Surveying the Saints!

If we were told that a disease is making its way to America, and likely 1 out of every 1,000 Americans would contract this very contagious, fatal disease, we’d surely all join together asking what we can do to protect everyone within our sphere of influence. Yet, the stark reality is we don’t have to ‘imagine’ such a dreadful scenario—the actual numbers are far worse: 1 out of every 500 Americans has now died of Covid-19. Such a high percentage is unthinkable in our modern society, yet that percentage will only get worse at current rates.

Now that this is the reality we’re facing we’ve become polarized as to how to respond to it. That polarization plays out on differing cable news channels, political parties, and now, even amidst some churches, because we are inevitably a reflection of society with its vast polarities, passionate pundits, and fraying patience with the ‘other’ side.

One group says to “follow the science and do all we can to be careful and protective of each other, especially when hospitalizations and numbers are only increasing.”

Another group says “we should all have the right to choose for ourselves. And if people do not feel safe at church activities like potluck, then they should not come.” And there are many nuances of thought spread throughout the spectrum.

The question becomes: what do we as Christ’s body with such polarization even amongst ourselves? Is it truly ‘crazy’ and ‘unreasonable’ that we have a group that’s concerned about the ever increasing 1 in 500 death rate? Is it ‘unthinkable’ and ‘evil’ that we have a group that values freedom of choice and concern that more postponements of church activities will result in even more loss of members?

There are truly valid concerns on each side. And the Board wrestled with them at our September meeting. The problem is: when it comes to voting on things like whether or not postpone potlucks—a Board vote with a slim margin of victory doesn’t help us at all to gain a sense of unity and consensus. We need something broader and more representative of the entire church.

At this point, I’ve come to believe that our ‘PROCESS’ is more important than our ‘POSITIONS’ since most of us are pretty entrenched in them by now. Thus, we’ve begun speaking past each other, and continuing to argue our positions will not affect any genuine unity productive momentum.

So, let’s talk more then, about ‘process’ than ‘positions’. First, our spiritual demeanor needs to be bathed in humility and submission. If we want to keep fighting until we ‘win’ then we’re not being like Jesus. Ellen White’s quote is so instructive here: “I’d rather be wrong in the right spirit then be right in the wrong spirit.”  The greatest ‘position’ we should hold at this point is that of falling to our knees in lowliness and large-heartedness.

There is a tendency to speak about the right of everyone to “choose for themselves.” The problem with that is that it needs to work BOTH ways! Many in society promote the need for independence and freedom of choice. But that same demographic is eager to shut people down who disagree with them. So, who gets to preserve their freedom of choice?

One side says: “The church should be doing all we can to promote the safety and welfare of its members and doing all we can to support the health and welfare of the community. It’s a mark against our compassion not to do so. This group would likely advocate for giving up some of our privileges to sacrifice for the greater. There is great Biblical precedent for that.

The other side will argue that we should PRESERVE our own right to worship and gather—it is our ‘CHOICE’. And those who do not want to come can choose to remain at home.

Yet, to be fair, they can also make the choice to gather in small groups on their own as the church chooses to act as responsibly as possible in a worsening pandemic. So which side gets to ‘make the choice’ they are advocating for? The argument about freedom to choose must work BOTH ways for the church or it does not preserve the UNITY and RESPECT of ALL its members.

Some are speaking of a ‘MIDDLE’ way; a way of looking ‘OUTSIDE the BOX’. Perhaps working with THRESHOLD NUMBERS is helpful—NOT to decide to shut down but to help us CREATIVELY MODIFY our worship and activities.

For example, instead of singing, we’d hum or just have less singing if the numbers warrant it. If we are in such a contagious stage such as Delta and current hospitalization rates indicate—perhaps we can MODIFY the WAY we do potluck? Eat outdoors at the church in good weather. have members HOST a couple of families for an outdoor eating at their home.

But mixing of families indoors without masks at church is not following safe protocol, so can we MODIFY our practice to still fellowship but do it safely and in more creative ways?

We want everything to be ‘normal’ but the fact is the churches who are adjusting and seeking NEW ways to creatively adapt are the ones finding UNITY and success. Our own denomination’s church growth experts encourage us that focusing on a return to ‘normal’ is going to set us up for failure. In a spirit of humility and joy, we need to preserve SAFE PRACTICE while CREATIVELY ADAPTING our activities to preserve our FELLOWSHIP.

I’ve given an honest assessment from my pastoral heart, but I am not here to fight for anything but a Christlike and humble spirit and a PROCESS that does our reasonable best to value our ENTIRE CHURCH—not just a razor slim majority at a board meeting.

Therefore, we are going to prepare a short SURVEY offering you an opportunity to express your thoughts. We need to hear from EVERYONE whether you’re attending currently or not—because everyone’s voice matters.

When you do receive the survey, PLEASE RESPOND! We want to glean the best insight possible to constructively navigate these stormy waters so God can bring us safely to the “other side” of His desired plan. ‘HOW’ we get there may ultimately be of more importance than our positions. So, let’s look like Jesus as He takes us to the ‘other side’!

In His Joys,

Pastor John :)