By Emily Ferguson
There is a dream stirring in the Church today, breathing with rekindled hope.
It is the dream of God’s people being mobilised to join Him in making all things new. The dream of no longer being bound by the ‘the way we do church’ but recovering the power that lies in who we are as the Church.
Questions are rising in the hearts of Fresh Hope leaders during this enforced season of restrictions brought on by COVID-19.
Could the paring back of our activity be the very thing that reveals and releases the Church’s latent potential? What might God be inviting the Church to lay down and lean into during this season of simplicity in order to be remade and reignited?
Jasmine Wallis, Pastor at Hurstville Church of Christ in Sydney, is representative of a number of church leaders who have felt the stirring of this dream but until now have struggled to pivot their church accordingly.
“Last year as a ministry team we started reflecting on what we’d been doing and how effective it is for God’s kingdom. I was concerned that with so much focus on Sundays there wasn’t space for smaller groups where people could really grow into disciple-making disciples.
“The situation we’re in now has opened up the next step for us because it’s no longer about the structures that support the Sunday service. We can put the focus on to good relationships and discipleship, and the real work can start to happen.
“In some cases, I think it’s going to be a shock because there will be a revelation of the shallowness we walk in. We can no longer go to church and manufacture a sense of relationship with Jesus from someone else. It’s now going to be about us being with God and being the Church without all the extras around that.”
Tammy Tolman is the pastor at ICentral3:16 in Dapto, Wollongong, a church that centres around helping people become active ‘disciple-making disciples’.
“As pastors, our main job in this season is not just to figure out how to get our sermons online. It’s to help everyone feel safe, loved and connected and for each person in the faith community to feel empowered in their faith and able to do the same for those around them. ICentral isn’t centred on needing to hear only from the pastor – we all get to contribute. That makes it incredibly rich.
“We’ve got to empower people to use the giftings God’s given them and this is the time to do that. If we don’t take this opportunity now to reassess and rethink what God calls the Church to be then we miss an incredible opportunity. Going back to having one or two people up the front doing everything while everyone else sits passively would be tragic.”
A first step towards empowering active disciples may simply be helping each individual find the courage to lean into what this season exposes about themselves and their relationship with God.
“We’re seeing reality for what it is,” said Andrew Ranucci, Director of Soul Life Ministries. “This season will reveal what our beliefs really are, and we’ll more clearly see them show up in our lived experience.
“In the absence of the macro gathered experience, which can be a propeller for consumer Christianity, there is a great opportunity for the Church to come down to the micro level in its discipleship. We can help every individual become more aware of God’s presence, be able to respond to Him, and discover for themselves what it actually means for them to follow in the way of Jesus.
“I hope we don’t miss the opportunity here and just do the same thing we’ve always done online as a stop-gap until we can return to normal services again.”
While some may cling to old ways of operating, others may find themselves scrambling to innovate. Both can be ways of avoiding the transformative potential of this spacious season.
“There is so much hope and possibility right now and I’m really encouraged by how people are beginning to adapt,” said Daz Farrell, Pioneering and Mission ministry leader at Fresh Hope. “At the same time, Ecclesiastes 3 tells us there is a season for everything and I believe that at the moment there is an invitation to a Sabbath mindset where relationships with God, ourselves, others and creation can be restored.
“We need to take time to sit in the space of silence and become aware of what we’re noticing rather than rush in with a quick fix in an anxious response. If we give ourselves the freedom for innovation without rush, we will think of things but not be bound to them or driven by them. It will be a season of exploration and pioneering again as we try to work it out together.”
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