Embracing A New Normal, Just Like The Disciples
Joel Seymour, pastor of the Lancaster Vineyard Church, encourages us to take the opportunity to embrace a new normal, just as the disciples once did.
Pastor, Lancaster Vineyard & Great Lakes East Area Leader, Vineyard USA
Over the past three months we’ve all learned lots of new words and phrases like coronavirus, Covid-19, social distancing, and flatten the curve. An old phrase is being reused a lot these days: the new normal. I recently saw a cartoon of a husband and wife having their morning coffee. The husband apparently just said something to which the wife replied, “Is that the new normal of a minute ago or the new new normal?”
The new normal is anything but normal. Sports has been reduced to watching professional athletes compete on video games. “What to wear to an event” has been replaced with, “Is this a mask or no mask event?” The new normal can be funny and awkward but it can also be sad and painful.
I have done two funerals in the past two weeks and they were anything but normal. The first featured ten people in a funeral home, a Facebook live setup, and me preaching with all of us in masks. Not normal. My mother-in-law broke her hip a week ago. My wife, her sister, and her dad were not allowed to be inside the hospital, so they sat in the parking lot waiting to get a call from the surgeon. Not normal. We now visit her by calling her at the physical rehab center and looking at each other through a closed outside window. Not normal.
I understand the draw to return to normal. I certainly want many things to return to normal. But when it comes to church I have a confession: I don’t want to go back to normal. Oh, I love my church; we have great people. And we were growing for the first time in years before Covid-19. But I am not convinced that we had arrived at the kind of normal God has for us.
Pastors are feeling an internal pressure to return to normal (I know I am). But I didn’t find peace until I surrendered to God’s call to not immediately rush back to normal. Through prayer and divine appointment conversations with other pastors in my Vineyard area I sensed God calling us to pause and embrace a new normal.
I saw God’s call to embrace the new normal in Scripture too (along with the temptation to go back to how things were). I imagine the post-resurrection disciples wanted to go back to the normal three years of ministering with Jesus. They had finally gotten used to the miracles, sermons on the countryside, and challenging the establishment. Then, their friend and hoped for Messiah, is crucified. Oh sure, He resurrects in three days but the disciples’ reaction is go back to the normal routine of fishing. And then there’s all this talk about Jesus going to Heaven and it being to their advantage having the Holy Spirit (whoever He is).
I imagine the disciples just wanted things to go back to normal.
But then Pentecost happened. Wind. Fire. Tongues. Boldly proclaiming the Gospel. Three thousand saved and baptized. Ah, so this is why the New Normal is to our advantage.
Like all churches, we are balancing what churches are allowed to do (churches are exempt and thus allowed to meet in Ohio) vs. being a good witness vs. the need for in-person community vs. being safe and responsible. We consulted doctors who attend our church (including a nearby county health department director). But more than anything we simply wanted to hear God’s voice. When we did, we created our June plan.
We decided we will most likely never get this kind of opportunity again. On May 31st we had our first in-person outdoor service. People brought their own chairs and communion elements. The service was broadcast on an FM transmitter for those who felt safer in their car. We livestreamed the service for those at home.
For June, Sunday services will be online only, while emphasizing small groups (some in-person and outdoors, others on Zoom), and regathering our youth group (outdoors). We are beginning to contact those not currently in small groups and extending personal invites. We are emphasizing outreach and personal evangelism. We encourage those who feel safe doing so to invite people (particularly unchurched friends) to watch the service with them. In order to help families we are livestreaming our first service and using the second time slot to livestream a children’s service.
We will continue to watch infection rates as our state reopens. That will help us decide when to begin weekly indoor services. But more than anything we simply want to hear the voice of God directing us to His New Normal.
My prayer is our church will look back on this season and say, “Ah so this is why the New Normal is to our advantage.”
Joel Seymour is the Senior Pastor of the Lancaster Vineyard Church in Lancaster, OH, and an Area Pastoral Care Leader for Vineyard USA.