When the Transformed by the Spirit movement swept through the American Baptist denomination, I was a relatively new bi-vocational pastor and only tangentially connected to the invited shift from thinking of the challenges of the church as technical (clearly defined, with a known solution to be enacted) to adaptive (requiring new learning, language, and discovery). It’s only recently, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, that I’ve considered how often approaching our churches’ challenges is both technical and adaptive. (Ron Heifitz, the change theorist who provided these definitions includes this both/and reality as a unique level of change between the two.)
As worship was thrust almost overnight from an in-person, in-the-sanctuary experience for the vast majority of congregations onto virtual platforms, there were technical challenges to be addressed: What platform best serves the needs of our particular context? Do we need additional equipment to record and stream services and/or to offer worship live from one setting to church members in their home settings? Similarly, with transitioning to on-line giving as the safest and most reliable way to financially support our churches, there were technical questions about the best platform and what instructions to deliver to members and friends to ensure their experience is seamless and they are comfortable with the change.
Having pivoted quickly, experimented bravely, and discovered both gifts and challenges in this season of church beyond the building, new possibilities are arising. Yes, the questions of when and how to reenter church buildings for communal worship are often technical, with helpful guidelines provided by local, state, and national public health experts as well as by our denominational leaders. But the way forward in retaining the best of what we’ve found in virtual life strikes me as an adaptive challenge--inviting a broad, inclusive, and Spirit-led discernment process.
In the first episode of the podcast “Money and Meaning,” I interview leaders from my home congregation, Riverfront Family Church, about both technical and adaptive approaches to funding the church’s mission in this challenging season and into the future. In addition to offering practical, technical suggestions like integrating your on-line giving platform with other systems for tracking and communicating with members and friends, we discuss how a church planted in the 21st century has succeeded, in part, by having a bold, invitational, and sacrificial vision for translating money into mission.
The economic repercussions of COVID-19 will be long-lasting, and there are plenty of wise people looking to the future of the church with both caution and hope. What kinds of ministries will be deemed worthy of investment? With the vast economic inequality in the U.S. exposed in dramatic and traumatic fashion, how is the church presenting an alternate vision of sharing our resources interdependently, and considering all that we have God’s?
In a season when much of life has been put on pause, our churches have found ways to continue and expand our reach. My colleague Jorge Lockward, minister of worship arts at The Church of the Village, said the other day on a call about new ways of making music virtually, “Crisis creates theology.” Let’s ensure we use the crucible of this crisis to consider our theology of money and mission alongside worship and community. The future of Church resides in a collective vision for who we are that is so compelling, people are willing to sacrifice some of our idealized (and idolized) individualism to be part of it. When we do so, the resources will flow.
Photo by Micheile Henderson on Unsplash