Notes from an excellent FIEC Leadership in Lockdown webinar on Leading through a Lengthy Lockdown with John Stevens and Spencer Shaw.
1. God’s timing is not our timing. In Daniel 9, Daniel has been reading the prophet Jeremiah, and learns that the exile is going to last 70 years, which meant it was nearing its end. Daniel prays that God would keep His covenant promises. God responds by sending additional revelation. At the end of 70 years, Israel will return to the land, but the exile won’t be over. There will be a longer time until restoration, however God will accomplish His sovereign purposes in His own timing. So, Daniel needs to keep trusting God’s sovereign plan, and so do we, as this lockdown goes on longer than we might like it to.
2. The earliest that churches in England will be able to re-open is July 4th. It could be the end of the year before we will be able to physically gather as before.
3. Don’t respond to this lengthy lockdown with resentment. It is easy to become frustrated or angry that we can’t meet.
4. The need to respond with realism. Realism about the length of the lockdown; the challenges associated with reopening; why churches are not a higher priority; why churches are treated like entertainment and hospitality venues rather than shops and garden centres; that church gatherings have been responsible for spreading the virus; and about the possibility of changing the governments mind.
5. Current regulations will make it difficult to gather even if the lockdown rules are relaxed. Requirements regarding social distancing, masks, singing, and deep cleaning will need to be considered. It possible that churches might have difficulties with hiring buildings.
6. Could it be that our current virtual gatherings may achieve more in practice, than restarting physical gatherings with restrictions are able to?
7. Recognise that breaking the rules or treating them casually is serious. There are legal risks – fines, civil liability (if negligent or reckless), and insurance issues. There are reputational risks – public reaction if we break rules and people get ill or die.
8. How should we respond at this time? Submit and respect (Romans 13). Explain the situation to the church and plan accordingly. Make representation to government in a way that is both polite and understanding of the governments’ dilemma. Be aware that refusing to comply risks tighter and longer lockdown. Most of all, give thanks for what we can do as churches; God’s Word has not been chained and we have been able to disciple, teach, and encourage our congregations.
9. We should assume that social distancing will be the new normal until next year.
10. Think about the benefits of the good things your church did prior to the lockdown. Is there any way to achieve the equivalent benefit?
11. If online is going to be the new normal for the foreseeable future, it will require greater investment in money and equipment, people who are involved, and maybe even appointing an online deacon.
12. What is our building capacity with social distancing? What will the implications of this be – multiple services, how to seat people, room for guest?
13. Areas of church life that will need to be considered once we are allowed to gather again on Sundays – stewarding; seating; creche; Sunday School; music and singing; baptism; Lord’s Supper; refreshments; church lunches; cleaning (between services).
14. Do we keep our midweek prayer meeting online once lockdown is over?
15. How do we communicate the importance of physical meeting together, especially as people increasingly get used to meeting online?
16. This is an opportunity to consider what barriers have been stopping people from gathering physically, but which don’t need to be overcome online.
17. The need to say, “I don’t know” (because we don’t know) to many of the church’s questions rather than speculating.