By Joy Allmond
The pandemic is forcing churches to do ministry differently and find new ways to reach people. But it’s also teaching us about ourselves and exposing weaknesses in our ministries.
We asked several church leaders, “What are some ministry idols you see being exposed by COVID-19?” Here’s what they said:
“Evangelical Christians have long struggled to keep a proper understanding of Sabbath rest. This becomes an idol for the ministry worker who is unwilling to cease laboring and start resting.
“Unwillingness to rest is a statement that the individual is too vital to God’s ministry. God is enforcing a period of rest on the overworked and helping them develop a new paradigm, where they enjoy restful rejuvenation that centers them in Christ.
“Those who do this will likely find increased effectiveness.”
“While all churches should strive to be good stewards with a balanced budget, some churches have placed an unhealthy, idolatrous confidence on the tithes of their people.
“This quarantine has left them feeling vulnerable. Perhaps God is granting them a period of re-evaluation, where they renew their faith in him as the Provider.
“Those who trust God alone to meet their needs will be treated to those beautiful experiences of provision that are inexplicable apart from God.”
“Some pride themselves on their large church budgets and weekly giving numbers. The economic downturn and the fact that people don’t remember to give as faithfully when they aren’t attending in person has undercut this for many churches.
“The idolatry of big money has been exposed.”
3. Committee meetings
“Long before the coronavirus epidemic, Christians have been self-quarantining inside their church buildings on weeknights. Meetings are important, but a love of scheduled meetings has kept many from the active ministry called for by God.
“The lost have gone unreached because their harried Christian neighbors have been stuck in one meeting after another with little time left for relationship building in their communities.
“Social distancing may make these full, neighborly connections difficult, but many Christians have found an increase in meaningful sidewalk conversations in their neighborhoods.
“Churches are discovering that many of their meetings are on the non-essential list.”
4. Tradition and regulation
“This is my favorite idol to expose. It’s one that once dominated my worship.
“However, now those who worshiped at the feet of beautiful buildings, dress codes, pulpits, choirs and the like have seen how silent those idols stand when the entire culture cannot gather around them.
“While some of it has translated over to online mediums, much of it remains. Hopefully, this is one ministry idol that more and more people will topple when we can gather again.”
“The idol of the routine has been vanquished.
“For so long church has been done a certain way. Even though we’ve been very creative in dressing up an approach to church that’s been around for centuries, for an institution that confesses a risen Savior, it has been somewhat stale.
“Being forced into new habits, new ways of thinking, and new presentations has challenged the twin idols of tradition and routine.”
“A lot of pastors fall into or struggle with the sin of pride based on their service attendance. COVID-19 has wrecked that, obviously.
“Of course, some are transferring their source of pride to their online ‘attendance,’ but that’s tricky to measure accurately.”
“We have relished in the numbers. The fastest growing and largest groups have been a standard way of judging the success of ministry.
“At this point, so many of the numbers being thrown around are inflations of exposure.
“When you take Facebook’s ‘people reached’ number and multiply it by the number of the average household you are propping up a bloated and terribly misleading number.
“This is easy to see through and responses for all of us, our own desire to draw a crowd.”
“This could be the strong ‘amens’ or other encouraging feedback that a pastor gets while preaching.
“It can be a great thing, but I’ve also seen times where in the service, it clearly became more about the emotional workup than about the actual truth being conveyed.
“And pastors who pride themselves on how excited they can get a crowd have had that taken away.”
“There’s a saying we all know: ‘You preach for an audience of One.’ The idea is that we’re preaching for God’s approval and not those in the audience.
“Now, there’s no audience, and we’ve seen very quickly that to some degree we were preaching for the handshakes, the belly laughs, and the random amen from the crowd.”
“A lot of pastors put a lot of stock in getting everything in the church running well and watching momentum build for community recognition, efficiency of operations, excellent in content, and consistency of growth.
“These things are good, but pastors can struggle with a CEO’s type of pride—arrogance in how well he manages and leads.
“God has sovereignly chosen to allow this moment to happen to His Church, laying bare any addiction to management and momentum.”
“The pendulum in ministry has been swinging away from this for a while, but I still think many pastors act as if what’s most important is the set of programs they run—rather than the work of the Holy Spirit in and through His people.
“COVID-19 has shut down programs, and now the church must figure out how to reach her community and care for her members without most of her normal program schedule.”
“Many socially outgoing pastors will spend a great deal of time out with the people. That is what we say. In reality, we love being in the thick of it.
“We love the Instagram post with us standing next to the mayor or enjoying a discipleship group at a trendy hot spot.
“It wasn’t ever about being with people and especially not ministering. It was about being perceived as being connected.
“We are not currently allowed to make the rounds, and it’s a pain point. Instead, we have to rest in doing what we can.”
“Pastors will often joke about being expected to know something about everything.
“We’re often asked questions about religion yes, but also psychology, economics, politics, biology, history, and cultural events. We’re expected to have some informed opinion on the ethics of both ‘The Bachelor’ and trade talks with China.
“Even in the church world most of us have very little idea how any of this will affect church budgets, church closures, minister relationships, and the tolerance of people for online gatherings.
“No matter how many articles are published saying that such and such will happen as a result of COVID-19 the reality is, none of us know.
“For those who relished in the glow of being the resident expert, this situation has caused a crisis of identity. They have to more than ever, even if it is just whispering to themselves, say the words, ‘I don’t know.’”
What has the Lord been teaching you about ministry during the pandemic? Share in the comments.
Joy is the editorial chief of staff at Christianity Today and former managing editor of Lifeway Research.