Which Button?

Posted: June 8, 2020 in Uncategorized

I was in  a LinkedIn conversation with someone in the UK the other day about what the church might look like post-COVID-19. I used the word “pause” as something that may be relevant to where we are at the moment. I was thinking that this period of lockdown was like a “pause” button for the church, a time for us to stop and reflect on what we are doing and decide if that is what we want to continue to do in the future.

The person with whom I was corresponding threw the question back at me about the pause button and asked if it was actually the reset button we needed to be pressing, and added: “Are we being asked to discover the factory default settings of the church?”

Just before everything closed down I concluded my ministry at a church that I had grown to love over many years. Since then I have been visiting many churches online and have appreciated the fact that in many ways church is easier to access now than it was before. As I have reflected on what I have observed and as I reflected on what I have personally experienced in church life over the last 40 years I believe we are at a unique time in history. 

It’s a while now since I read Phyllis Tickle’s book, The Great Emergence, but the coronavirus reminded me of her assertion from about eight years ago. Tickle used the analogy of “The 500-Year Rummage Sale” to describe religious change over the years. She said that historically, the church “cleans house” roughly every 500 years, holding what she calls a “giant rummage sale,” deciding what to dispose  and what to keep, making room for new things. 

We are now 500 years on from the Reformation and I’m wondering if COVID-19 has provided us with the impetus to begin that 500-year rummage sale; a time when we have been forced to stop everything we normally do, and perhaps, to think about a future that is somewhat different from the past. 

Brian Sanders, the author of “A Smaller Way” made the observation: “It is time we stopped imagining the church as something we have to invite people into and see it as something that is blessed to be broken and given to the world.” This resonates with me as I think about a world where churches got very busy with all sorts of things and some of the heart of mission may have been lost. 

Rather than rushing back to life as we know it, I wonder if we need to take the time to reflect on the best bits of our COVID “pause” and tentatively reach for the “reset” button. And perhaps as our finger hovers over the reset button we need to ask the question: What do the factory default settings really look like?   

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. 

  1. Malcolm Good says:

    Hi Rob

    I think the last few months have been (in some sense) a gift to the church. We have been forced to stop. At least for a few seconds before scrambling around for video streaming gadgets, and instantly creating a social media presence.

    That aside, there has been a stop. A blessed stop, a forced sabbath rest, a retreat, a regathering of thoughts, reflection and refocus. The disruption can provoke new ways of being! Yes, we can hit the ‘reset’ button, and go back to factory defaults but the factory defaults (2019 versions) may be defective! And how do we stop the clutter from filling the hard drive of the church again, that clutter that causing a slowing down of its intended mission?

    How is Version Two (or Version Three for those of us in Darwin, remember Cyclone Tracy) going to be different? This is something that the church will need to be intentional about, as it would be so easy to drift back to the good old days. Oh for how things were way back in 2019!

    May the disruption to the church be a blessing to the world!

    • Rob Douglas says:

      Thanks Mal, I agree it has been an important Sabbath rest, but my fear is that people will think the factory default is a 2019 version, whereas it’s probably an Acts 2 version we should be looking at

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