Have You Tried Turning it Off & Back on Again?

A few weeks back my computer was behaving strangely. It was sluggish, laggy and the MacBook ‘beachball’ was spinning out of control every time I tried to open a program. Ellie’s friend is a computer expert and I figured ‘Hackerman’ would have a fix for sure. I’d wait for him to come the next day.

And then I had a thought. What if I tried turning it off and back on again? That old chestnut!… Maybe I’ll try – and see what happens…

Sure enough I shut it down, booted it up and it is good as new. All it needed was to be rested and re-set. Interestingly around October last year I had a mental sense that with church we needed to ‘turn it off and turn it back on again’. Those thoughts actually had what I would describe as some prophetic significance to it because I felt like it was speaking to the familiar (albeit often enjoyable) rut we were in. I shared it with our team but it didn’t go anywhere. I mean what are we gonna do? Stop meeting on Sundays for a bit just so people can re-set and re-calibrate? Yeah that’d be dumb. What if they just go to another church? What if they like life better without church or don’t feel a need for church any longer. More disturbing ‘what if I like it and don’t want to go back?’

So my sense of needing to ‘re-set’ got shelved in the too hard basket. How do you put that to your congregation!?… We’d like to shut everything down for a few months and see what God may say – see what we learn – see what happens and how different we are when we come back. Oh yeah – we’d like to be paid while we do it…

I didn’t think there was any way to pull that one off.

Then – Covid.

Ok – so I didn’t plant the Covid virus anywhere, but when it happened my mind flashed back to the sense of needing something just like this to allow us to re-set our focus – re-set our goals and our hearts. And as the pace slowed and the chances of even meeting with more than 1 person disappeared I wondered ‘what are we learning and experiencing that we need to pay attention to?’ I dunno how it has been for you, but for many of the people I am talking to it has been a time of rest, space and renewal.

Come Sunday June 21 our churches will be heading back to the buildings, and the question we have to grapple with is ‘Are we just going to snap back to the way things were pre-Covid?’ We know ‘those things’ and even if they didn’t always work for us we were good at doing them and seriously- who has the headspace to change anything? I sense that is the temptation.

Could it be that God has been speaking to us in this time thru our experiences out of the regular gathering? Could it be that our imagination has been stretched? Will we just snap back to the old ways and delete whatever we had learnt?

I’d like to think that if ever there was a time for an ecclesiological reset button to be hit then now is the time. We have a chance to reflect on what we have learnt while apart, to discuss what we found helpful and reflect on what we missed as we gathered and then to make those thoughts a part of our DNA going forwards

Some questions I imagine all churches need to consider:

  • Will we slip back into the same Sunday rhythm of gathering or will we allow for Sundays where we do not use the building but meet in homes? (But what would we do with the newbies who turn up for the first time on that day?… What message does that send?… I can hear the panic…)
  • Will we continue to livestream our teaching for those who can’t make it? There are some who really hope we will do this because they genuinely miss the church community. No doubt there are those who will ‘watch church’ in bed. Every idea has an edge to it.
  • If the break has been as restful as I seem to be hearing should we schedule in breaks more often? Should we have church holidays? I know we did this in Yanchep for the first year and no one batted an eyelid. Maybe we take the summer break completely off… We gather in homes, or in family groups and we cater for the singles and the ‘left outs’ so that there is fresh interaction.

But underneath it all is the massive and primary question of what may God want us to hear in this liminal space?

Should we ‘reboot’ and incorporate a switch from ‘iOS to Linux?’ Enable more open sourced expressions of church to form? What might that mean and look like? Are we capable of this kind of thinking?

I remember Calvin Miller taking a church leadership class in Perth some years ago now and one of his pieces of advice to us pastors was ‘if it ain’t broken fix it anyway’, because that creates a culture of an ongoing expectation of change, so that one day if it is broken then you don’t need permission to do the obvious.

It was Phylils Tickle way back in 2008 who said that it seems every 500 years or so the church has a giant jumble sale where it goes thru the wardrobe and the rooms looking for what to keep and what to discard. The reformation was possibly the last experience of that and the ’emerging church’ flickered for a while offering hope of that kind before fading, but this may be our opportunity to actually ask some hard questions and make some significant decisions and then give shape to the church in the remainder of this century.

Perhaps Covid 19 is our moment of great opportunity. I really hope so.