If you own a computer, you have likely experienced that tense moment when, unexpectedly, everything freezes up and you are forced into a restart. You can do nothing – except go into panic mode – as you face the possibility that everything you were working on may be gone forever.
After your hard drive finally reboots, you find yourself presented with the promising question: “Your computer shutdown unexpectedly. Would you like to reopen all programs running before?”
I used to think this was an absurd question; of course I do! Why would I ever intentionally lose all of my hard work? Why would I ever purposefully choose to start over again? Without hesitation, I always hit “yes,” re-opened all my programs and get back to it.
In many ways, these past few months have felt like an amplified version of this familiar occurrence. Seemingly out of nowhere, our churches and ministries have experienced a forced shutdown. In a matter of days, the plans we had been working on for months, even years, were suddenly at risk of being gone for good. We did everything we could think of in order to protect our work: we learned how to livestream; we became masters of Zoom; and we finally – albeit reluctantly – ventured into the bottomless pit of IGTV (and for the bravest of us, TikTok). We did whatever it took to recreate our plans/programs.
Now, after months of waiting, praying, and Zooming (lots of zooming), we are beginning to see the promising signs of a reboot as our cities and states slowly begin to reopen. We have held on to hope as the possibility of a return to normal seems close. Yet, as my own church has considered the guidelines given by our city for gathering our people again, we are beginning to realize there is one question we must answer first: “Would you like to re-open all programs you were running before?”
As youth pastors, we are in the midst of what is certain to be one of the defining moments of our students’ generation. While it will take time to see all the exact ways this moment will shape their worldview, the fact is that none of them will leave this pandemic unchanged. None of us will be able to pick up right where we left off. The students returning to our churches are not untouched or unchanged. This is why, for the first time, this question makes sense to me. Instead of merely rushing to restart all the programs we had going before, what if God is inviting us to something more than what was? While answering “no” might mean losing the work we have already done, it might also mean gaining an unprecedented opportunity for reset and renewal in the lives of our students.
Foundation Over Framework
If you are anything like me, at this point you are probably asking, “if don’t go back to what I was doing, then what do I do?”
While everything in me would love to offer you a concrete framework for how to process this next season with your students, I truly believe any plan I might attempt to give would ultimately fail you – or at least, fail to give you what you most need. None of us should assume to know what someone else’s church and ministry will look like in this coming season. Navigating this next phase will look different for all of us. In the thousands of ways that our students are unique, so will be the work of God in their lives and in our churches.
I can, however, offer this observation: our time in this COVID-19 wilderness has served as a crucible of sorts for the church. It has taken what was, and brought it down to its most basic essence. By stripping away our programs and plans, we have been given the chance to clearly see the people of God, in-dwelt by the Spirit of God, doing the work of the ministry of God. And in the same way that the ultimate purpose of a crucible is not destruction but creation, in the hands of our God, the purpose of this season is not removal but redemption. While many aspects of our current moment are novel and unknown, our hope is not. The God who provided bread for his children in the wilderness, is the same God who entered the wilderness in Christ.
This God who – by His own blood – made a way for the salvation of the world, is the same God who will make a way for His church through this pandemic.
While I cannot give you a hard-and-fast framework, I can first remind you of our foundation. In Christ, no wave or wind can destroy those who have built their lives upon His Word, where we are offered hope, life, and the promise of redemption and rescue. Holding fast to this our sure foundation, my prayer is that we would not merely rush to “return” to life as normal. My prayer is that we would not quickly say “yes” to reopening all programs because we are afraid of what might be lost. Instead, my prayer is that we would, together, pursue this time as an opportunity to examine and press into the Spirit of God as we seek His renewal among our students.
As you do this, I also hope you know you are not alone. So while I cannot give you a plan, I would love to offer you the few questions I am asking myself for my own ministry as I contend to God for His renewal in this time.
- What walls have been broken down in this season? Are they ones that need to be rebuilt or does their destruction bring new pathways for growth in our students and our church?
- What lessons has God already begun teaching our students in this season? What would it look like for us to join Him in His work there?
- What questions are our students still asking from this time? What do they specifically need to press into God as they seek those answers?
- In what ways have our students taken up the ministry of prayer, discipleship, and care among their peers? How can we continue to release this ministry into their hands?
- What would it take for us to create space for both celebration and lament as we gather again? Where specifically have I seen need for training in our students in right lament and celebration?
- What new rhythms have we and our students built in this season? Are there any worth contending to keep?