A New Religion Challenging Christianity
One of the many challenges facing The Post Covid Church is the increasingly hostile position of those in power who take umbrage at the audacity of Americans to hold to fixed, firm Biblical positions.
The irony is that this new “woke” worldview, that has escaped from the ivory towers of the tenured protected universities to quickly inculcate the media, business and government, is really just another religion. Blaise Pascal famously said we all have a “God shaped vacuum” in our heart. But if you don’t fill it with God, you’ll look for something else.
How well are we teaching those in church to share the Good News to fill the empty hearts?
Below is a recent column from The Wall Street Journal’s Gerard Baker who powerfully points out what is happening as this new religion gains steam:
The C-Suite Converts To The New Political Religion
Easter Week, as the culture wars rage on, is a timely moment to reflect on the religious nature of the modern ideology our leaders seek to impose on us.
Astute historians have observed that the wars of religion that seemed to define pre-Enlightenment history never really went away; the religions just got new labels. Secular ideologies that supplanted the old confessions seized the mind with the same sense of spiritual mission. The loyalties they demanded were more divisive and even more destructive than anything organized religion ever managed.
In the 19th century it was nationalism. In the 20th, communism and fascism. In the 21st woke cultural nihilism is the dominant confession, and a fanatical one.
The modern secularists who deride the hagridden mysticism of traditional religion are now the most devoted congregants in the First Church of Antiracism. Penitents line up to be shriven for their white privilege, bending the knee before the altar of justice and equity. They present pendants of the martyred St. George of Minneapolis for blessing from Hollywood prelates and Ivy League divines, solemnly chanting canticles from the Black Lives Matter breviary.
The history of religious war offers warnings for all of us, but most of all for those late converts to the new religion in the big corner offices of American corporations.
The men who run Major League Baseball, Delta Air Lines, Coca-Cola and other giants have been quick to mouth the required antiphony of the modern liturgy. After long careers in which they seemed happy to let their talents propel them to unimaginable wealth, they’ve now discovered that the society that elevated them was founded in evil.
But instead of doing the honorable thing, and stepping down in favor of some less-privileged underling, they demonstrate a commitment to the faith by denouncing others. Here you have the essence of the new faith and morals of the woke classes, the truly privileged people in our society: I’m not to blame, you understand; it’s all those other white folk.
The rush by corporate leaders to denounce Georgia’s new voting law will rank in infamy as one of the most cowardly, cynical and socially destructive moves in modern American history.
There’s no need to rehearse all the arguments about the law. Suffice it to say it expands opportunities to vote well beyond what existed even two years ago and that it is more permissive than the prevailing laws in many blue states.
But to some religions facts are irrelevant, and bowing to the pressure from the media and Democrats, these titans of private enterprise quickly submitted to the collective will.
Since they’ve now been drafted into the army of the woke, these CEOs might want to acquaint themselves with other historical figures who’ve made accommodations to the prevailing religious orthodoxy. It doesn’t always end well.
My favorite example is Thomas Cranmer. He was the 16th-century archbishop of Canterbury who rose to prominence as a loyal cleric under Henry VIII. When the king forced him to choose between his faith and his head, he jumped aboard the reformation bandwagon and denounced Rome. Unfortunately for Cranmer and other religious opportunists, their world changed awkwardly when Queen Mary, the vengeful daughter of Henry’s discarded wife, came to the throne and reinstated Catholic primacy. Cranmer, like these modern-day CEOs, quickly pledged his loyalty to the new order.
Mary’s response was to thank him for the recantation, publicly parade it as an important endorsement of her new regime, and proceed to have him burned at the stake anyway.
The woke enforcers don’t burn heretics—not yet, anyway—but our infinitely flexible modern clerisy don’t have to look back to the Middle Ages for a sobering lesson.
Even as they’re prostrating themselves before their new masters in Georgia, next door in Alabama there’s a cautionary tableau on display. There may be no one as culturally compliant as Jeff Bezos. He’s pledged Amazon to the woke cause. He’s turned a once-great newspaper into a lectionary of cultural correctness.
But in Alabama, his company is fighting efforts from its workers for higher pay and better conditions, and his apostasy has earned him the opprobrium of the high priests.
Last week Sen. Elizabeth Warren, after an unusually sharp Twitter exchange, actually told the company she would seek to break it up because his minions had dared to mock her on social media.
The lesson of Mr. Bezos and Cranmer is the same: Don’t think appeasing the religious tyrants will win you more than a reprieve, if that. These contemptible so-called leaders are knowingly, for the sake of self-preservation, stoking the flames of a cultural war.
These days, thank God, the fire is figurative, but it may still consume a CEO or two.
Wall Street Journal/April 6, 2021
Model for Post Covid Church Partnering
A key theme of The Post Covid Church project is sharing ideas that will help churches not just survive, but thrive in this challenging environment and become stronger bodies to serve greater needs. That means breaking down walls and cooperating, because the overwhelming consensus is that 1) the church will be smaller and 2) the needs to fill will be greater.
Prodisee Pantry serves several hundred hungry families a week in Baldwin County Alabama. It started when Deann Servos and two fellow parishioners at Spanish Fort United Methodist Church started a food closet and quickly realized that to really make a difference, they needed to get outside their walls. Now, more than 100 churches in the county work together each week to serve. See in this short video not only how Prodisee works, but how your church can stand out by reaching out and working together to make a difference….
“Let’s Keeping Chopping Wood”
Rev Percy McCray, Jr has been counseling for more than 30 years and, not surprising, he’s never had to deal with a year like this past one. He’s upbeat, however, because he’s spent a career seeing the power of the Christian faith working in the darkest times. In this short video, Rev. McCray, Director of Faith Based Programs at Cancer Treatment Centers of America, shares how all of us can help those people we know are suffering right now.
You can listen to my entire conversation with Rev. McCray on The Post Covid Church Podcast at bit.ly/postcovidpodcast “Time to Focus on Mental Health”
We Think Nationally. The Post Covid Church Must Act Locally
“More Christians sit around complaining about what they can’t do to change DC and Hollywood than what they can do to change what’s happening in their own back yard, in their own sphere of influence”– John Stonestreet
“It’s no secret that Washington isn’t working particularly well these days.” An understatement we’ll all agree from the Wall Street Journal’s Executive Washington Editor Gerald Seib in a recent essay, “Far From Washington, Americans Are Finding Local Solutions”. In it, he illustrates the power of businesses, organizations, and yes governments, in solving local problems that can’t or won’t be solved from Washington. It was a timely reminder of how we have all fallen into the nationalizing of just about everything. It’s within this new reality of local problem solving that The Post Covid Church can have its biggest impact.
25 years ago, Robert Putnam’s essay “Bowling Alone” documented the fraying social and communal fabric that once held communities together. He tells Seib that this time, the consensus from both the political left and right, is ”that decentralization would be a good idea.” In other words, finding solutions locally will be the answer to the problems.
This plays right into the strength of the church. A strength The Post Covid Church must rediscover.
“Once we start looking around to see what can I do, we’ll stop asking what’s all the good that we can’t do.”-John Stonestreet
John Stonestreet, the President of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, told me in a recent interview that this nationalization in America accelerated after WWII, and weakened us. “We didn’t look to the coasts to define our meaning, to define our existence, to define on how we spend our leisure time and where we look to for answers to our problems.”
Those critical organizations—-church, bowling leagues voluntary associations and of course families—-were much stronger and had more influence. Now, instead of whining, Stonestreet says the body of Christ must act.
“More Christians sit around complaining about what they can’t do to change DC and Hollywood than what they can do to change what’s happening in their own back yard, in their own sphere of influence…. If you find yourself in the middle, then steward the middle. Bring restoration and redemption to the middle.”
“Pro-choice folks ask, ‘What do you do for women who are homeless?’ We’re here to help.”– Ali North
Those local answers aren’t only being found in the middle of America. Harvest Home is a non-denominational, faith based non-profit that runs a home for homeless pregnant women and their babies in Los Angeles. Right now, the one home in South LA is Covid restricted to housing seven women and babies, compared to the normal 10.
Harvest Home gets all its money from donors. Happily, during the pandemic, more people are stepping up to help. They see the local need. “During Covid there are a lot of inquiries about homeless and how to help,” says Harvest Home Fundraising/Outreach/Events Manager Ali North. “Homelessness is such a crisis in LA and it’s even worse now. A lot of people have a heart for that….People wanted to make tangible donations. Yes, we still get financial gifts, but more wanted to donate items for the moms and their babies.”
One example: For Thanksgiving, Harvest Home sent an email asking for donations to buy turkeys for the women: $ 3,000 was raised in an hour. In this heart of pro-choice land, North says support for the ministry providing life is striking. “Moms need housing for pregnant women . Who can argue with helping homeless women who are pregnant? Pro-choice folks ask, ‘What do you do for women who are homeless?’ We’re here to help.”
The good news as the need multiplies: The LA Catholic Archdiocese is providing for nominal rent a 25 year lease on a 20 bedroom convent that once housed an Irish order that has returned home. The one request: that it be used to help mothers and children. Harvest Home is raising money to renovate the building and house 20 more women and children by the end of 2021.
One need that is so critical, but not nearly as visible, is a result of the forced isolation, and inability / unwillingness of churches to respond. The Colson Center’s John Stonestreet says it’s the perfect place for The Post Covid Church to work and show the culture that we believe each life is made in the image of God and has significant value:
“The inability of churches to deal with local communities in the midst of this crisis has ended up in an unbelievable spike in suicidal ideation and mental illness,” Stonestreet says. “That’s where the church can reach out to the hurting. That’s where the church can provide help. But it has something to do with the church remembering the localized work that it’s been called to do. I think that’s a feature of American culture that has misled us. And we need to go back to it. Once we start looking around to see what can I do, we’ll stop asking what’s all the good that we can’t do.”
Agree? What should your church do to help?
“American Prophecy”: We Were Warned, Now How Do We React?
What if the catastrophic events we’ve experienced in 2020 were simply an expected result of a cycle in history that was anticipated years ago? I’m not talking about New Age mysticism or “Karma”. One of the expectations we have as Christians is that history is moving forward towards a glorious climax. No, I’m talking about cycles in history that occur while we move forward. It may surprise you to know that all this upheaval we are now experiencing was predicted, with blunt certainty, a few decades ago.
Contributor Rev. Dennis Turner, lead pastor at Christ Church in Wichita, Kansas told me about The Fourth Turning after I finished our podcast interview. It’s a fascinatingly prescient book that predicted more than 20 years ago that we’d be facing a catastrophic crisis right now. The bad news is the prediction came true. The good news is that we have the Good News.
“The climax shakes a society to its roots, transforms its institutions, redirects its purposes, and marks its people (and its generations) for life. The climax can end in triumph, or tragedy, or some combination of both.”-The Fourth Turning
Neil Howe and William Strauss in The Fourth Turning illustrate what they see as 80-100 year, historical cycles that have consistently reappeared during the last five centuries in Anglo/American history. Each of these cycles consists of four “seasons”, which they show have reliably repeated in American history: The High, Awakening, Unraveling and Crisis. The last Crisis? The Depression and WW II. The authors,—-again this was written in 1998—-predicted the next Crisis to start in 2005, with the climax coming in 2020 and the resolution coming in 2026. The Great Recession (’08) and Covid-19 pandemic (’20) certainly fit. Does anyone argue that we are not in a crisis?
Before WWII/The Depression, the previous Crisis was the Civil War, with the American Revolution before that. The authors were writing in the Unraveling period, and while they didn’t predict what would start the “Fourth Turning”, they mentioned an economic shock as one possibility. (2007-08 anyone?) Another possibility as this crisis period progressed: a worldwide pandemic. They also predicted:
- A widening racial divide
- More authoritarian government
- An inward focus, walking away from international cooperation and,
- A clash of generations, with millennials protesting what they see as the baby boomers taking so much in public funds, leaving little hope for the future.
One other thing: A Crisis always has included a war that is “large, deadly, decisive”.
The book didn’t predict Armageddon. In fact, it pointed out the growth in America after the three previous periods of upheaval. The most recent resurgence, or “High”, followed WWII. The key to not just surviving but thriving after a Crisis, the authors maintain, is strong, steady leadership that crosses boundaries and helps strengthen bonds between factions and reinforces what it means to be an American. Most recently, we saw those leaders rising up to meet the darkest challenges of the 1930s and 40s and then helping shape post-war America.
Do we see such strong, unifying leadership within government and business now?
What does this mean for The Post Covid Church? The financial crisis and pandemic are putting unprecedented pressure on the seams of American life. Yet it is within these most trying times that The Post Covid Church is called to have its greatest influence. When all seems the most hopeless, it’s the body of Christ that can not only share the Good News, which is filled with hope, but also be there for the hurting and help bind up the physical wounds.
It’s clear we are in the “Fourth Turning” as a nation. I guess we won’t need one more reminder that these are unprecedented times. We do need perhaps another reminder that The Post Covid Church has the answers, but needs to fully engage to share them.
“The emergent society may be something better, a nation that sustains its Framers’ visions with a robust new pride. Or it may be something unspeakably worse. The Fourth Turning will be a time of glory or ruin.”-The Fourth Turning
Is Your Church Ready?
One of the key points we’ve learned from The Post Covid Church contributors is the importance of leaders changing quickly while not losing focus of their mission. This ability will soon be put to another test.
Full federal support of extended unemployment benefits ends on December 31st. This means both the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program and the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program benefits will expire by year’s end.
THIS means there will be far more people in your community in need.
While some churches quickly pivoted and expanded their outreach when the shutdown came, others quit serving. Some feared the disease or pulled back because they couldn’t track who was truly needy. Others didn’t see it as a priority. Is your church positioned to be a beacon as the virus spreads and the government help ends?
What a time for The Post Covid Church to stand out and show the world what it means to be the hands and feet of Christ. I’ll be showcasing churches pivoting to face this new challenge in upcoming posts.
Does Your Church Have a White Supremacy Problem?
I once worked for a research company whose owner often said, “Perception is reality.” He didn’t mean that something is true just because someone thinks it is. He meant that if a person perceives something as reality, well then to that person, it is reality. Yes, her mind could be changed. She could eventually swap her favorite TV news station allegiances. It would not, however, be easy.
So too the perception of the Christian faith in our modern world.
As previous posts in The Post Covid Church have illustrated, not only are fewer Americans identifying as Christians, but fewer Americans have a positive view of Christians. That holds especially true for how evangelical Christians in the South are perceived.
Some of that negative perception is unfortunately “earned”. Does this writer have some good points?
A Powerful Opportunity for The Post Covid Church
“We atheists have to accept that most believers are better human beings.”
As the Alabama and Florida Gulf coasts slowly recover from the surprisingly strong hit from Hurricane Sally, I’m reminded of the impact of Katrina. Not the storm. The response. For it was the atheist British author and politician Roy Hattersley who publicly acknowledged that he didn’t see any fellow “free thinkers” helping those impacted along the Gulf Coast 15 years ago. Those who resist religious teaching to live as they see fit sat home while Christians gave up comfort, money and time to be the hands and feet of Christ for total strangers.
That, of course, has always been the case. As Post Covid Church contributor Dr. Rev. Randy Russ says, “The church is always the first to go in and the last to leave” disaster areas. It started with the first Christians risking their own lives rushing to help plague victims. It continues today. And it has the same power to not just astound, but persuade.
Hattersley defended his rejection of Biblical truth, but was amazingly honest when concluding that “faith comes with a packet of moral imperatives that, while they do not condition the attitude of all believers, influence enough of them to make them morally superior to atheists like me.”
Enough to persuade the now 87 year old to give up his naturalistic worldview? No, not yet. But the powerful witness of actively living out the faith as the hands and feet of Christ touch not just those who receive the help. It impacts the most ardent skeptics. Deep down, even if they won’t admit it privately, they are touched in the God-sized hole that resides in every human, aching to be filled. What better way to influence the culture for Christ than for The Post Covid Church to double down on being that powerful witness through action, and not just words.
Hollywood vs Christianity (Again)…Ineffective Outrage
Protests sparked by the latest Hollywood poke in the eye at Christians is as predictable as the change of seasons. Paris Jackson’s depiction of a “gender bending” Jesus in the film “Habit” has brought out the petitions, with more than a quarter-million signing to try and block its release. Pastors this Sunday will throw red meat to their flock assailing the media elites for their disdain for Christ followers. While that characterization is certainly true, the boycotts and brimstone will do little to change anything. In fact, it will make it worse.
It’s easier, though, than doing what The Post Covid Church must do: Better prepare the flock to effectively defend the faith and show skeptics why Christ is the answer.
The impact of boycotts against the media is almost always counter productive (and welcomed by those counting eyeballs, tickets and cash). There’s no better illustration than when the infant “fourth” network Fox, struggling to get anyone to watch its early lineup of shows in the late 80s, was fortunate enough to be a target. All it took was a boycott led by a Michigan mom upset at the crass depiction of family life under the Bundy roof to make Married With Children a hit and the foundation of Fox’s ascendency.
Do You Know More Than Religious Phrases?
That’s not to say Christians should be quiet when critiquing the culture. It does mean The Post Covid Church has to be more than a bullhorn that makes us feel good for a few minutes.
- Can you explain to someone who’s never been to church why the evidence for the historical accuracy of the Bible far exceeds any other historical work?
- What can you say to your secular neighbor about the overwhelming evidence for Christ’s divinity that makes her keep thinking about that reality tonight in the dark of her room as she struggles to fall asleep?
- Can you comfortably, and succinctly, explain to that searcher the difference in your life after you became a follower of Christ?
If The Post Covid Church is to regain its influence in our increasingly secular culture, it must prepare believers, especially the young believers, to understand, support and defend their faith.Oh, and here’s a test: Quick, what do you say when the skeptic tells you “faith is the opposite of reason”? You need to be ready to lovingly explain, as author Natasha Crain puts it so well in her book Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side, that reason is simply the process of thinking. “And here’s why my thinking has led me to my faith in Christ…….”
A Christian Gesture vs Political Theater
As noted in an earlier post, folks are heading back into their ideological corners as the racial protests melt into political fighting. Exhibit one: wearing a mask.
This is yet another time for The Post Covid Church to stand up and stand out.
While exactly how effective cloth masks are remains debatable, it is acknowledged that if I wear a mask, I’m doing you more good than me. Is there any more reason for every Christian to wear a mask? Rather than allowing a piece of safety gear to fall into a symbol of protest, isn’t giving up something for the good of my neighbor kinda Christ-like?
And if your secular/humanist/atheist neighbor who always wears a mask asks you why you’re wearing one in the store, just say, “Because I love you.” THAT will start a meaningful conversation. Oh, and you just might keep him out of the hospital.
Fathers Day: The Church Drops the Ball
Father’s Day appropriately celebrates not just fathers, but the role of fathers in the life of our children and the life of our society. Ironically, just as the holiday was made an official national one 48 years ago, the scourge of fatherlessness had begun. The resulting cultural rot accelerated and the church has done little to stem the tide. The result: 2 out of 5 babies are now born without a father in their home and more than half of America’s children will live in a home without a father present by the time they are 17.
The Post Covid Church can choose no more important issue to focus on if it is to make an impact within and outside its walls.Taking off our “faith hats” for a moment, the discussion of the importance of fathers in a child’s life should be an open and shut case overwhelmingly confirmed by data and agreed upon by all Americans. Yet, those who scream to “follow the science” when touting their pet project, don’t like the empirical evidence when it comes to children and so change the subject or ignore the data.
Every study shows an extremely strong correlation between fatherless children of all races and societal maladies. A short snapshot:
- 63% of youth suicides
- 48% living in poverty
- 71% of high school dropouts
- 90% of homeless children are fatherless.
Why the ignore it? Ah, because it means restricting adult “freedom”!
As the church re-opens and refocuses, is there a bigger issue to tackle?
“The church can’t do everything!”, is a frequent retort. Well, I think it can walk and chew gum at the same time. There is NOTHING more important to children than the family, yet even the evangelical church has turned a blind eye to divorce.
So, it should be no surprise that a recent survey for Cummino, a ministry that helps churches strengthen families, shows that 3 out of 4 churches have NO marriage ministry and 4 out of 5 evangelical churches spend $0 on marriage ministries.
The Post Covid Church can rail against a cultural slide, or take the time, money and energy to strengthen marriage on its campus and within its town.Coming up soon, successful efforts to strengthen marriage and the family that can work everywhere.Happy Father’s Day to dads who’ve hung in there, and made a difference!
Will The Post Covid Church Bring More Dignity to The Elderly?
More than four out of every 10 Covid-19 American deaths have occurred in a nursing home or residential care facility. Four out of ten! Yes, it’s easy, and factual, to say, “But the old folks are always the ones more prone to die from the flu.” The problem—or I think a blessing—-is that the rampaging pandemic has made all of America, including the church, sit up and take a hard look at how we as a culture warehouse the elderly as an inconvenience, while counting down the days to death.
Contributor Mark McCreery is a serial entrepreneur, devout Catholic and former assistant to NY Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He loves numbers and loves attacking problems with real world solutions. For years he’s worked on improving the lives of the preyed upon through smart anti-crime, pro community projects. He’s also disgusted at our nation’s approach to elder care and thinks the pandemic may change things.
“Most seniors with health issues are stuck in medicaid supported housing and forgotten about. Maybe the Lord is working in this whole thing. The church can have major role, saying life matters even until you die. This goes beyond, sticking them in a nursing home.”Mark McCreery
McCreery has always championed getting everyone involved, and not waiting for the government to ‘help’. He sees that need now, more than ever. “The church can show how Christ works through people and networks. Until three months ago it wasn’t on the radar. Now, it’s more than just a statistic.” Though the statistics are striking: For example, more than one and a half million Americans live in nursing homes.
It’s More Than a Government Problem: It’s a People Problem
The weaker immune systems, underlying maladies and close living quarters in nursing homes provide Covid-19 with fertile locations to kill. When the homes shut their doors to outsiders, it makes stark the reality of how lonely these final years are, even in the finest facilities.No, loved ones couldn’t be there for the last breaths. But how often were these people visited before the outbreak began?How much emotional, hand in hand support does the church provide—-and encourage its members provide—-to family and strangers living out their last years in such sterile locations?
There are some churches that help, by, for example, providing day-care like facilities or visitations that allow family care givers to take a break. These are the exceptions. The Post Covid Church can use the suddenly non-invisible plight of the elderly to more effectively get everyone invested and involved.
The pandemic, like a receding tide, has laid bear so much of what is wrong or missing in America today. The good news is some of quarantine consequences are positive. How many families are eating dinner together for the first time in years? How many children are getting quality and quantity times with their dads for the first time ever? The most striking reality, however, for all to see is how the disconnected, ruptured family that is the norm in America today has impacted the elderly in their final days.
The Post Covid Church has a chance to make a real difference. Will it?
Embracing The Call in the Midst of Loneliness
The pandemic of loneliness preceded the arrival of Covid-19, but its impact on the church has ruptured a vital lifeline to those more alone now than ever. As church doors reopen, it’s critical that The Post Covid Church aggressively reach out to serve the largely invisible need. How best to do that in an age of social distancing takes creativity and the mobilization of the entire body. To lean into the crisis, and it is a crisis, is to help the culture see the church at its very best.
Dr. Vivek Murthy’s new book “Together ” is quite timely. It’s ironic that despite the proliferation of social media such as Facebook and Twitter, connecting people in ways unimaginable only a generation ago, the result is less real connection.
Surveys confirm it—we are a lonelier nation. The former U.S. Surgeon General says there are three types: relational loneliness—not having friendships, collective loneliness— not having an identity with a community, and intimate loneliness—missing a really close relationship, such as with a spouse. Matthew Reese writes in his Wall Street Journal review, “Dr. Murthy’s broadest remedy is clear: togetherness. Among the people he has seen overcome addictions, nearly all pointed to the value of family and friends or other relationships of trust.”
I’ve not yet read the book, but of all the reviews and interviews with Dr. Murthy I’ve seen, never in the list of solutions was faith, or church, mentioned.
The model from Christ, who reached out to the forgotten and insists we do so to the “least of these”, is the solution for much of what ails our separated people.
“Relationship”, is a key theme throughout the Bible and only through stronger relationships is that loneliness defeated.
Is combating loneliness even on the radar at your church?
As noted in earlier posts, the churches that quickly pivoted during the crisis immediately reached out. Staff and lay called members; they didn’t wait to be asked. While pretty “low tech”, it was the touch that made a difference in the time of isolation and social distancing. Other churches, instead of shutting down service outreach efforts, enhanced them by, for example, bringing food to homebound seniors and the poor. More churches used their existing small groups to strengthen the personal connection.
As the rhythm of life returns to a more normal pace, it will take a concerted effort to remember those who are still isolated and not returning to organized services.
And it’s not just the older cohort. Cigna Insurance’s 2018 survey of 20,000 Americans showed almost half said they were sometimes or always feeling alone. Not surprising in this increasingly fragmented culture, one in four Americans rarely or never feel as though they are understood. The loneliest generation? The “Z’s”—-18-22 year olds. They can’t be forgotten as the church resumes. (Just “being there” doesn’t mean the folks aren’t lonely. Only through building real relationships can we identify and heal the loneliness and isolation.)
No talk about loneliness can ignore the importance of marriage. Wesley Biblical Seminary professor Matt Friedeman has written extensively about the role of the church in helping build and sustain strong families. With the marriage rate in the US at an all-time low, is this the time for the church to be more than what Friedeman calls a “blessing machine”, and take an active part in helping to revive the marital union?
The rising level of loneliness has gone along with the increased use of social media and the decrease in church affiliation. If The Post Covid Church is to fulfill its mission and truly impact the increasingly lonely culture, it will take a concerted effort. How can The Post Covid Church help solve the loneliness crisis?
“It’s killing me not to be able to visit him.”– Rev. Kathy Jorgensen
One of the most lasting impacts of the Covid church shutdown is the inability of the body of Christ to do what it is designed for—touch the hurting. No one knows that better than Rev. Kathy Jorgensen, head of the Compassion Ministry at Dauphin Way United Methodist Church in Mobile, AL. While happy that the two-thousand member church has effectively reached members through phone calls, she’s frustrated at only being able to talk to, and not hold, the hurting.
“One member in his 50s, an RN, developed the virus, which led to a major stroke. He cannot speak or swallow, he’s paralyzed. It’s killing me not to be able to visit him, hold his hand and pray for him. His wife can’t be there, he can’t talk on the phone.”Rev. Kathy Jorgensen/Dauphin Way United Methodist Church
The phone has been an important lifeline. The Post Covid Church comment section is filled with the thankful; they appreciate the staff and lay people who have taken the time to reach out and check on members. (The churches that have not done so are not just leaving a mission unfilled, they are also inviting members to look elsewhere.)
Will this crisis change how pastors pastor? Rev. Jorgensen says yes. “Gone are the days when pastors of a two-thousand member church can make home visits for no reason. Yes, we can visit the critically ill, but time wise, we can’t be visiting in the home. But the phone calls we’ve been making have simulated the old fashioned pastor going to peoples’ houses checking on them. People loved it….There were a number of situations we weren’t aware of day in and day out.” The outreach began with the 10 member staff, but now includes members calling members. It will continue when the doors of the church are back open. “This won’t replace in person visits, but we’ve learned to make frequent calls to check on people that are well and see how they are doing.”
How is your church preparing to respond to the post pandemic need for help?
Dauphin Way’s compassionate care outreach includes a variety of small groups tailored to peoples’ pressing needs. The Long Goodbye serves family members of those with dementia. Compassionate Friends brings together parents who’ve lost children. Chapter Two is for young widows, providing what Rev. Jorgensen calls an “oasis” each month for them to enjoy special time together. These and others groups haven’t met for more than two months, and she knows that has exacerbated the hurting. Yes, Zoom can replicate a regular Sunday School class, with on-line lessons and shared prayer requests. These special groups, filled with the hurting who rely on togetherness to “share the grief with friends and the business end of being left alone”, don’t lend themselves to the technological connection. “We’re trying with Zoom, it just hasn’t worked well.” It’s one more reminder that while connecting through the internet has allowed worshipping “together” to continue, it does not replace the longing we have to connect in person.
One of the largest programs Rev. Jorgensen oversees is “Meals on Wheels”, and the continuation of this vital outreach is an excellent example of a church pivoting to meet needs while adjusting to the pandemic reality. Before the shut down, more than 130 church members took part by cooking, packaging, serving and delivering a hot lunch and cold dinner five days a week to 75 of Mobile’s hungry and lonely. The vast majority are not church members.
Bags of groceries now replace the cooked meals, but the folks serving are in constant contact with the recipients, and the personal connection each day is important.
The restrictions also have a silver lining:
The need will soon increase. Rev. Jorgensen cites para-church and non-profit agencies Dauphin Way partners with already being squeezed. “Churches will have to do more. Giving (at Dauphin Way) is down a little and a lot of programs doing good in the community will be hurt. A lot more people will be in need. I know we’ll be covered with people who need help when this is over, with so many people out of work.”
Dauphin Way, like every other church with an effective outreach, can only fulfill its mission with members serving selflessly. The Post Pandemic Church will rely on many more people serving, and giving, to make a difference in what promises to be a larger community of the needy.
Mission Focus: HOME
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…” Mathew 28:19
The May 2020 cover of Christianity Today says it best, “How to save the world when we can’t even leave our homes.” The churches that will survive and thrive are those that are making extraordinary outreach efforts to members and the community. They’re not only responding to needs, they’re reaching out, asking who needs help. Of course, mission work is a critical facet of the church’s response to Christ’s call to make disciples. To prepare for the post Covid world, staff and lay leaders must be working right now to make sure their mission work doesn’t wither.
Dr. Phil Walker is a Southern Baptist pastor who with a partner started Advance International (http://2advance.org/) 12 years years ago. It provides critically needed accredited theological training in remote parts of the world. It serves 22 East Asia locations and seven other countries. Right now, teaching is on hold.
“Partners in Honduras and other places, can’t get help. No one will come. The missions for most para-church organizations, other than food outreach, are going to be tremendously impacted.”Dr. Phil Walker/Advance International
Walker hopes churches react with more local outreach.The turtle churches are simply shutting down the traveling missions and praying for the best. The strong churches that will survive are pivoting and looking to expand their help locally.
Lay leader Bill Brown of GracePoint church in Asheville NC said there was no hesitation. “The main focus: God has given us an incredible opportunity to transform our church! It’s exciting and positive.” Staff and members immediately reached out to neighboring organizations.
“Taking a step back and saying, what should the church be, how can we equip people and folks in a five mile radius? What’s the need: prison, police, social services. Asking, ‘How can we help you?’”Dr. Bill Brown/GracePoint Church Lay Leader
While social distancing means it’s tougher to do hands on work right now, those restrictions will soon be relaxed. Churches like GracePoint are poised to make an ever greater difference for Christ in their neighborhoods.
Despite the rosy economic scenarios, notably from those able to still work remotely, the lower paid workers tossed out by the millions will be impacted for months, if not years. The extended unemployment is only set to last until late July, and those rent and car payments put in abeyance are still going to have to be paid.
Churches need to be gearing up now. What better time to go outside the church walls and truly impact the needy community? What that help will look like, and when it can get in full gear, we don’t yet know. The smart churches DO know the need will be there, and are planning NOW to make it happen. The turtle churches are waiting for the phone to ring. What are you seeing churches do to prepare to feed that need?
Is Your Church Supporting Stay at Home Parents?
Seems as if every parent is a stay at home parent now! This is an opportunity for the church to enhance and strengthen the family bond. The ‘turtle churches’ are doing little more than streaming live. The churches that will come out stronger are actively supporting this temporary opportunity. An idea I’ve shared—-though I’ve not seen put in place—-is getting the music and youth ministers together and gather children’s choirs remotely. A Zoom rehearsal will provide a worthwhile break to the at home “teachers”, allow children to connect and end up, through a performance, allowing church members to gather electronically for something special. It’s not too late.
Dr. Warren Lathem is a retired Georgia United Methodist District Superintendent who leads Venezuela Now, a mission project that trains and supports pastors and through donations from Americans, sends tons of food to the impoverished country. The churches in Venezuela are supporting the local families through devotionals and other family centered material to strengthen the biblically based family bond. “ It helps discover the family altar, the family worship at home,” Rev. Lathem told me.
“Parents are to be the authority in the home, with the responsibility to be primary spiritual leaders. The solution, is to equip the parents. That’s not been on the church’s radar.”Rev. Dr. Warren Lathem/President Venezuela Now
If pastors and churches operating under this repressive regime, with little to their names, can help strengthen the body of Christ through the family, can’t churches here do the same? What special outreach to families are you seeing in your churches?