Pastor's Corner

January 2021

What have we learned as a church in 2020?
How do we move forward in order to remain current/up-to-date in ministry?

Thank God for the existence of Cresco first and Zion UMC churches.  We are called to be the salt and light of our community, and that is what we are and will continue to be. We preserve our community from pollution by spreading the good news and bring in the light of the gospel to expose the darkness in the home, school, factory, church and the community.

Persecution by the Jews and Romans forced the early church to be scattered, and they traveled far and near to preach the birth, death and resurrection of the Only Savior of the world. We are being forced by COVID-19 to learn some lessons in ministry.

COVID-19 has forced us to learn and apply Zoom, Facebook live-streaming, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube in order to remain in fellowship with our members in Cresco, nursing homes and assisted living, as well
as distant Texas and Arizona. We have observed that attendance is down because people have changed their habits due to the absence of in-person worship. Remember that Jesus told the woman at the well, “Believe me,
woman, the time is coming when you and your people will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.” Thus, the Lord will alway meet us “where two or three are gathered in His name.” Geography cannot restrict our faith and fellowship. Surprisingly, it may take time for us to be up to speed when we start in-person worship January 17th, 2021. We realize the following: people, no matter of their age, will learn technology if they have a good reason; children still need age-appropriate ways to learn and engage; our buildings and budgets need to change; knowing people has never been easier; and digital is diverse in every way and can be gathered and scattered. In person we can have corporate worship and fellowship face to face and do community care and outreach as well as local ministry. Whereas online, we do live-streaming and targeted communication. It can be challenging to measure growth over time and needs data-informed leadership. By God’s grace we can
seize the moment to do hybrid-blend the analog and digital together for our worship, Bible teaching, prayer, evangelism, giving, home groups, UMW or UMM as well as leadership development.

COVID-19 has taught us that people may not be looking for church but answers to challenges in spiritual, financial, health, vocational and relationship domains. Jesus Christ said in John 4:35b, “but I say, wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe for harvest.” In the year 2021 we will pursue the global mandate of the great commission with local content. We will try to be the best in our hospitality. It is hoped that if there were folks who appeared during the peak of the Christmas season, that we are holding on to them, or at least making sure they know that the welcome continues. This is not the time to take for granted those who may be new to our fellowship. Yes, we want them to feel a part of our churches and not outsiders, but hospitality need not end once they have made their second or third or even more visits to our gatherings.

Our hospitality teams need to be on the lookout for those who might still be new. It is not the time to overwhelm newcomers, however, but to begin to work on the connections. Evidence suggests that folks stay because they \ind a relationship within the community they have attended. Who is reaching out to welcome them? Who is gathering them under their wing? Who is showing them around or accompanying them to worship and other events in the life of the church? This kind of hospitality is harder if worship is online only, but
connections can still be made.

How do we enjoy our company in worship? Let’s help newcomers feel at ease by explaining everything we do. In worship, not everyone knows when to stand or sit or move. Without instructions, newcomers may be confused. Shall we find out somethings about newcomers but not by putting them on the spot in a large group setting? That can be intimidating for people familiar with the space. Instead, find someone who can approach them and engage them in conversation about themselves. Most people like talking about themselves in a safe environment with someone who seems genuinely interested in them. And then make sure that these “investigators” know how to share the information and with whom to share it. They can also introduce the new folks to the pastor or other leaders who might continue the conversation.

We may know everyone, and everyone knows what to do and where to go. But it is still worth practicing how to include guests and shape the service to first timers so they feel comfortable. And no matter how close-knit our congregations might be, there are those who are not as well known, whose stories have not been told, and who could provide hospitality practice for the congregation. Let’s continue to examine the worship flow to get a sense of how it might be viewed by someone who hasn’t grown up in a church environment. Help everyone see the reasons behind the different movements of the worship order. It just might be that some long timers among us say, “I didn’t know that’s why we did that!” This is what living the celebration means: living a life of praise. But now our circle is wider because of the company who have come
and stayed. Maybe that company includes neighbors and new potential members. But certainly, the company is the renewed spirit of Christ who dwells among us in new and dynamic ways. That is why we need to be
careful as we speak of a return to normalcy. We are not returning to anything; we are going forward. We are embracing the new thing that God is doing in our midst. We celebrate the new community that we have become. Even if it is the same people, we are renewed and revived by our attention to the Advent and Christmas season.

We did not just endure all that in vain; we were transformed by it. What that transformation looks like is still being worked out. Maybe the time apart and worship online has made us a new community, longing to see one another face to face. We took that for granted before. Now it is the core of our being.
Maybe if we took “a sabbatical” during the pandemic and didn’t meet or do very much online, we are now looking forward to becoming a new community of faith born out of separation and distance. Shall we find a way to celebrate the newness of our fellowship?