COVID in the Midst of Lent

If you’re like me, you are mourning right now. You’re morning all the cancelled events – Spring Retreats, Mission Trips, summer camp, Confirmation, Easter Sunday, weddings.

It’s a lot.

The tendency, at least for me, in situations like these where there is so little that I can control, is to over-compensate, over-program, and over-plan. And since the news of COVID-19 hit hard last week with the president’s press conference, that’s all I’ve done:

  • I’ve stayed up way too late creating ideas, clocking in hours far outside of my pay grade.
  • I’ve been up at 4am, anxiously thinking about families and what they’re going through.
  • I’ve acted like I’m a video editor, trying to film videos and piece it all together like a professional.
  • I’ve tried to come up with daily “pep talks” and devos on Instagram.

And I can already say that in the last week I’ve already tried two things to reach students and have failed.

It’s a lot.

I’ve felt my chest tighten with anxiety, as I try to figure out how to balance ministry, reach kids, support parents, take care of my own family – and oh yeah – not get sick.

Today I was in the middle of a freak-out when I heard the words, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46)

Be still? Are you crazy, God? I got a ton to do! And it’s all for you! If I don’t get it together, your kingdom will collapse.

What’s so ironic to me about this pandemic is that it is during a time of the year when we are supposed to be still – Lent. We are supposed to subtract things away that distract us in order to becoming closer to God, and yet in church life we end up adding so many more things as we try to reach people during the busiest time of year in church life.

I find it so ironic that we are forced to halt as a church during what we like to call the “Super Bowl of the Church.”And as heartbreaking as it is to sacrifice Easter Sunday, Confirmation, Graduation, and Spring Retreats, what if this was a chance to embrace what Lent is really about?

I became burdened by my own hypocrisy this week, as I spent an entire day creating content, suddenly realizing that I was just creating “more” for families to do together. From our church alone this week at least 4 emails were sent out to families, plus a daily devotional via Instagram, Facebook, and email; plus two newsletters from our senior pastor; plus a personal invitation to a Wednesday night Zoom class; the list goes on…

If Lent is about subtracting the things that distract us from getting closer to God, then what can we do to limit the “noise” that families ingest? How can we set ourselves apart from the communication that is sent from the schools or the local news? How can we embrace what Lent is all about?

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Create a “hub” on the church website where families can review resources. I’m obsessed with this one by White Rock UMC in Dallas.
  • Combine newsletters into one. Rather than having a separate Preschool/Elementary/Middle School/College newsletter, create one for the whole family!
  • Text/call parents. Spend the time you would have spent creating things to foster connection. Ask them how they’re doing and what you can pray about.
  • Don’t over-create. There’s no need to create your own mid-day devotional for students, if your church already has one.
  • Back off of event promotion. Let’s just get through one season at a time.
  • Deploy Small Group Leaders. If you are in a medium-to-large sized youth group, ask your SGLs to create Zoom hangouts, group chats, Netflix Watch Parties, or Smash Bros parties. Let them foster connection however is most natural, and support how you can. And as we “return back to life,” encourage small group events versus large group events.
  • Don’t be afraid of failure. So, maybe Zoom youth groups aren’t going to work for you. Maybe you don’t get the numbers. That is okay. Not everything is going to work or look pretty.

This is a time for the church to listen to the needs of families and deploy the church outside of these 4 walls. That doesn’t automatically equate as “we need to do more.” It just means that we do things different.

So, be still. Listen. And don’t be afraid to dial it back this season. If you’ve done your job properly up until this point, families will know you’re there for them without the constant reminders. Be innovative and creative, but don’t be afraid to be still.

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