This blog post is written by Helen Taylor. This is part of a series of blogs written for weary gospel workers, see here for previous blogs.
September is a big month for a student worker – filled with trepidation at everything to be done before term starts, and buckets of excitement.
Showing new students it’s possible to have a conversation that doesn’t start with, “Where are you from and what course do you do?” and maybe even introduce them to Jesus for the first time is a joy.
Older students returning, bringing fresh energy to church life and opportunities for discipleship is what I live for.
But if you’re anything like me the last few weeks haven’t been filled with joy and anticipation in the same way. Maybe instead you’re already exhausted, already heart-weary and the prospect of an academic year on zoom – well you’re just not up for it.
Students can throw anything at you and we’re going to need to be more ready than ever to extend grace, to call people to repentance and to comfort.
Let’s be real though. That’s only going to happen if we’re willing to ask for help with those same things ourselves.
I’m yet to meet someone in ministry who’s not tempted to self-sustain, to become the rock to which everyone else clings, to be indestructible.
2 From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. 3 For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe.
So, will you go? If you’re lead to the rock that is higher than you, will you follow? Will you go?
What’s it for you? Netflix? Your spouse? Trashy food? Going on another run? Wherever you escape, there’s always something that will promise to be your refuge. But there’s only one place that will take your cries, your fears and the weight of your soul.
So will you go to the rock that is higher than you?
Will you celebrate and live within your limits?
Will you be careful to set zoom boundaries?
Will you have someone ask you about your mental health?
Will you take time for things that bring you joy?
Will you be diligent in protecting time in God’s Word and in prayer? And time for rest?
Will you ask for help?
Will you let the Lord take your full weight as you walk through this next season of ministry?
The students you’re walking alongside this term are not the only ones dealing with grief and confusion and anxiety and loneliness and fear, are they? Why bother pretending?
Helen Taylor is married to James and works for UCCF with students in the Midlands. She loves to feed people good food and dance to good music.
Read. If you’d like to think more about student work and mental health then read this months Connect. A regular mailing for student workers created by UCCF.
In the ‘Passion for Evangelism’ (PfE) termly book club, we have been reading and discussing Aimee Byrd’s excellent book Why Can’t We Be Friends? Aimee reminds us that the way to stand against culture’s inadequate and over-sexualised word around men and women is by not allowing it to drive us apart.
“the way to stand against culture’s inadequate and over-sexualised word around men and women is by not allowing it to drive us apart”
Rather, she says, ‘It is by seeking the brother-and-sister closeness we are privileged to have as Christians. True, godly friendship between the sexes that embraces the family we truly are in Christ serves as the exact witness the watching world needs.’ As women and men proclaim the gospel together, we have an opportunity to show the world to show what restored, sibling relationships look like. Men and women working together in evangelism adorns the gospel and points to a better story!
“As women and men proclaim the gospel together, we have an opportunity to show the world to show what restored, sibling relationships look like. Men and women working together in evangelism adorns the gospel and points to a better story!“
There’s a particular need for this emphasis today. In recent years I’ve met many men and women that view Christianity through the lens of oppression rather than life-giving liberation. Through shows like Spotlight, The Handmaid’s Tale and His Dark Materials, many are hearing that the gospel is restrictive and controlling.
Karen Soole recently put it like this in her excellent blog post Equipping women to reach others for Christ: ‘Secular women, in particular, are suspicious of the Church. They hear church leaders arguing about women’s roles but what they see is an institutional church which has been guilty of abuse. They suspect that the Bible has an oppressive and misogynist view of women and are convinced its message is of no value to them. If the Christian message is presented only by men, then at first glance at least, this suspicion goes unchallenged.’
Raising up female evangelists is particularly important in our universities
The majority of students on campus are women. Some female students prefer to hear the gospel spoken by a woman, including many from global cultures. These cultures would probably include those of Muslim-majority countries, where it is difficult for women to attend a meeting which is perceived as being primarily for men. Amongst male students too, there is growing demand to hear female and BAME voices. If we want to reach our universities, workplaces and communities for Christ, we vitally need female evangelists working alongside male evangelists.
If we want to reach our universities, workplaces and communities for Christ, we vitally need female evangelists working alongside male evangelists.
Though many of us may wholeheartedly agree with these comments, consider: how many evangelistic events you’ve attended in the last year have had women speaking? How many women do you know that are confident and who have opportunities to speak evangelistically? Why are so few women speaking in this context – and what can we do to help women be courageous?
For many, the idea of public speaking is terrifying. American comedian Jerry Steinfield says: ‘According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. That means to the average person, if you have to go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy!’
This quote aptly reflects the attitude many of us have around public speaking. And because public evangelism is a daunting task, and because there are so few female public evangelists, we set up the Passion for Evangelism conference and network in April 2019.
There are now 450 women in the network. Our aim is to encourage and support one another, to share prayer requests and give feedback on talks. We have a new mentoring scheme called The Greenhouse, through this two month scheme 8 women are equipped to communicate the good news of Jesus. It’s been exciting to see women from all ages and professions giving talks for the first time. At last year’s conference we had sessions on taking risks for the gospel, communicating Jesus to a weary world, an overview of women in the Bible and what they teach us, and how we might engage with feminism. Our hope was that each guest would go home and find opportunities to speak.
One guest tells this story: ‘Off the back of Passion for Evangelism, I approached my workplace and asked if I could run and speak at three evangelistic talks at work through the workplace CU. I suggested it as a summer series and the rest of the group were keen.
Passion for Evangelism conferences feature main teaching sessions, you can listen to the 2020 conference here. The bulk of the remainder of the conference is spent in small groups, where each delegate will present a ‘Passion Talk’ and receive feedback. Passion Talks are 15-minute evangelistic messages in which we speak about an aspect of the speaker’s own passion: why they do what they do, why they care, and how this flows out of knowing Jesus. Passion Talks allow us to show why and how following Jesus makes a difference in real life. There is an open door in many university, work and community contexts for sharing this kind of attractive and trustworthy gospel hope.
If you are a woman – or there are women in your network who’d benefit from this fellowship, please encourage them to join the Passion for Evangelism Facebook network.
3 tips for investing in female evangelists
Help emerging women evangelists get some experience Could you ask a woman who’s never spoken in public before to share their testimony or be on a Q&A panel? Give them the encouragement they need and be sure to debrief with them afterwards.
Community in a Crisis is an initiative that has been set up as a response to the pandemic. We’re passionate about relational church online. We’ve been helping churches get set up online through events, blog posts and training videos. We would like to find out what the experience of online church has been across Europe so are conducting a study starting on May 31st.
Church online experience survey
What has your experience of church in lockdown been? We’d love to hear from you, whether during this time you joined church for the first time, or whether you’re a regular attender or church leader. Our survey will be shared across Europe and our hope is that we can learn lessons from lockdown that will shape the future of the church.
The survey is anonymous and the data will not be shared beyond the Survey team. Survey results will be published only in aggregated form where individual respondents cannot be identified. The purpose of the survey is to help churches understand how they can best serve their congregations and visitors. It is anticipated that, in some countries, restrictions may persist for some time. These insights will also help church leaders to make decisions about routes out of lockdown which will best serve the needs of their congregations and visitor as restrictions are partially lifted. The survey has been translated into many languages so that we get a whole picture of what is happening across Europe.
Translations coming soon Maltese, Portuguese and Ukranian.
The survey team are:
Nay has been a staff worker, Team leader with UCCF and co-ordinated the Science Leadership Network, she now works for IFES as the Regional Training Co-ordinator setting up a network of Seeker Bible study trainers across Europe. Together with her husband they wrote Uncover Mark and were part of the team that created and launched it. Nay has set up Passion for Evangelism a network of female public evangelists. In lockdown as a response to churches being closed Nay with a team of friends has set up the initiative Community in a Crisis.
Dr Martine Barons
Dr Martine J Barons is the Director of the Applied Statistics & Risk Unit and the University of Warwick, UK and vice chair of the Christian Postgraduate and Staff Network, Warwick. Martine started her career in accountancy and after 20 year full time at home bringing up her family, she took a degree, Masters and PhD in mathematical sciences. Martine’s key research interest is quantitative decision support for decision-making under uncertainty and she has published research on health, food security, pollination and expert judgement. Martine has been part of Emmanuel Church, Leamington Spa since 1986.
Can you think of a situation where you’ve tried to learn something new without taking the advice of experts? This is me all over. My lack of patience plays out in many ways. One of these is an unwillingness to read instructions. This has resulted in many failed attempts at new recipes and DIY projects. My latest disaster was a lockdown hair cut for my husband 3 days before he preaches on Zoom. I’d confused number 1 and number 10 on the clippers, leaving an accidental Nike stripe in the back of Jon’s hair. The children were crying and the house was covered in hair. My daughter looked at her father and said Dad are you actually going to leave the house looking like that? At that point we went back to the instructions and started all over again.
We’ve had to think through how we do church and mission in a pandemic for the first time. But now the UK is over its peak. We’re beginning to see other countries coming out of lockdown. Questions are beginning to emerge about church online after lockdown. What has God been saying in this time of intentional interruption? When this is over can we go back to normal? Is there a new normal?
I really want to think about this. Do we even want to return to normal?
We know that the “old normal” is a long way off. Open air cafes might just open in the summer. Schools might open with a staggered approach with the youngest going back in October. Churches in Germany will open soon but they might ban singing. There is a lot of uncertainty. But in this space of uncertainty I’d like to ask a few questions. Do we really want to return to normal? Was normal really that great anyway? Could we even have a new normal that far more reflects the body of Christ than before?
I’ve read many articles about church life after lockdown. In each of them I hear a repeated sentiment that seems to hint that this hasn’t been real, that this hasn’t been church and that this couldn’t be permanent.
Billy Kennedy in his excellent post on 3 reasons to stay online says this: “Church is community and community is expressed when people meet together… Sure, we can do some of this online but nothing beats the face to face interaction, the hug, the handshake or the huddle.”
Tim Hughes talks in his interview about The Blessing and online church. He says “If our only interaction is online, that’s not great, because that’s what I’m missing as a pastor. There’s so much nuance you miss. Body language and just being around people. And I miss the joy when you’re in church and hundreds of people are all united singing these songs. That’s powerful and you can’t quite replace that through endless Zooms!”
I agree with so much here. But what about for those for whom this isn’t the new normal, they’ve been doing online church for decades. And for these, after lockdown has finished, they still won’t be able to leave their homes and go to church because they haven’t yet found a church that is accessible. 20% of the population have disabilities and yet many of our churches are not accessible to this people group. Lausanne tells us the most unreached people group in the world is the disabled community with 94% unreached.
I think , the established church could learn so much from this community about how to do church online. For this community churchessuch as Disability and Jesus, London Internet Church, Pixel Church and iChurch have been doing this for years.
Here are two questions I’ve been asking as I’ve thought about this:
1. Was normal really that great anyway?
I’ve begun to see that the body we had, just really wasn’t that much of a body after all. I’m not yearning to return to a building, I’m yearning to be together as a body.
I’m not yearning to return to a building, I’m yearning to be together as a body.
One of our church is housebound due to disabilities. This is what her daughter said after our first online church service:
“Bringing the church service to our home has meant that mum has been able to be ‘at church’ for the first time since before Christmas. Wonderful. This is amazing. Thank you. Praise God”.
Initially I thought that was wonderful, a way in which online church was working to improve church. But as I look back I am sad that it took a pandemic to wake me up. When one of our members can’t be part of the body, the church gathered, there is something not right with our body.
Emma Major writes about her own experience with church and how she and others have felt: “Many thousands of disabled persons have been excluded from so many churches for so long. We’ve been church online for years. This is because the established church often isn’t a place where disabled people can meet together in person with other Christians”.
Malcolm Duncan, now pastor of Dundonald Elim Church in Belfast, says in a recording made some years ago for an Enabling Church conference: …“A church that doesn’t have disabled people in, is disabling itself”
2. Could we have a new normal that far more reflects the body of Christ than ever before?
The disabled community are 20% of our population. And yet I wonder if they make up 20% of our churches. I wonder too if our churches and events are accessible, warm and welcoming to all? Would you join me and listen to Malcolm, Kay, Emma, and others and learn from them at this time about being the body of Christ?
Kay, told me that social media posts about disability are shared 1/3 less than other posts. I asked her what it would look like to listen to the disabled community. She said: “I long for people to have the ears to hear, and by ‘hear’ I don’t mean a nod of agreement. I mean a hearing that leads to action and a church where all can belong.”
Emma Major writes about the irony of lockdown and the churches response. She says “The fact that physical churches are now exploring how to find relationships online without thinking to ask those who’ve done it well for years is intriguing.”
On a similar theme Kay Morgan Gurr says “It’s taken a pandemic for the church world to catch up with this. Yet today I still see ministers and congregants alike saying that online is second best and they look forward to getting back to ‘real’ church.”
The disabled community have been doing this for years and could teach us about church online, if only we would listen.
Right now I want to repent that I was and am so unable to see to an entire people group.
Right now I want to listen. Malcolm Duncan talks about how we’re all broken and marred, that even Jesus himself limited his capacities in becoming human. I want to listen and be taught by those who are the experts in thinking through being the body online.
Right now I want look at accessibility issues in the areas I have responsibility.
For extroverts lockdown is a testing time. I’m a 98% extrovert I love people and I love community. I am really grateful for technology and how it is being used to build genuine community during lockdown. I run daily chats on conference apps for my daughters and their friends. This took a few days to get used to it, but now they love it. The 5 year old generally plays Pictionary, makes silly faces or does an extensive show and tell. My 7 year old and up to 15 friends natter for over an hour every day. Here is what some of the parents have said…
“Daily chats have helped my seven year old stay positive over these last very strange weeks. Thank you for organising daily zoom calls for her and her friends. I can’t thank you enough”
“It’s been so great listening to Aria chatter with her school friends. She has come out of her shell it has been such a help for her, it has given her a freedom of friendship even when stuck at home xx”
So for me being salt and light has taken a massive U Turn during COVID19. I’ve become an online party host on most days. But this seems to be what my friends need right now. The country is in isolation and we’re lacking real community. We’re unsure and afraid about what the future holds for each one of us. Yet as Christians we have something to say and now is the time to say it.
Priya Parker has written an excellent book called “The Art of Gathering. In this she says “I have come to believe that it is the way a group is gathered that determines what happens in it and how successful it is”. In this article I’d love for us to pause and think. I’d like us to think both how we gather and how we communicate our message online.
Eamon Holmes journalist and broadcaster was at the races in Cheltenham in 2009. He was chatting in a box with his friends. In the box were 11 men, 1 woman, all in their 50s. He says this. “They were all very confident and all very well fuelled with alcohol. They were chatting around my wife – who’s not my wife at this point. She’s loving it, and I thought ‘why isn’t she my wife?’ I thought ‘why have I not got that tied up” This annoyed him and inspired him to propose. So how did he propose? A man with money, influence and connections. Wait for it…Eamon wrote his girlfriend a six page text message.
Now stop a moment and ask yourself how would you feel if you received a marriage proposal by text? Or even worse if you sent a marriage proposal by text? What is it that doesn’t sit right with proposing by text?
How we communicate shows something of the message itself. How we communicate during COVID19 says exactly the same.
How we communicate shows something of the message itself. How we communicate during COVID19 says exactly the same. We’re going to explore some ideas here about relational online communication. I’d like to look at offering hope in a time of crisis. I want us to dream big. Remember what life was like BVC and push technology to its limits. Relational online events done really well will push social distancing to its boundaries.
Friends are asking so many questions. What do you believe? Where do you find hope? Do you get angry? Friends genuinely seem to be interested in these questions that are so central to what we know in Jesus. But how do I communicate with them when I am in lockdown? Lets go back to Eamon Holmes’ proposal. For me personally it lacks humanity, it lacks relationship and its deeply unsatisfying. I would have been so disappointed not to have been asked in person.
I wonder if some of the ways we’ve previously thought about communication and online events have lacked a human element to them?
There are some excellent resources out there on reaching out to friends and offering hope in a crisis. Many of these are high quality, one directional live video communication. There are many benefits to this platform, you can have breadth and reach in a way that you might not have otherwise. I’m conscious though, that with online saturation being at an all time high, we need something more than this.
A huge felt need in COVID19 is for relationship and gathering. We’re experiencing isolation, a lack of community and physical contact with people. It would be a shame if in our attempt to offer hope, we miss out on the best that communication technology can give us. Our events, friendships and conversations could be even better. Let me give you some examples of this. Firstly I’m not saying that you need slick, top notch equipment. In many ways my friends think that its a complete joke that I’m responsible for our new church COVID19 tech team. Jamie Haxby captures the same point in his blog post:
“I’ve done devotional thoughts live on Facebook from the treehouse in my garden amongst other weird places; it’s never well-produced: it’s just shot on our phones, but it does engage with people….we are not a big church, we are not well equipped with tech equipment, quite the opposite. But, we are creating 8000 engagements a week on Facebook alone: this is comments, likes, shares, reaching 50,000 people in the last 28 days. The result has been many new people watching on Sundays and telling us that they have been watching, people getting in touch asking us to phone them up to tell them about Jesus from a variety of backgrounds. There are some amazing testimonies starting to come to the surface.”
Through Community in a Crisis I’ve heard stories from many churches. God is opening a new door. Churches across Europe have seen an increase in guests at their services, this is surely good news. William Wade from Life Church says this “Online presence for services have trebled/quadrupled. We use pre-recorded videos and put them on our Facebook page at 11am each Sunday (with daily encouragements throughout the week). One of the best outcomes of moving online has been to ask church members to send in a 1 or 2 minute video of encouragement. It has really served to remain in some small way connected. It also serves to give a voice to the many rather than the few”.
There are so many ways that we can creatively and publicly engage with our friends. My favourite to date was a facebook watch party that we held. Two friends came along both of them thanked me for the opportunity to hear more. One messaged afterwards “It reminded me of church as a teenager, I knew something was missing in my life, but I didn’t know what until tonight”. The other friend and I ended up chatting on zoom and doing a Seeker Bible study. These watch parties are so simple and a great way to go from attending an event with anonymity to engaging your friend with the person of Jesus.
We have the most incredible reason to believe in and offer community and relationship at this time. We believe in a God that is relational to the core, from the very beginning of time he was Father, Son and Spirit.
I’m encouraged as I write this that I’m not alone in seeing this open door. There are some really helpful articles in Christianity Today talking about this opportunity and open door at the moment. One that really stood out was one entitled The Pandemic lockdown is a Godsend for the Indian church. Issac Shaw says “I believe the church has been ushered into a new age of growth and engagement with each other and with the world around us. We are witnessing a huge turning after God.”
Wouldn’t it be amazing if church online could provide this in increasing measures. We have an open door to invite friends to our church services during this time.
In the rush and pressure of this new online life, lets not forget something essential to the gospel. The incarnational, human, relational aspect of sharing this good news with our friends. If the way the message is being communicated says something about the message itself. Then, maybe we need to rethink how can we use technology to its best potential? How can we create the most relational, warm, welcoming events and church in this season? How can we be praying daily for our friends? How can we love our friends and care for them at this time? We’ve not (in our life time) had to think about our ecclesiology or missiology during a pandemic. We’ve not had to think about public evangelism in a pandemic. What a great opportunity to learn some lessons and even take them into life after COVID19.
In this time of need this exhortation rings clearly from 1 Thessalonians “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well”. Lets be people that love our friends, share our lives with them and speak the good news of Jesus.
Never before have my friends been so open with me, never before I have been so open with them. COVID19 is changing all of us and is changing our relationships too. I have had more opportunities in the last few weeks to show love to my friends, to pray with and for them and to speak of the good news of Jesus. Its been a great time for honest conversations between friends.
Watch: Community in a Crisis Youtube channel – Jamie Haxby from Hope Church Lancaster shares about his experience of how they are seeing many more people engaging with their church since being online.
Community in a Crisis
At Community in a Crisis We’re passionate about building #relationalonlinechurch during #COVID19. Visit our facebook page or on Twitter. Register here for our training materials, recordings and events. We have training on; Offering hope in a Crisis – Evangelism in the local church, Multi-Platform worship training for worship leaders and Getting your church online through Zoom.
I feel each day like I am living in a dream. I hope that one day soon I will simply wake up and return to my old life (termed by my husband as life BCV). Each day feels like ground hog day with attempts to bring routine and order in the absolute chaos.
It was a hard day today and tonight I have had enough of humanity. In the space of a few days I found out that some of the nearest and dearest to me have lost their jobs, been thrown out of their flats, had their car stolen and been scammed. At least three families I know have crossed the poverty line. How can all this be possible in the UK in 2020?
The sad reality is that today we are broken. We are isolated. And we are in a complete mess.
My attempts at home schooling failed within a week, our girls are virtually feral and things that don’t normally go wrong are going wrong every day. But tonight I decided to venture out. I cycled around the ghost town of Southampton, crying, and sobbing at the state of our world. Angry in many ways that we are where we are. It all just feels so surreal, as if I’m on a movie set of a film. It’s simply enough to make you want to give up on humanity. As I cycled I had so many questions; How can we be so cruel? Is there anything beautiful left in this world? How can we stock pile when elderly, vulnerable and key workers don’t have enough? Why do I care just for my small family and forget those friends I once loved? As I cycled over the Woolston bridge, the highest bridge in Southampton, I saw the Samaritans number. It was at that point I came to the conclusion that if man is the measure of all things, then there is not much point in keeping going.
As I raged around Southampton, it was dark and empty, eerily silent, yet strangely beautiful. As I cycled over the crest of the Woolston bridge it suddenly hit me, I heard God say to me. Nay…
this is not the end of the story. Man is not the measure of all things. I am the measure of all things, I love this world and I love you.
I heard him say I faced self- isolation for you. I was rejected for you. I was abandoned by my friends for you. At this point a sense of freedom entered my mind. I recollected what I knew from the eye witness account of Jesus life. Jesus in his life chose self- isolation, rejection and death in exchange that we might enjoy community, acceptance and life. I heard God say Nay you’re not in control. Nay this is not the end of the story.
Jesus in his life chose self- isolation, rejection and death in exchange that we might enjoy community, acceptance and life.
As I cycled home I felt freer, I felt that Its ok to wake up, however dreadful the situation. I remembered that Jesus was the one who existed before anything else and the one who holds all creation together.
I arrived home an hour later, parked my bike, still weeping. But noticed a friend with her teenage daughter carrying a large bag of food, we chatted (2m apart) and shared, with tears still in my eyes. I went into my home and shut the door again.
The coronavirus shows the very best and worst in each one of us. We’re not just broken but if we’re honest we break others too. The following evening on my daily exercise I cycled through the streets at 8pm for the first NHS shout out. As I cycled I joined in wooping and cheering with the hundreds of local families. My daughter couldn’t quite understand what was happening, she asked “Mum how will they know that we’re thanking them? They’re not here, on the streets”. I told her they’d know,. That our good friend the internet would tell them. So I cycled, celebrating friends and family who sacrifice for us and are fighting for us.
I was overwhelmed with the noise of pots and pans and again cried my way through another bike ride. But this time questioned. How can humanity be both so life affirming and so desperately low at the same time?
How can this virus expose more genuine love for friends but also an inner desire to control and hoard?
How do we recover from this even bigger problem? I don’t watch much of the news, as its so overwhelming. But the bit I look to each day is the recovered stats, 135 recovered today, 2,921 have sadly passed away. Imagine the relief of recovering from this virus. Finally this dreaded thing and potential death has now passed.
But there’s another recovery that I think we all need. I wonder if something deeper than this is happening in humanity right now. I wonder how we recover not just from the Virus. But how we recover from a self centredness that hoards and lashes out. An inward focus that retreats from those around us in need. How do we learn to love generously to anyone in need?
We can’t do this on our own, however hard we try. How do we recover from the deeper virus within our hearts? There is one who sustains and upholds the Universe in his hands and he is saying right now, this is not the end of the story. He gives us a clear offer, Jesus gave away all his privileges, he became vulnerable, he even gave his own life. And all of this for us. As we turn to him, confess this problem. We trust him to give us new life. So that we might recover from this deeper problem we all face.
“In Christ alone my hope is found; He is my light, my strength, my song; This cornerstone, this solid ground, Firm through the fiercest drought and storm. What heights of love, what depths of peace, When fears are stilled, when strivings cease! My comforter, my all in all— Here in the love of Christ I stand.” Keith Getty
After leading our first ever Zoom church service I went away feeling happy. We’d gathered 80+ from our church together. We’d cared for those who found it a struggle getting online. We’d scrambled together a team and in the midst of crisis we built community.
We love our diverse International church. We have a high percentage of elderly folk from a South Asian background. We knew that if Zoom was going to work, we needed to work hard. Of course there were funny moments, much laughter and many mistakes. But I never expected the email I received a few hours later.
To put this in context. I’m passionate about raising up female leaders and evangelists. I’ve been praying and working hard for two years on a project called Passion for Evangelism. It’s strange to say, but the Lord is answering prayers in a way I never anticipated. The email I’m referring to was from our dear friend, a respected member of our church.
“Dear Nay, as I’ve reflected a little bit on this morning. Two things impressed themselves on me quite strongly:1. It’s wonderful to see a ‘generational shift’ taking place at church. Which is such good news for the future of Kingdom ministry in the church. The leadership, spirituality and confident assurance of the team, all come from a big shift down in the generations from a year or two ago. This is exciting and deeply encouraging. It poses the question for those of us nearer my generation. How we encourage and support you well as you take the reins more and more.
2. Secondly the majority input (at least in numbers) were of women. I’m certain that if we listen to the prompting of the Spirit. and release the God-given potential and gifting of our women, who are passionate in their love for Jesus, the church will flourish in new ways.”
So as you think about growing your new team to run online services. Be encouraged that the Lord is at work in fresh ways. I’ve written here on how to get your church together online. But I wanted to go into the details of building a team and what that might look like.
Like any service you need a team but in this season you need a bigger team
If we work on 50-70% of the population getting COVID-19 at some point then we need to plan this into our services. Potentially at any point 50-70% of the service planning team could be ill or looking after sick family. It maybe that someone’s work changes last minute or they’re struggling with suffering, anxiety or depression due to the current situation. I’ve lost count of the number of people who say they are now busier than ever before. So let us care for our church by preparing well. We’ve moved on from churches being run by a few people, we need to reconsider team leadership and grow our teams.
On Sunday we ran a service with 7 people; Speaker, Host, Musician, 1 Tech Host and 3 tech Co-Hosts. Working on the 70% statistic…
If you have a team of 7 then 5 will get COVID 19 at anytime. This leaves you with 2 to run the service online.
If you have a team of 14 then 10 will get COVID 19 at anytime. Then this will leave you with 4 to run the service.
If you have a team of 24 then 15 will get COVID 19 at anytime. This will leave you with 7 to run the service.
So multiply all your teams by 4 in order to care for your church.
So this week we’re going to be extra prepared and aim to recruit a team of 24. 7 of those will be put on the rota once a month with 17 on standby every week.
The document below shows our new team roles and job descriptions with a sample running order. Have a read of it now, what do you notice that is different?
You’ll see we had a shorter sermon, breakout rooms at two points, short testimonies from a key worker and a mum at home. You’ll need to rethink the structure of the service to adapt to being online. According to recent Zoom training by Intervarsity staff
“Its 10 times easier to tune out during online calls than in person”.
One way to prevent this dynamic is to make the meeting as interactive as possible. Change the learning style/engagement every 15 minutes. Encourage participation through the group chat. Encourage guests to respond visually with the interactive white board. There are some excellent resources here written by Intervarsity staff.
This has implications for the length of sermons, notices and singing. Make use of the breakout room function you’ll need to enable it in your settings. Group conversations work best with 4-5 people, so keep your groups small. There are many interactive functions for group discussion too.
By breaking into small groups, you not only keep attention but you encourage participation. We had a short sermon with small groups afterwards. Most of the groups worked really well. We thought it was important to check how they were going. So one of the co-hosts visited each room for 20 seconds to check everyone was ok.
When you split into small groups you can do this in a few ways. 1. Pre-assigned 2. automatic or 3. manual (all the info is here). For me as a 98% extrovert Its great fun entering a room, you have no idea who is in there! For those who are more introverted I have some more thoughts, but will save these for another post. Please keep the groups small so that everyone can chat. For those who struggle in this setting, you can opt not to join a group.
So do these groups work? Why is actual interaction better than just transmitting a message online? Here is some feedback from friends at church about the breakout rooms.
“Thank you all I really enjoyed that, especially enjoyed the discussion”
Wonderful time and great opportunity to talk to two others I’ve never chatted with before! Thanks guys! Be blessed and positively ‘infectious’ this week”
Great to have an opportunity to reflect on what has been shared in the service. Such a helpful way of engaging with the talk and helps for the message to stick in our heads.”
COVID 19 is changing us as people. Online church is changing our relationships. In this space of change and uncertainty there is an opportunity to build community in the midst of a crisis.
We all now face physical isolation. Yet as believers WE ARE NOT ALONE. We have the Spirit living within us an ever present help in times of trouble. Once again, as at various points in the church’s history, we are a scattered body (1 Peter 1:1). Isolated, yet not alone. Afraid but full of joy. There are so many opportunities we have now to build community and offer hope.
A time of crisis reminds us of our fragility and brings a new awareness of how things can change in a ‘twinkling of an eye’. When it feels like the end of the world we can remember that the church since Pentecost has always lived in the last days. This is the time during which according to the prophet Joel:
“Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams” (Acts 2:17).
So let us continue to meet together in such a way that allows the voices of men and women, young and old to be heard – and all the more as we see the day approaching (Hebrews 10:25).
We’d love to hear how you have done online church services. How have you encouraged participation, discussion, interaction in your church? Please send us any comments so we can learn from each other.
We’ve seen reports of people singing from balconies and porches across Europe: songs of courage and songs of hope.
For many of us today we’ll be sad that we can’t meet in person. For years we’ve left our home around 9.45am to arrive at Lighthouse church. On arrival we enjoy a warm embrace and a chance to catch up with old friends. The strangeness started last week when I could no longer hug people on arrival. I felt the need to show my affection some how, so I took hand gel and offered it to anyone I met.
I’ll miss teaching kids: hearing their stories of the video games they’ve played, their fun facts from the week. I’ll miss singing in a room with 100 people. I’ll miss the plentiful snacks and chat after the service and the offer of prayer and support by friends.
But today is a new day. We won’t be leaving our house to go to church and this makes me sad. Psalm 121 reminds us that when God’s people on their annual pilgramage faced insecurity and dangers from every side they sang. When they felt vulnerable, fragile and unsafe they did not cover their mouths with fear, instead they sang against danger.
So today I’m joining my church through an online video conferencing facility and we as a family intend to sing in the face of danger. We love our church and we love the way people are warm, hospitable and welcoming. Today we’re working hard to make that happen online. We’re starting the meeting early at 10am because “some” people like to arrive early at church. Half an hour before the meeting starts we’ll open the call. When people enter, we’ll say hi and split them into small breakout. Each room has a designated welcomer assigned in each room.
To make the meeting run well we’ve got a technical host and a team of co-hosts. We’re going to create small rooms for people to pray and discuss questions. We’re going to offer support for those using the App for the first time.
Once everyone is in the call, we’re planning on having our service as normal. We’ll sing, hear from God’s Word, pray and listen to testimonies. We’re experimenting with doing discussion groups. Research shows that optimal conversation happens in groups of 5, so after the talk, we’ve got discussions for the groups. We’ll aim to keep them small so they have a feel of intimacy and care.
One of the things I’ll miss is the after service chat, tea and encouragement. We’re going to leave the Zoom call running after the service. We’ll encourage guests to go and make a cup of tea. Then come back and chat with anyone remaining on the call. If too many join in we’ll assign them to breakout groups again.
There are of course some draw backs and fresh challenges, but we’ll be working on those in the coming weeks.
Studies show that up to 70% of communication is non-verbal. For the communicators and those listening we need to rethink how we communicate. We need to rethink how we express gratitude to those leading services.
Imagine giving a talk to an empty room. Or, imagine speaking to a room of babies, wondering if they’re understanding anything you’ve said.
Friends that have spoken online recently have described the intensity of the experience. They said how detached the whole experience is for the speaker. So today when I’m listening I’m intending to use the chat function and non verbal functions in Zoom. By using this we can express by our words and icons what my eyes and body are saying. We intend to encourage the clap and high five function. We will also encourage guests to write in the chat.
A few weeks ago two women came up to me after the service I had hosted and said, “thank you for your words; they meant so much to me.” And you know what, it also meant so much to me; I’d chosen to be vulnerable on that day. So today after the service, please consider how you will encourage your pastor, worship leader, host. You can’t do it in person, but you can do it in other ways. Give them a call, a text, a Whatasapp video message. Thank them and encourage them. As the tech host I’ve saved the entire group chat and sent it to the team involved; this is a great way to encourage them!
We can be family together. In fact, if this week is anything to go by there is an open door for better and deeper community than we’ve ever had before. We can choose to go online, choose to be family together and choose to reach the world around us for Jesus.
God is opening a door for a new way of communicating. Doing church online with a conference app can actually change and enhance relationships for the better, it doesn’t just pass or transmit a message it helps create community:
“Bringing the church service to our home has meant that mum has been able to be ‘at church’ for the first time since before Christmas. Wonderful. This is amazing. Thank you. Praise God”.
“Wonderful time and great opportunity to talk to two others I’ve never chatted with before! Thanks guys! Be blessed and positively ‘infectious’ this week.”
“Thank you for putting this together. I never thought that this could be possible. Awesome!”
Psalm 121 was a song for rough and uncertain roads like ours. The refrain over and over again in these eight verses was that the Lord can and will keep them. The psalm was written because the long and lonely road to Jerusalem was dangerous — and because the long and often lonely road we face is dangerous too. Your world might have become very vulnerable and fragile over night. The Lord will keep you. So lets sing new songs of grace in this time of trouble.
I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? 2 My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber; 4 indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord watches over you— the Lord is your shade at your right hand; 6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life; 8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.
“37% of teachers spot signs of malnourishment when children return home from the school holidays” National Union of Teachers Survey on Holiday Hunger (2017)
“1 in 3 children from low income families have skipped a meal so that their children can eat during the school holidays” – Kellogs, Isolation and Hunger: The reality of the school holidays for struggling families (2015)
“1 in 5 children in the UK face food insecurity, one of the highest rates in Europe” – Unicef, Building the future – Children and the Sustainable Development Goals in Rich countries (2017)
“3 million children are at risk of hunger in the school holidays” – Feeding Britain, “Ending hunger in the school holidays”
Marcus Rashford the England and Manchester United striker has been campaigning to end child food poverty. On Wednesday night he “vented his “despair” as Labour’s plea for free school meals to be extended over the holidays to stop children going hungry fell on deaf ears in government. The Guardian
I think what Marcus Rashford is doing is absolutely amazing. I grew up in a single parent family in a time when there was much less financial support from the government, we had very little money and received free school meals. So we sat down as a family and decided we wanted to do something. We’re going to raise money during Half Term by making candy floss spider webs and putting all the proceeds to charity. Picture below…
We started looking for a charity to donate the money to, so I put a simple post on facebook this morning. I was completely overwhelmed with the response. There are so many charities, churches, restaurants and individuals in our city that are giving out free school meals this half term. So I wanted to try and bring them all together in one post. Before you read the list below.
Would you consider raising money over half term to donate money to charities that are helping child food poverty long term?
Would you choose one of these restaurants to have your next takeaway?
Would you consider raising money over half term and donate money to charities that are helping child food poverty long term? Would you choose one of these restaurants to have your next takeaway?
Norwegians have a word, “koselig”, that means a sense of coziness. It’s like the best parts of Christmas, without all the stress. People light candles, light fires, drink warm beverages, and sit under fuzzy blankets. Norwegians embrace long dark winters as something to celebrate. They see it as a season not just to endure but a season to enjoy.
As Europe faces a second wave many of us face a long, dark, winter ahead, full of uncertainty and many changes. The New York Times recently published an article “What Scandinavians Can Teach Us About Embracing Winter. Having read this and having a boss from Norway I decided that this, of all years, was the year to take some tips from his culture.
For us, this long, dark winter came sooner than expected. Last week Track and Trace got in touch, I’d been close to a friend that had tested positive. I was at high risk of having the virus and spreading it, so we were asked to isolate immediately. We’ve been home now for 9 days, there have been many lows as we’ve struggled without routine or friends around us. But in the midst of this time, we’ve been so grateful to the love poured out to us. On Sunday afternoon Katherine came round with flowers, chocolates and an important message. She wanted us to know this… “The Dawson’s are not an island, you never were and never will be. You belong to us and we belong to you, we’re a community”.
“You are not an island you never were and never will be. You belong to us and belong to you, we’re a community”.
In self isolation, we’ve realised afresh, that we need people. We’ve realised that we’re part of something much bigger than ourselves. We’re part of a community, of friendships built on love, serving others and generosity. And yet due to all the restrictions friendships and socialising is just so complicated. Despite the effort of friendship in these times of restriction, despite the ever changing rules. We want to pursue friendships and meeting people this winter.
We want to see this as a season not just to endure but a season to enjoy. So we as a family have created a series of recipe cards called “Garden gatherings”. These recipes have been trialled, tested and devoured by my lovely family. Each night in lockdown we’ve had a fire pit accompanied by Enid Blyton’s The Sea of Adventure. Reading stories of quarantined children and their travels to mysterious Isles has brought both a sense of perspective and hope. It’s been a tonic to our souls. We’ve loved eating, laughing by candle light and listening to stories. But we’re excited that soon… hopefully… once we’re out of lockdown, that we’ll be able to invite others to join us too.
We’re hoping that these will inspire you to do the same. To open your garden or meet in a park and gather together this winter. These could be great for half term, meeting up with friends or gathering a community group. So join us this winter, you’re not an island. Get on your woolly coats and hats, live like a Norwegian and pursue friendship, even in the cold!
We belong to a Church home group called Rooted, for six years we’ve met together on alternate weeks. Our group consists of about fourteen people, but its pretty fluid. People come and go for work, or life changes. We meet for food, friendship, studying God’s Word and supporting each other in prayer. That was until lockdown hit.
We turned to Zoom as our way to meet, and have been online since. There have been highs and lows that I’m sure you’ll associate with. As we started to plan for the autumn term we decided to stop and pause. Things had changed since we last met in July, we weren’t in lockdown anymore and yet we had the rule of six to contend with. So we prayed and talked through our options. We made a plan for how our group could meet, in a way that best supports us all and our values.
In some ways, as a large group, it would have been easier to stay on Zoom. But we decided to be creative and see if another approach might be what we need in this season. My husband and I work with students, he’s a researcher and I work for IFES. The Universities have had to shift how they teach this academic year. Some are teaching online, others are flipping how you learn, listening to lectures on your own and coming together to discuss. Hopefully some are still teaching in person! We’re intrigued by the concept of blended learning and hybrid teaching and the implications on church life. I’ve seen colleagues do national training whilst gathering in small groups to listen and discuss, and I’m helping plan an International conference with in person country groups.
We decided to go for a hybrid approach for Rooted, we’re not in a local lockdown yet, so this is still possible. Our group of 14 (usual attendance about 7) split into three clusters, one online and two “in person”. At one home we had four, another home three and six online. The logistics were a bit complicated but we worked hard because we believed in what we were doing. We thought through the advantages and disadvantages to the tech we were using, but also reflected upon our core values as a group. In the end we decided to join altogether (on Zoom) for the welcome, and a short introduction to the Bible discussion. We then discussed the passage in our clusters, and came back together for feedback and prayer. The “in person” clusters were on one screen per house, the online cluster logging in individually.
Here are some things that I noticed about our homegroup
1.This was our highest attendance ever. Those that could were quick to jump at the chance to meet in person. But having an online cluster meant that many more could also attend. The online cluster consisted of; single parents, a COVID shielder, one person with flu and two people who were working away.
2. Each person had a greater opportunity to speak. Optimal conversation online happens in groups of 4-5. I’d been thinking for awhile that our group was too big but because it was so fluid we hadn’t split in two. It was wonderful to hear people talk and contribute in a way that I’d not heard before.
3. More opportunity to lead a Bible study. Over the term you’re three times more likely to have an opportunity to lead a study, this is a brilliant way to develop your group in leading and teaching others from the Bible.
4. Higher level of sharing and intimacy. The smaller number created groups that had a higher level of sharing and intimacy, this was seen in the discussions, but also in the conversation afterwards.
5. Opportunity to grow. We intentionally created groups of 5 or less so that we could grow. Week one a friend joined who had never been to church before, she loved the welcome and a chance to meet with others in person. Due to her religion she wouldn’t be allowed to go into a church building, however studying the Bible in someone’s home was fine!
Could it be for this season that God is calling his church, his people to have a higher level of sharing and intimacy? I think so, we look forward to seeing what God will do in and through us in Rooted.
Could it be for this season that God is calling his church, his people to have a higher level of sharing and intimacy?
We’d been round at a friends house for food and a catch up. Most weeks after the school pick up, we get invited and simply turn up. There’s usually between six and eight of us, from two families. There’s always great food and lots of fun, to be honest its just really easy company. This is a regular occurrence in our life and we love it… until recently.
A recent update from the UK Government meant that people can no longer socialise in groups of more than six (the “rule of six“). This announcement has scuppered the previous hope that the rules on social distancing could be lifted by the end of the year. In this blog I’m not taking an opinion or sides on this rule, rather reflecting on it in relation to friendships.
For some, this rule has had a limited impact. One comedian joked that this rule didn’t affect him. He said “I’m not really in that place, my social circle is so small, I couldn’t even get six mates to my funeral if Champions league was on”.
For others it was far more challenging. Large families unable to socialize in coming months. The moral dilemma of snitching on your neighbours. The reality that stopping and chatting with a group of friends (greater than 6) was now seen as a crime. For some friends it rubbed salt into a wound of loneliness that they’d been feeling for months.
For some friends, the #ruleofsix rubbed salt into a wound of loneliness that they’d been feeling for months.
For me, the one word I came up with was “inconvenient”. It wasn’t awful, I was sad my extended family wouldn’t be able to meet together. But I was also hopeful that it wouldn’t be for too long. On the whole, I’m creative and enjoy lateral thinking. This was a fresh challenge for me to grasp. There was no way we were not seeing friends and family again. So I just had to work out how we divide families into two, or focus on seeing friends in smaller groups.
But this attitude of inconvenience bubbling up from within really bothered me. I’m aware that many of us are on the edge, and anything stressful just adds to our already fragile nature. But I stopped and asked myself, are my friendships based on convenience or they are intentional? Are my friendships driven by love, self sacrifice and generosity, able to weather through the storms of life?
Are my friendships based on convenience or they are intentional? Are my friendships driven by love, self sacrifice and generosity, able to weather through the storms of life?
I’d been reading a book this summer called “Made for friendship”. The book starts with a quote from CS Lewis. “To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it”. Over the summer I began to question what friendship really was. But to be honest in the busyness of life I’d not taken these thoughts any further. Ironically, as socialising is being limited, I think I might be beginning to learn afresh about the concept of friendship. In this season there is a unique opportunity to commit to friendships in a fresh way.
As I began to think through some of the implications on my life, I remembered that the number six is pretty good for friendships. I’m sure the number was chosen to slow the spread of COVID (and not based on friendship), but please hear me out on this one. I’d been reading an excellent book in the spring called “The Art of Gathering”. Priya Parker, the author is a “professional gatherer”. She says that when gathering people together there are magic numbers, one of them is six. Groups of six create a high level of sharing and intimacy. Compared to groups of twelve which offer some level of sharing but are far more diverse in opinions. (Groups of thirty begins to feel like a party, its has its own distinctive quality, but a single conversation is difficult within a group this size, and one hundred and fifty is an audience). This struck me that now, in this season, its a time for deep friendship, with high levels of sharing and intimacy.
So rather than fighting against what we don’t have, I want to be able to adapt and flourish with what is possible. This is a season where we can gather in smaller groups. According to Priya that group size is perfect for creating an atmosphere where genuine, real friendship can grow. For me, even in this strange season I’d love to learn to live like the Ancients “where friendships are the happiest and most fully human of all loves”.
If you’d like to read more about how we’re adapting to the Rule of six and seeing it as an opportunity to dive deeply into rich friendships in our church homegroup then click here. IFES student groups are focusing their strategy using small groups read more here
May 2018. We were looking forward to a week in our favourite campsite near Rome. Our family holidays are a time to slow right down and simply enjoy being together. My husband was working in Rhodes the week before our holiday. So to save him travelling too much, we planned to meet at Rome airport. As always, I left my smart phone at home for a tech free holiday. My final text to him said “if we don’t find each other in the airport, lets meet at the campsite, ps what is the address of the site?” I then switched off my phone, left it in the car and started the journey with my two young daughters.
Hours later we arrived at Rome airport, anticipating our rendezvous. We’d booked our flights to arrive at the same time and waited at arrivals for him. One hour passed and I began to wonder if I’d got the timings wrong. Two hours passed and I knew something was wrong. Three hours passed and I started to panic. It was 9pm, I had two young children in Rome with no phone. I couldn’t get the airport phones to work and couldn’t find the off site hire car company. Distressed and upset I begged the help desk for assistance. I somehow managed to recall my husbands number and finally got through.
“Jon where are you?” I asked
“didn’t you get my message?” Jon replied
“no, how would I get your message? I left my phone at home…remember?”
“I’m in Vienna”
“the plane broke we got redirected I’ll be in tomorrow, see you at the campsite”
With ice cream for dinner and a hairy taxi ride we finally arrived, not exactly the calm start I’d planned.
August 2019. We were camping in France. Determined not to work or waste time scrolling on my phone. I left my phone at home again. I’d been struggling, finding that social media often led me to feel jealous and envious. I was under pressure to have an online presence for work & friendships. Often feeling out of control, trapped & disconnected.
I was under pressure to have an online presence for work & friendships. Often feeling out of control, trapped & disconnected.
No airport disasters this time. Instead a far deeper problem arose. I felt anxious, struggled with constant FOMO*, I kept thinking about my phone and I simply couldn’t rest. In the end I felt frustrated and confused that leaving my phone at home hadn’t worked and hadn’t led to this peaceful, tech-free holiday. After my first holiday I thought my need for my phone was purely practical. After my second holiday I realised my need for my phone ran much deeper. I returned home and started googling “phone anxiety”. It was then I discovered Cal Newport, an Associate Professor of Computer Science.
I found Cal honest, frank yet reassuring. He talks openly about phone use as an addiction. His influences among many are whistle blowers like Tristan Harris who were trained in the Billionaire labs in Silicon Valley: “Labs which create technologies specifically designed to trigger addictive behaviour” . He reveals the concept of the phone as your constant companion “Smartphones are our constant companions. For many of us, their glowing screens are a ubiquitous presence, drawing us in with endless diversions, like the warm ping of social approval delivered in the forms of likes and retweets, and the algorithmically amplified outrage of the latest “breaking” news or controversy. They’re in our hands, as soon as we wake, and command our attention until the final moments before we fall asleep”. But he is also realistic about how to bring change. He says that “small changes are not enough to solve our big issues with new technologies. The underlying behaviours we hope to fix are ingrained in our culture. What we need is a philosophy of technology use”. I recently watched the film “The Social Dilemma”, I think like Cal’s book Digital Minimalism, this does a great job at opening the conversation more widely.
“What we need is a philosophy of technology use” Cal Newport
This documentary-drama hybrid explores the dangerous human impact of social networking. Tech experts are raising the alarm on what they have created. The documentary concludes that as a society we need to start further back. We need to recognise that there is a Social Dilemma. It suggests that there has been a failure of leadership in the tech industry, a failure to question the ethics of what they were creating, a failure of people coming out and having open conversations about things that aren’t perfect.
Rather than giving my tops tips or reflections on this film, I wanted simply to start where the film finished. So this is me starting a conversation, admitting there is a problem, recognising this really is Our social dilemma. Would you join and share with me your story? Change will only come as we begin to open up the conversation.
Questions: What is your story about your experience with social media? How can you open up a conversation about The Social Dilemma? What is your philosophy of technology use?
Discuss: Want to dive deeper into the dilemmas featured in the film? Use this guide to start a discussion
This is part 2 of a series of blogs written by Sarah Dawkins, the first one is here.
In part one we reflected on 6 months of lockdown. I wonder how that made you feel. Maybe just a little helpless? That’s how I feel at the start of a new academic year. I write from a place of weariness at what lies ahead. But here’s a few points that have helped me in recent days:
Remember what you’re called to do: I love getting a new diary for the year ahead and writing in my plans. As you can imagine most of them have been scribbled out, rearranged and scribbled out again. As I cross out another meeting, I struggle to not feel the frustration. Yet, I am not called to be in meetings. Meetings and conferences are meant to be a tool to serve ministry. Not the be all and end all. If we can’t meet, how can we fulfil our calling in different ways? Often we’re stuck in our routines and don’t think about how else we could achieve the same goal. Now we have to! And whilst we’re at it, what is in our diary that really shouldn’t be. What is not worth the time and energy it costs? What isn’t actually our job but we’ve picked up along the way? If you’re feeling overwhelmed with not being able to do what you’ve been called to, go back to the core of your calling and plan from there.
Hold our plans lightly: How many things have you planned and needed to rearrange this year? I’ve lost count! It’s become second nature when suggesting something to also outline what the back up could look like. But why are we surprised? We’ve never had control over plans have we?! The western world has a great illusion of control, but it was never really ours. For me this has been a challenge as to how much I pray about my plans and whose plan it is that I am truly trusting in. The one carefully outlined in my diary or the one designed by the creator of all?
Consider it all joy: In (yet another) zoom meeting recently I was getting frustrated with colleagues, to the point that I needed to apologise to them afterwards. During the meeting a friend, also in the meeting sent me a text simply saying “consider it all joy”. After the meeting I looked up the verses in James to find this: 2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, [a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4.
Trials of many kinds. I have never noticed that wording before. Many kinds. Not just the really big ones, but all of them. How refreshing. Scripture expects that we will face trials of many kinds, from cancelling a mission trip, to our internet crashing. They are trials! There are bigger trials of course, but that doesn’t diminish the things we face. My reaction has not been joy. Far from it. And yet, the trials lead to perseverance, leading to maturity and completeness. Not lacking anything. Wow. What if the next time my laptop refuses to open my emails for an unknown reason, that turned me towards Jesus rather than to anger?
Scripture expects that we will face trials of many kinds, from cancelling a mission trip, to our internet crashing. They are trials! There are bigger trials of course, but that doesn’t diminish the things we face.
Be kind to ourselves: I received a text recently that said “why is that teaching for three hours on zoom feels like doing a months worth of work”. I have no idea why but it seems to be true! Whatever our roles in gospel work, we’ve likely needed to adapt to teaching, leading or hosting things online. And it is exhausting. And that’s ok. It’s not a sign that we are in the wrong job. Its not a sign that we aren’t good enough. It’s a sign that we’re human. That we can’t do everything. That in this season maybe we need to say no to more things, trusting that none of it relies solely on our shoulders. That we have joined in with the Lord’s mission and he will finish the good works that he has begun. That’s freeing. It frees us to say no. It frees us to spend time away from screens and devices. Free to not always be “on call”. Free to take time off. The future of the Kingdom of God is not on your shoulders. He’s your Father. He cares about you. He wants to spend time with you. Be kind to yourself, and if in doubt, think what you’d advise someone you supervise to do in the same situation! Chances are you’d be a lot kinder to them that you would yourself!
Know who holds the future: We may not know what this month will hold. But we never have really! We just had routines and diary regulars. They have gone, it does make me feel unsure, but we know the one who does know the future. There’s a hymn written in the 1970s which used to be sung regularly at a church I used to work at. It’s not one I ever particularly liked, but in recent weeks I’ve been aware of it buzzing in my head. The chorus goes like this:
“Because He lives, I can face tomorrow Because He lives, all fear is gone Because I know He holds the future And life is worth the living Just because He lives”.
What truth. We don’t know if and when life will be anything like we left behind in 2019. But we do know who holds the future. Jesus lives, so there’s hope for tomorrow. Jesus lives, so all fear is gone. Jesus holds the future and so life is worth living because he lives.
So this September, let’s take our fear, exhaustion, weariness and however else you’re feeling to the one who lives. To the one who makes life worth living. In whom we can find joy whatever is before us, because He lives and is with us.
After a summer of recovery and recuperation I was hoping I’d feel better for the start of term. The start has been slow, with many ups and downs and I’ve come to realise that among many things my surge capacity is depleted.
I found this article by Tara Haelle incredibly helpful in helping me understand myself. After sharing it widely many friends got in touch to say how much they identified with it. So I decided to start a series on living life in the midst of a pandemic. I’ve invited friends from different professions to respond. The first two blogs are written by my friend Sarah Dawkins.
“Lets do it online”.
Familiar words in 2020. The first time I heard them was mid March. Government guidance about unnecessary travel had just been announced and so it wasn’t going to be possible for us to meet for the weekend conference we had been planning. That was the start of doing ministry on a screen.
We spent 72 hours reducing the weekend into a day conference, getting to grips with the largely unknown tool of zoom and hoped for the best! It was new and exciting. We had speakers who were willing to learn overnight how to speak well on camera, from thinking about eye contact to which part of the twins bunkbeds was best to balance the laptop on. We had people join us from all over Europe, the reach of the conference was bigger than any of the organising team could ever have hoped for. And at the end of that day, we were thrilled! Maybe doing ministry online was going to be ok. I collapsed on my sofa at the end of the day and ordered a takeaway. We’d done it. And we’d done it well. But I was exhausted.
That was March. This is September. And largely my reflections are the same. Technology has enabled some ministry to continue and it has been ok. Often even better than ok! Even seeing new things start and grow. We’ve learnt new skills, finally figured out how to share screens and assign breakout rooms, and seen people grow in faith.
It has also been exhausting.
Lockdown and not being able to see friends, work or go to church without looking at a screen was exhausting. Adjusting to being able to see people at a social distance and the implications that had for work and life was exhausting. Constantly adapting plans to reflect changing guidelines and local lockdowns is exhausting and to be frank, weary making.
This isn’t specific to those of us who work in ministry roles of course. The entire nation, and world is facing many of the same challenges. They’re not specific to those who follow Jesus, let alone those of us who are in gospel work. But the way in which we experience them will be different.
How do we as gospel workers approach the new academic year? Our ministry may not be tied to education, but there’s something about September that seems to signal a new start. And yet the world doesn’t seem that different to March in lots of ways! We still need to be creative in how we do ministry (and everything else!). We still don’t know what the future holds.
How can we approach this September without adding to our exhaustion and weariness? Could we even hope for joy and energy in the term ahead?
The great news is yes, I think we can! But not because of who we are. This post came about through an ongoing text chat with a friend in which we checked in with each other every couple of weeks to see how we were doing, and the answers were the same every time. We were tired. Finding online ministry a struggle. And weary. Seeing the impacts on our mental health and the rest of life. And I know that there’s more than the two of us in this place!
I wonder if you’ve had time to stop this summer? Time to reflect on the last six months. To recognise the losses, the struggles and the reality of how our life and ministry has changed. Or if you’re more like me, you’ve felt pressure to fill your diary to prove you’re doing things, that your supporters aren’t wasting their prayers and money by partnering with you, all the time hiding how you’re really doing?
In part two we’ll think about some specific themes that can help us as we go forward to the new term, but now I want to encourage you take a moment and stop. Lament is biblical and right. Yet we rarely allow ourselves to do it, instead saying things like “I’m fine, it could be worse”. That may be true, but it doesn’t allow for the fact that everybody faces different struggles. Just because something could be worse doesn’t mean that it isn’t hard!
“Come to me all who are heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:18) That’s what our God says to us. To you. Yup you. You who doesn’t believe it could be true for you.
This is the God who sees us (Genesis 16:13), who knows us (Psalm 139) and is for us (Romans 8:31).
These are truths that don’t change even when the world is changing constantly. If it helps here’s some questions to help process the last few months: What have the losses been for me in ministry and personally? (list the little to the big!) How did I react to them? What does that reaction show me about what I’m valuing? How am I feeling about Jesus? Do I believe that he sees me, knows me and is for me?
Sarah currently works as the Regional Development Director for Friends International in the South West. She’s worked in ministry roles since graduating despite applying for many secular roles!
How we gather matters. How we gather online matters even more. You may not have noticed the importance of venues, but each venue comes with a script. Think about these venues: the lawcourt, a beach and a night club. What words come to your mind? What do these venues make you think about? The law court gives a sense of respect, everyone has their place, there is a hierarchy even in the room itself. The nightclub, everyone is welcome, this is a place to dance and party. The beach signifies a time to relax, swim and read a book.
So a venue is a nudge, but its not just a nudge. A venue can enhance your values or take away from them too. When planning a gathering purely for logistical reasons you can end up with a venue that doesn’t serve your values.
Many organisations, faith groups and businesses have gone online during lockdown and many are considering online conferences and events. In planning these events many people have opted for something simple, something they’re familiar with. I’d like to suggest its time to rethink these gatherings. Where will you hold your event? Will it be Zoom, Facebook Live, Youtube or something else? I recommend you consider the community that you’re trying to build. Consider your key values and then choose a platform that supports and enhances those.
Priya Parker has written an excellent book called “The Art of Gathering. In this she says “I have come to believe that it is the way a group is gathered that determines what happens in it and how successful it is”. Here are 5 things I learnt from this book and how it applies into the gatherings I see in our faith communities.
1. Why do you gather? What is your purpose in gathering?
More than ever lockdown has caused us to stop and pause and consider why we actually gather, just take a few minutes and jot down your answers to that question. If you’re struggling maybe reverse engineer an outcome, think of what you want to be different because you gathered and work backwards from that. Your purpose is like a bouncer. The purpose of your gathering is more than an inspiring concept, it is a tool, a filter that helps you determine all the details, grand and trivial. So to gather is to make choice after choice. Virtually every choice will be easier to make when you know why you’re gathering.
2. Who will you invite?
Who is your meeting for? Be specific with your invites. The potential of online gathering means you could open it up to anyone and everyone, but working out clearly who it is and who you won’t invite will make a huge difference. The optimal size for conversation in online is groups of 4-5, so, consider the numbers. Gatherings of up to 6 create a high level of sharing, gatherings of 12-15 are small enough to build trust and intimacy, but they’re large enough to offer diversity and opinion. Groups of 30 begins to feel like a party, its has its own distinctive quality, but a single conversation is difficult within a group this size, anything over 150 becomes an audience.
3. Where will you meet?
There are so many platforms that you can use. I’d suggest you look at which platform your guests already inhabit. How you could use that platform, in combination with others to create and build community? In lockdown I’ve been part of many events and conferences. I’ve used: Zoom, Facebook Rooms, Facebook watch parties, Stream Yard and Facebook live. I’ve also attended events and meetings on Instagram live and YouTube Live. There are many options for where you’ll meet. Don’t choose a platform because you’re familiar with it or because its easy. Choose a platform that best supports and grows your values.
Priya explains this here “seek a setting that embodies the reason for your convening. When a place embodies an idea, it brings a person’s body and whole being into the experience, not only their minds”. So its not just which platform we choose to meet on, but the environment we create. A great example of this is “Saturday night collaboration Live from the Railway carriage” run by Andy Mayo and Dewi Jones. Andy hosted this in his railway carriage and invited musicians from across Europe to play live music together. The atmosphere created by the location made a huge difference in the event itself.
Dewi Jones, Tech engineer for Welsh National Theatre adds another helpful insight. “One thing that will help is having online events that aren’t just people on webcams. The shows with live interaction have had a better reception because you give people a sense of an event they’re watching. I recently live streamed a festival from Cardiff castle. They had bands playing on a stage, two presenters hosting and 20,000 people watch throughout the day”. So where you can gather together as hosts and speakers to present your event.
4. Don’t be a chill host
The best online hosts are completely prepared, in control but almost invisible. Its easy to think that you just need to set up a meeting and the rest will happen. But like any event or party before lockdown you’ll know the amount of planning needed to prepare well. Its not just preparation, but connection too, a good host works hard to network and connect friends at a party. Priya describes a chill host as “you caring about you masquerading as you caring about them”. To be kind to your guests, you need to be completely in charge. Hosting well means that you protect, connect and equalize all your guests. I’m sure you’ve been to events where one person can dominate and others remain completely silent. Be prepared to step in during an online meeting, speak to a guest afterwards or gently encourage others to contribute.
5. Build community between events
As we continue being online we need to remember not just to plan events, but to consider how to build genuine community. Here is a worked example of how my thinking has changed. Through lockdown I’ve been running events online. We were initially using Zoom and our events would usually attract 50 people. Once we started to record, edit them and put them on YouTube, these events would still attract 50 people but another 150-300+ would watch them on catch-up.
This fits with a statistic I heard from Patrick Dixon, he said “for every 1 person that registers for an event 5-10 more will watch it on catchup”. However the engagement and interaction on Facebook, which is the platform for our community was low. See the picture below, for this event we had very few comments and engagements.
I was aware of the potential of livestreaming but we hadn’t done live events before. I hadn’t realised the potential that livestreaming gives for building community. There are many options for this, the one we opted for was Stream Yard.
Since using this, our events have been better attended, the last one had 80 on the evening and the number of views grew significantly afterwards. But its not just the reach that grew, the engagement and interaction of our members on our Facebook page and group grew too. Doing live events has helped build engagement, interaction and community, you’ll see this with the number of comments, shares and reach.
Why is it that building community on Facebook seems intuitive? In 2017 Facebook hit 2 billion users that’s 2/5 of the worlds population. At that point CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced the milestone “As of this morning, the Facebook community is now officially 2 billion people!”. Zuckerberg said in his post “we’re making progress connecting the world, and now let’s bring the world closer together.” Following this he then head hunted and appointed Nona Jones as the Head of faith for Facebook.
Facebook is looking at both the value of community and a commitment to tech. Nona Jones does a great interview here on the way she is helping Facebook develop to help faith groups grow.
Here are some other ways that we have used Facebook to help group our community. I run a network of female evangelists called Passion for Evangelism (PFE). We’re a network of women seeking to encourage each other in creative public communication of the gospel.
FB mentoring groups are used to help mentor a small group of female evangelists called The Greenhouse.
FB rooms help us gather together to pray ahead of events.
FB Live for seminars/events
FB watch parties inviting their friends as speakers to live events.
A huge felt need in COVID19 is for relationship and gathering. We’ve experienced isolation, a lack of community and physical contact with people. It would be a shame if in our attempt to offer hope, we miss out on the best that communication technology can give us. Our events, friendships and conversations could be even better.
As Christians we have the most incredible reason to believe in and offer community and relationship at this time. We believe in a God that is relational to the core, from the very beginning of time he was Father, Son and Spirit.