Congregational discernment in a pandemic Easter season

     by Heidi Regier Kreider, March 30, 2021

As your congregation observes Holy Week and celebrates Easter, do you sense new hope, energy and purpose for the future as you are encouraged by post-pandemic possibilities? Or do you feel tired, overwhelmed, disconnected and disoriented from a year of coping with the ongoing pandemic in a world filled with struggle, change and uncertainty?  Either way, this season is a good time to pause, to make sense of the present moment and focus direction for the future.  It is not unlike what Jesus’ disciples had to do in response to his suffering, death and resurrection.

As I have consulted with congregational leaders, listened to pastors, and done some reading on post-pandemic ministry and leadership, I’ve been gathering questions that might help guide congregations as they find their way forward in this present time. (This includes ideas adapted from an article by Dave Odom, https://faithandleadership.com/dave-odom-next-three-most-faithful-steps, and a webinar by Mennonite Health Services on strategic planning in the midst of a pandemic).

First, take stock of where you are right now. How are you doing and what are you feeling? What do you grieve or lament from the last year of the pandemic? For what gifts of God’s faithfulness are you thankful? What needs do you have at this time?  How can your congregation share support, compassion, healing and grace with one another and your community? How might you intentionally strengthen relationships both among long-time members and with new participants?

Next, reaffirm what you know about God’s vision for the world and God’s intention for the church. Within WDC, we emphasize our mission of empowering congregations to Witness and invite others to faith in Jesus Christ, Dwell in just and loving relationships, and Connect to God’s mission in the world.  Within your congregation, what vision or mission statements might help you focus your attention in this moment and hear the Spirit’s leading for the future?  What scriptures are foundational and give you perspective and hope? For example, it may be stories of Jesus’ followers transformed by his resurrection and the power of the Holy Spirit; or the prophets’ call to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. It may be the simple reminder to love God, self and neighbor; or the powerful vision of a new heaven and new earth where God dwells with us and wipes away our tears.

Then, reflect on how – and with whom – you can participate in this vision and join God’s work now and in the future.  What are the next most faithful steps in your journey? Here are some questions to prompt imagination for these steps:

  • What has your congregation learned during the pandemic?  What are you rethinking?
  • What new thing(s) has your congregation started doing in response to the pandemic that is having a positive impact? Should you consider doing it indefinitely? Why? What results do you see from this? What is required to maintain the activity? Who needs to support it? What kinds of resources need to be put behind it?
  • What were you doing before the pandemic that you have stopped doing, and it has not been missed (or you are relieved not to be doing it now)?  What is required to let those things remain fallow for the next season? How might you prune for greater fruitfulness, simplify for clearer focus, and find freedom for greater faithfulness?
  • What essential practices of your congregation need to be resumed, renewed or strengthened?
  • What are your strengths in this season? What gives you joy? How can the next steps sustain opportunities for joy among all those who are a part of the work?
  • Has your congregation come to new realizations of injustice in the community and world? Who has suffered and who continues to experience the harm? What can you do to learn about this, and to incorporate what you are learning into next steps?
  • What opportunity or challenge have you recognized that needs to be addressed? What can you encourage now that would prepare the ground for new activities?
  • Who in your church or community has energy right now? How will you pay attention to them, encourage them, and provide resources for them to move forward?

As your congregation considers these and other questions, I will be curious to hear where God is leading you.  May you be strengthened by God’s love, renewed by the joy of Jesus’ resurrection, and guided by the Spirit in this Easter season and beyond.

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