What if I could convince you that our current cultural reality is one of the best things that has ever happened to the Church, would you believe me? I know that’s a bold statement but bear with me for a moment while I give it a try. The Church at large has a bit of a well-deserved reputation for being a little late to adapt and adjust. It’s a bit like convincing your parents to try Netflix or Hulu and ditch their cable… good luck with that. Our current realities have given us an incredible opportunity to re-envision and reprioritize ministry.
Not that long ago (like months, not years) many churches had little to no online presence and now these same churches and pastors have been forced out into the evil digital world they had been warning people about for years. Church staffs all over the globe are scrambling to figure out how to preach the gospel, lead people in worship, and connect online. There is however another conversation that must be had... How do we care for and reach hurting and broken people digitally? This is no easy task and probably easily avoided given that we aren’t always good at caring for people when they are right in front of us.
A Whole New World
Back in the “old days” hurting people walked into the church building and if we created a safe enough environment they might ask for help, or at least fill out a card and let us know they needed care. Some churches across the country have returned to some, albeit modified versions, of the church gathered. Others, like us Californians, are still navigating restrictions. Either way, we aren’t in Kansas anymore and we may never return to that old way of life and church.
In the digital environment, church leaders are finding it harder to connect hurting people in their churches and community. This is especially true for congregations that didn’t already have a reputation for being warm and compassionate to begin with. People are not “reaching out” for help in the same ways. This provides an incredible opportunity for the church. Thus the church must develop a digital strategy not just to carry the message of Jesus but truly embody it into this new world.
Missing The Mark
“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.” (Matthew 9:35-38 NIV)
Sometimes we get so busy “doing church” that we actually forget the mission of Jesus, to bring good news through compassion and healing. Is the purpose of the local church different from Jesus’ purpose here on earth? It sometimes seems that way. Whether you are doing church online, or some sort of phygital version of church, you will need to have an online strategy for care moving forward.
The question is simple, but worth sitting in and wrestling with… Did we ever really care in the first place? Before we jump into a bunch of programs and initiatives, some honest conversations must be had as leaders. Here are 3 conversations for church leaders to have prior to providing care for their new online community.
3 Conversations For Church Leaders Regarding Care
- Are we willing to change our mindset and mission field? Church leaders have become too comfortable with people showing up and receiving that they have missed the sending piece of the mission. Jesus went to where they were, proclaiming good news of the Kingdom and healing their sicknesses. The location changed but the message and mission didn’t. The Church was always intended to be a sent people, to gather and then go. And where are most people these days? Drum roll… online! Even when they are “in person” at church they are still online. It’s imperative now more than ever to have the perspective that meeting people in their place of pain is evangelism and disciple making and to meet them we must go where they are.
- Are we caring out of convenience or compassion? This gets at our motives. It was the pain of the people that compelled Jesus to go and act. There is no debate that there is a mental health crisis in our world and that there is compassionate work to be done. Compassion is super messy and inconvenient. I have three kids, all of which are very different. It’s always easier for me to help and care for the kid who asks me for help. The child I worry about the most is the one who is suffering in silence and is unwilling to ask. Compassion is a motivation of the heart and emotions, not simply of intellectual conviction. It is observing pain in others and being moved to action. We must be willing to look for opportunities to care and show the compassion of Jesus.
- Are we willing to pray, equip and send our people to care? Jesus looked at and observed hurting and broken people. This means he was paying attention. They were in need and he was committed to do something. Notice they were not only hurting but they were without leadership. Providing care also means providing leadership to people without it. Then Jesus turns to his disciples and invites them to pray and get involved. Are we willing to take the time to equip the church to care? Church leaders must be willing to accept the reality that you cannot provide care for everyone. Jesus knew that, “The workers are few” and that meant asking God to send more help. It’s important that the people of God first pray, raise up men and women and send them to the mission field. We have to train people to look for signs of the harassed, helpless and leaderless among us and with love and compassion go to them. The burden is on the workers, not the hurting and broken. Do we care enough to pray, equip and send them?
Only after these conversations can we begin to ask the questions of how. Generally speaking, people know when we really care about them or not. If we do the right things with the wrong heart and motives, like caring for people so they will continue to give, they will see right through it and dampen the message of Jesus. Jesus came to seek and save the lost (see Luke 19), not to wait for them to come back to church on Sunday.