themed around leading in times of crisis. 30% is new content related to our current crisis and church recovery.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic church leaders are facing challenges never encountered before. I am a Pastor of a small international church in an international resort setting hit particularly hard by this current crisis (85% unemployment at one point). The Church Recovery Guide offers direction needed to help churches bounce back to full health and chart a path forward to an even greater vitality.

In his optimism, Vaters likens our current circumstances to the early church who continued to make disciples while being persecuted, “running down the highway sharing Jesus as they go.”

Insight is offered into:

  • Assessing the impact of the crisis. Knowing what you know and admitting what you don’t know.

  • Reconnecting with the congregation when we come back from our isolations.

  • Communicating well. Relaying a fresh vision for the future.

  • Ministering to people in various stages of grief.

  • Encouraging and Team building of staff and volunteers.

  • Addressing finances and proactive options.

  • Reworking Technology and your online world.

I found the book to be a very concise read in easy to understand English and set up to readily share with a church board or leadership team. The chapters are short enough for our folks to read, while understanding these principles to be part of a meaningful ongoing discussion. The topics are practical in both a small and larger church context.

Vaters shares his passion for the church to be led by our own Mission Vision and Values in our own unique contexts. He desires to see the church make good spiritual and practical choices in these difficult times and to avoid knee jerk reactions that use up vital energy when going from crisis to crisis.

If you are looking for something to give your church momentum this book is worth sharing.

Rev. Dr. Kevin Driver is pastor at Banff’s Full Gospel Church. This book review was first published here.


Resources for Church Leaders

February Learning Centre Book Club from New Leaf: Join us in the online Learning Centre in February as together we read through Unsettling the Word: Biblical Experiments in Decolonization

For generations, the Bible has been employed by settler colonial societies as a weapon to dispossess Indigenous and racialized peoples of their lands, cultures, and spiritualities. Given this devastating legacy, many want nothing to do with it. But is it possible for the exploited and their allies to reclaim the Bible from the dominant powers? Can we make it an instrument for justice in the cause of the oppressed? Even a nonviolent weapon toward decolonization? Click here to register.

The Global Leadership Summit Special Edition, February 25: Ready to launch into the new year but feel like some additional momentum is needed to give you that extra edge? Patrick Lencioni, Vanessa Van Edwards, and Jerry Lorenzo, are coming together to bring you a leadership boost of encouragement and insight to start your year with clarity of vision and new energy. Click here for more information and register.

Hopeful Economics unconference, March 3-5: Hopeful economics is a way of looking at the world of the assets and abundance that it has and making that work for everyone. An unConference is when topics and discussions are informed by the people who show up! Click here for more information and register.

Researching the Impacts of Covid-19 on Congregations

Several research studies are emerging on the impacts of Covid-19 on congregations. Click Here to learn from these data-driven insights.


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