I am grateful for the Southern Sentinel’s willingness to publish my Occasional Religious Viewpoint Column I’m calling New Prospects. My focus for this column is New Prospects FOR MINISTRY IN THE UNCHARTED TERRITORY OF COVID-19! My title is based on a recent article which was one of many provided by an internet Daily Devotional I receive through a specialized ministry program from Fuller Theological Seminary for Leaders In Ministry. (I’ll provide online links for these and other resources in this article at the end.)
The title of this one article in the email I received this morning which caught my attention was:
Leadership in Uncharted Territory by Tod Bolsinger. Back in October of last year I had met with a pastor in Branson, Missouri while on vacation to discuss his inspiring sermon. He told me part of it was based on Tod Bolsinger’s book from 2015 titled: Canoeing The Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory. That pastor had studied this book with his elders, and they were applying its principles in their church. He had an extra copy and gave it to me. I brought it home and have been inspired by what I have read so far and have been sharing information about it with some of my colleagues. In the article I read this morning, Tod Bolsinger provided some background on his book as an introduction to the resources he would be providing in his upcoming online devotionals. These will relate now to the uncharted territory the church and all of us find with the Coronavirus pandemic.
The following is a part of Bolsinger’s comments:
“In 2015 I published a book about leadership in uncharted territory. That book used the metaphor of Lewis and Clark’s expedition as a way of describing the kind of adaptive leadership that is needed when you go ‘off the map’ and face challenges for which you have no expertise. It teaches us to build trust through forming relational ‘holding environments,’ to expect to experience loss when we let go of deeply held behaviors and expectations, and to become people who can literally learn as we go. It teaches us that we have to learn to manage competing values and we have to deal with sabotage and resistance—by the very people we are called to lead.”
“Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory has already sold nearly 90,000 copies. Over the past five years, I have traveled half a million miles to three different continents and spoken to over 200 churches and groups of pastors and leaders. Everywhere I have been there were church leaders all trying to learn how to lead when the ‘world in front of you is nothing like the world behind you.’ And especially when those changes are coming so rapidly. 1,800 years of Christendom expectations in the west have changed in one generation. It’s not just the change that is doing the disorienting, but the speed of change.”
“And that was BEFORE the coronavirus.”
“In under a month, literally everything about what we assume about what a church DOES changed. Sunday morning services? Small groups? Committee Meetings? Programs on our church campus? All cancelled… Even our Easter Sunday Services for many.
So, now what does ministry look like in this changing world? How do we clarify what should never change and at the same time prepare to let go of many things that are dear to us? What does it mean to be adaptive leaders who are able to go into uncharted territory when everybody has been thrust into it at the same time?”
“These are questions that I will be taking up with my colleagues at the De Pree Center for Leadership on a regular basis. Articles, resources, interviews, podcasts, links to books and conversations with other leaders will be featured here. I am excited about partnering with these colleagues, and I am eager to partner and learn along with you.”
So all of us, pastors, elders, deacons, and members are now faced with a new set of problems. We must try to learn as we go and adapt the technology that’s available to help us in ministry. One part of these problems involves not violating our essential Biblical theological foundations and core values when adapting new technology for non-traditional situations.
During an online meeting with many of my fellow Presbyterian Pastors of North Mississippi this morning (April 1) I used the ZOOM technology on my laptop computer (this is a whole other story about what Tod Bolsinger would say “they didn’t teach us this at seminary!”). The topic came up about planning for Holy Week Virtual Online Services and the possibility of having “virtual” Lord’s Supper Communion Services. That is, members would be participating on phones, iPads, or computers in worship led by a Pastor and they would have their bread and juice or wine prepared at home already. Then, at the proper time, they would participate with the online community in the eating and drinking of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
One minister spoke for some who were not so comfortable with “virtual” Communion by saying,
“I know Scripture says we are to become ‘fools for Christ’ but I don’t think we are to do foolish things for Christ.” But it was pointed out that our Denomination’s Theology and Worship Office had sent out an “ADVISORY OPINION ON COMMUNION IN AN EMERGENCY PANDEMIC”. It was dated March, 24, 2020 and stated in part that “In emergency circumstances there may be situations in which the pastoral needs of the moment require that the church take actions that run contrary to normal practice. During an emergency or a pandemic in which the church is unable to gather in person for reasons of public health, a congregation’s session (Pastor/moderator and Elders) may determine that this includes observing communion online.”
I, personally, will be sharing with the New Prospect Elders that I believe the first Apostles used the technology available to them in their time to communicate with the first churches and Christians. This was the use of pen, ink, and scrolls or paper for personal delivery by other faithful disciples of the Apostles to various churches. These writings eventually became our New Testament. The documents of the Old and New Testament as most Christians know from our history have continued to be transformed by the development of new technologies for new non-traditional situations. Now we have entire Bibles on our individual smart-phones with a variety of translations and many available with a variety of different languages. Who could have imagined that so long ago!
Most Christians would agree, I believe, that God, the Holy Spirit of Christ, has continued for almost 2,000 years to bless many new technologies that were adapted for new situations for fulfilling our Resurrected Lord Jesus Christ’s Great Commission. That is for every generation of disciples to “go into all the world” sharing the Good News and Good Deeds of God’s Salvation in Jesus, The Lord and Savior. And it also includes calling others into discipleship through Christ’s church for salvation and service as the Body of Christ in mission for and with the world God loves.
So, I believe although today in this horrible pandemic, we are the church in “dispersion” (as one pastor mentioned in our meeting). But our best and most important connector is still the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of Christ in the hearts of all believers even and especially when we are gathered-online through the modern marvel of the technology of this time and place.
So, let us also celebrate all the gifts God has provided to overcome closing the distances and all other things which attempt to divide us from God and one another. As so many have shared on Facebook and other places: now during this year’s Holy Week and Easter Services our “church buildings may be empty but we are still celebrating the continuing miraculous revelation of THE EMPTY TOMB THAT FIRST EASTER MORNING! Friends, no matter our situation this week let us continue to celebrate CHRIST IS RISEN! And believers over the last almost 2,000 years in many varieties of situations learned to also say: “HE IS RISEN INDEED”!
“To God Alone Belongs All The Glory”!
Online Resource Link for
1) Tod Bolsinger’s March 25, 2020 full article
2) For a copy of my 04/01/20 email with other articles and resources from the De Press Center at Fuller Seminary send an email request to firstname.lastname@example.org
3) A link to a New Easter Hymn Written For This Pandemic with approval for sharing:
Text: Copyright © 2020 by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. Email: email@example.com New Hymns: www.carolynshymns.com Churches are given permission for free use of this hymn, including in live streaming and posting it online.
The New Prospect Presbyterian Church is located about eight miles from Ripley on Highway 370 going toward Dumas. The address is 6371 Hwy 370 and our congregation like all others look forward to the time when we can resume our weekly Sunday School and Worship Service.