Notes from FIEC Leadership in Lockdown webinar on How to Engage Effectively with Government with John Stevens, Nola Leach & Tim Farron MP (who is a member of an FIEC church).
1. The challenge is not to lose heart in gospel ministry. Many pastors do lose heart because often because of perceived lack of fruit or some hardship and affliction, and there is a concern that after the COVID-crisis ends many will give up. What reasons does Paul give to us about why we should not lose heart? Two from 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. Do not lose heart in gospel ministry because i) You are being renewed daily by the resurrection power of Jesus; ii) Your afflictions are gaining a lasting eternal glory because of the resurrection of Jesus. So, fix your eyes on our unseen eternal hope of resurrection glory. If we are going to be sustained in ministry, that is what we need to choose to do.
2. Coronavirus Update:
– Hospital patients in the UK are nearing the peak there was at worst point in April.
– There is a real fear that the NHS will be overwhelmed in January and February which are busy months anyway, especially post-Christmas relaxation of the restrictions.
– In England, London is now in Tier 3.
– Expectation is that there will be a ‘third wave’ after Christmas due to the relaxation of the rules.
– Anticipate tighter measures being introduced in January – lockdown?
– Judicial review of national lockdown failed. The challenge to the closure of places of worship has not yet been considered.
– Travelling from Tier 3 into Tier 2 for church services is a wisdom issue rather than a rule. Key is that those who do keep the Tier 3 rules on mixing with others.
3. Implications for Churches:
– January to March are likely to be difficult. Easter is the new Christmas.
– Leaders and congregations are frustrated and exhausted. Acknowledge that this is normal for the circumstances.
– Make sure you take a break after Christmas. It is essential you are rested and refreshed.
– Plan sensibly for the next 3 months. The challenge is going to be keeping going.
– Think in terms of sustaining ministry rather than expanding ministry in this period of time.
4. We have huge opportunities to engage positively with our government leaders nationally and locally. We have a right to make our voice heard. Our politicians and local representatives are there because we elected them to be there.
5. Recognise that the world will not be put right by politics. Politics has its place, but it is not the hope of the world.
6. The state does have authority. God has put people in government in authority over us. This authority was established to do us good. This doesn’t mean we are a pushover.
7. God is a God of justice. God demands justice from His people for His world. The moment we see injustice and speak out, we step across into the political world. Whilst we can do things in the public arena to curb injustice and prevent people being harmed and to challenge human rights abuses, we must recognise that this is a fallen world and ultimate change won’t come until Jesus returns.
8. How do we engage with politics? With passion and conviction that comes from our beliefs and with wisdom.
9. Develop a theology of compromise. Compromise is not necessarily moving away from what we fundamentally believe. We need to know what we hold firm to and where there is room to manoeuvre. Christian MPs may not always vote in way we think they should – often they have to balance short term good with longer term gains.
10. To be wise we need to be informed. It is easy to make knee-jerk reactions to things that happen. We need to have facts at our disposal. We need to have good research. There are a myriad of Christian organisations that can provide us with good quality research. Being informed also enables us to pray intelligently.
11. Think about the language that you use. We note that rise of religious illiteracy in society. Christians suffer from cultural and political illiteracy. Learn the language so you can be understood. The language we use to talk to a group of Christians will be different from the language we use in a world where they do not understand where we are coming from.
12. Find common ground with people. We can work with people on certain matters who don’t share the same views as us on other matters. We also need to decide which battles are worth the fight and which aren’t.
13. Engage with care. Not by being abrasive or judgmental. Engage winsomely and with respect. If disagreeing with someone do it with respect and with a right understanding of their position.
14. Commend MPs for doing what is right. Of the letters MPs get, the majority are critical. Encourage the good work they are doing, and not just on the things we think are important.
15. Christians who engage with politics and politicians should not be just like another lobby group trying to twist the arms of those in power. Christians have the opportunity to surprise politicians by not being like a lobby group and by treating them with gentleness.
16. When thinking about politics don’t panic. In Revelation, Rome (representative of the world opposed to God’s rule) is called Babylon because it, like Babylon will end up as rubble. But the eternal kingdom of God won’t.
17. When thinking about politics do care. Remember how Jesus responded to Lazarus’ two sisters after his death, in those moments before He raised him back to life. The agony, pain, grief was real, and we should care about injustices in our world.
18. If there is another lockdown, it is a bad look for churches to look for or claim special privilege in order to stay open. We are commanded to love our neighbour and the more we mix unnecessarily, the more likely harm will come to others. Now that there is an end in sight with the vaccine, we should not be surprised if the government decided to prevent gathered worship if tighter restrictors are needed in the short term, even though it is possible for churches to meet together safely.