By Rev. Dr. Angela Gorrell
Ministry leaders who until weeks ago had not heard of Zoom, had never used Facebook Live, and had not even imagined ever needing to upload a video to YouTube are suddenly using new media to preach, to counsel, and to continue other forms of ministry work.
Christian leaders are rightly overwhelmed by the myriad rapid changes that they have had to make in response to COVID-19. I imagine many are anxious to have churches filled again and for things to get back to normal—whatever normal has meant for them prior to the global pandemic that has disrupted everyone’s routines.
At the same time, I am curious about what would happen if we viewed this moment differently. What if we saw this time of disruption not as simply a time to tolerate changes to ministry, but as a divine invitation to shift our perspective on ministry in a new media landscape?
In Acts 16, Paul and his companions believed they needed to go to Bithynia, but they were prevented by the Spirit of Jesus from entering there. They traveled past it and during the night Paul received a new vision of a man in Macedonia. Paul believed they needed to go there instead to preach the gospel. However, when they arrived in Macedonia, it was in fact a woman, Lydia, whose heart became open to Paul’s message. Lydia’s house eventually became a place of worship and later it was her home that Paul and Silas went to after prison for encouragement.
The vision Paul had for where he and his team should go changed. The vision for who Paul believed God wanted the team to preach to changed. And Paul did not initially imagine that his ministry companion in Macedonia would be a woman who owned a successful business.
Perhaps during this pandemic, God is inviting us to open the visions we have had of where we are going, who we are ministering to, and who our ministry partners are to revision—perhaps to places (like digital spaces!) and people we have not yet imagined.
In this unprecedented time, instead of asking, “When do we get to go back to leading normal worship services?” Christian leaders can seek God’s guidance in order to innovate and minister in new ways beyond the walls of church buildings and the limits of physical spaces. Likewise, maybe what normally happens during church services needs to shift.
Christian leaders can ask questions like:
- God, what might we need to let go of?
- How might we join you in your love for the world in new ways?
- Holy Spirit, might you have a word for us about new possibilities for connecting with people in the 21st century?
- God, might this be a time for restructuring, restoration, and revolution of Christian education and formation?
Beyond seeking God’s help through prayer over important questions like these, Christian leaders also have an opportunity during the coming weeks to do what has been needed for some time: take inventory, assess, imagine, create, experiment. Taking ministry online is a perfect time to try new forms of ministry.
New media has numerous benefits for doing what I call hybrid ministry—ministry that is both in-person and online, in physical and digital spaces. New media presents opportunities to engage in hybrid missional practices like advocacy. New media also offers Christian communities ways to deepen relationships in between worship services and other forms of programming. Christian practices can be engaged outside of church walls and reflected on with others in mediated conversations on apps like GroupMe.
Perhaps if we become open to ministering in places we have not imagined and to partnering with people we have not yet considered; we can even connect with people who have decided the Christian religion is no longer for them or has never been for them. Perhaps seeing this time as a divine invitation could lead to healing and hope for groups in the American church that are in desperate need of revitalization.
The Rev. Dr. Angela Gorrell is assistant professor of practical theology at Baylor University’s Truett Seminary and the author of always on: practicing faith in a new media landscape. Her guides for Christian leaders who want inspiration for taking their ministry online are available at angelagorrell.com.
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash