The reopening of churches and the return of their activities in the post-isolation period will be in the midst of a new “normality” of society, with the continued presence of Covid-19. After several months closed, the churches will have the opportunity to simply resume certain activities while others will undergo changes. Let us reflect on the model of Jesus’ ministry and that of the New Testament church, and consider how ministries will be affected with this new normality in the post-isolation period.
A. A simple model of ministry in the New Testament
The period of isolation in Brazil lasted for several months, with trades and public spaces closed in order to protect the population against contamination of Covid-19. Public meetings, as well as churches, were prohibited or restricted. For some shepherds, this experience of isolation was as exciting as climbing a mountain. Suddenly, leaders found time for their families, time to read and write books, and time to plan for the future. For other leaders, the period of isolation was like driving your car into a dark tunnel, only to crash into some object that turned off the engine and the lights. Whatever the metaphor, before you get off the mountain, or get out of the tunnel, it’s a good time to review the driver’s manual and do a review of your vehicle, your brakes and lights before continuing the journey. Let’s consider a description of Jesus’ model in Matthew 9 and the first church in Jerusalem in Acts 2 to identify some elements of ministries that should be present in our ministries today.
In Matthew 9:35-38 we have a description of Jesus’ activities and motivations about how he advanced in his ministry. There is a description of Jesus’ ministry that is beautiful for its simplicity. Let’s focus on three words that describe his ministry: inclusive, extensive, and participatory.
Jesus’ ministry was inclusive because he included cities and villages in his field of activity, with a message reaching the city’s residents and rural areas. His language and style allowed everyone to understand him. Jesus introduced his message into the synagogue and among the crowds. The Apostle Paul, in Acts 20:20, described his ministry being “publicly and from house to house.”
Jesus’ ministry was extensive, for he did not limit his style only to preaching. Jesus preached a simple message of God’s love and the coming of the Kingdom of God among us. He was dedicated to teaching and demonstrating the implications of this Kingdom on the day-to-day lives of his disciples, and used questions to invite people to interact with his teachings and engage in a practical demonstration of the Kingdom. Jesus’ model included diaconia (service) in the way of healing the sick and cast out demons (Mt 9:35).
Jesus’ model of ministry was participatory in being moved by compassion in seeing the crowds as distressed and exhausted sheep. Jesus invited his disciples to respond like him and pray to the Father to send more workers to a great church. Jesus presented his ministry as an invitation for others to be included to participate. After prayer, He sent the twelve to minister just like Him, with authority and in his name (Mt 10:1).
The characteristics of the first church that was formed on the day of Pentecost also reflected the same characteristics of Jesus’ ministry. See how the disciples understood the church’s ministry in Acts 2:42-47 being inclusive, extensive, and participatory. Here in the text you can underline the words that identify some of the activities and attitudes that characterized this nascent church.
And they persevered in the apostles’ doctrine and in communion, in breaking bread, and in prayers. In every soul there was fear; and many wonders and signs were made through the apostles. Everyone who believed was together and had everything in common. They sold their properties and goods, distributing the product among everyone, as someone needed it. Daily, they persevered unanimously in the temple, broke bread from house to house, and drank their meals with joy and simpleness of heart, praising God and recounting the sympathy of all the people. Meanwhile, the Lord added to them, day by day, those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47).
The church in Jerusalem began inclusively with the addition of 3,000 new converts (2.41), many of them were visitors to the city for the feast of Pentecost. Each one heard the message of the Gospel in his own language (2.8). The disciples were seeing the fulfillment of Jesus’ words in Acts 1:8, for they would be his witnesses to the ends of the earth on that day of Pentecost. Although the church in Acts took time to understand its role to be inclusive (6.1, 8.1, 10.28), this value is certainly a healthy mark of the new testamentary church.
Since its inception, the Church of Jerusalem has also understood its ministry of being extensive. The disciples preached, taught, and attended to the needs of their community. The Kingdom of God was declared in words and actions that illustrated the transforming power of the Gospel. There was no artificial separation between gospel preaching and attention with material needs in the church and community (2.44, 4.32-33, 11,28).
In the last verse of Acts 2 we find a fantastic statement. The assembled church praised God and “counted on the sympathy of all the people” (v. 47). The Church of Jerusalem found a way to fall into the sympathies of the people in the general community. For me, this is the result of a participatory ministry model. Church members were involved in people’s daily lives in such a way that the result was that they “added the Lord, day by day, to those who were being saved.”
B. The pandemic is changing the paradigm of ministry of evangelical churches
One may be questioning whether reopening churches in the post-isolation period would mean that things will be different from four or five months ago. Why can’t we just continue with the same ministry models as before the pandemic?
The answer to this question lies in the fact that this pandemic has caused a shocking stop to activities worldwide. The model of how things worked stopped. The churches with their ministry models stopped. The paradigm of churches has changed.
There is a popular proverb that says, “when a paradigm changes, everyone goes back to a square one.” With the pandemic, churches stopped and the paradigm shifted to online services and pastoral activities at a distance. The restart or reopening of ministries is now complicated by the continued presence of Covid-19, and possible contagion of high-risk people with comorbidities. Applying this proverb to the situation of our churches means an opportunity to go back to some “square one” and start with new practices and motivations. The ground zero for ministry in the church should be the model of Jesus, and the model of the church in Acts.
For some leaders, suggesting drastic changes at this point seems like a tremendous threat. Someone must be thinking that it would be simpler to reopen the church and resume activities as they were. Things before the pandemic were going more or less well, so why rock our boat? This is an important decision that the pandemic now presents to us. How are we going to respond?
- How long will you need to talk to your church leaders about this new moment in your ministry?What are the new challenges your ministry is prepared to take on in your community or city?
- What is God’s vision for your church or ministry in this new time to reopen your church? What needs to align with ministries and members to better follow this vision?
- When reopening your church or ministry, what are the areas of ministry that can be simplified or recreated according to the example of Jesus in Matthew 9 and the disciples in Acts 2?
We hope that these few lines will help you in your reflections. See you soon!
Douglas Lamp ( Sepal Northeast Team | [email protected]