Charles Dickens famously described the years of the French Revolution in Tale of Two Cities with the following opening lines: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” I don’t know how he would’ve opined about 2020, but I bet “strange” or “crazy” would have been considered fitting adjectives.
Regardless of the times, our Lord’s commands to his church don’t change. How we live them out in these strange days, however, certainly must, especially those exhortations related to fellowship, member care, gathering, and loving each other well.
Loads of churches have adapted their ministries to be faithful in those things, but it remains a noticeable problem in this season of social distancing and isolation that some church members are becoming unnoticed. Members are falling through the cracks, losing touch, and going unloved.
While my local church has struggled to work around this problem, we’ve found (or, perhaps, rediscovered) some ways to close up the cracks that, otherwise, our folks might fall through. Perhaps these will be helpful reminders for you and yours.
Our people send notes to each other in normal times, but we have kicked it up a notch this year. Folks have been sending notes for birthdays, words of encouragement, bereavement, and “thinking of you” letters. In fact, I’ve got a carton of letters that I’m still reading through, and it’s wonderful! That personal touch leaves a deeper impression of friendship and care compared to Facebook likes, texts, Instagram comments, or emails. And it is worth remembering that portions of our Bible are made up of letters from authors to congregations and individuals from whom they’d been socially distanced for a long, long time! So, you know, if letters were “good for Paul and Silas, then they’re good enough for me.”
Work That Directory
Anybody else old enough to remember when the Olan Mills guy would show up at your church for a couple of Sundays to take a directory pic? I do, and my family still has those church directories going back to the 80s. I love ‘em. They remind me of different times, and they jog my memory about people I haven’t seen in a long time.
For that reason, now’s a good time to get out a copy of your most recent church directory or role, pick out a couple of faces you haven’t seen or thought of in a while, or don’t know, and give them a call.
If your church is small enough that you know everybody, I bet you have a directory with some people you need to know better. If you’re in a church larger than that, be courageous, and cold-call a name or two. You’ll be surprised and delighted by how far a well-intentioned member care phone call from a fellow saint will go to bless the socks off somebody, particularly during an isolating, global pandemic.
We try, at our church, to check in with each other in a personal, systematic way, by phone, letter, or both. While we are not always consistent, it’s amazing how that brief phone call gives an opportunity for prayer, counsel, laughter, and the strengthening of the bonds of Christian love.
Send a Timothy
Not everybody got to be with Paul personally. But Paul often sent a representative like Timothy to be his personal ambassador to others. Moreover, like Paul, churches would often send emissaries to personally represent one fellowship to another.
Now, there’s a lot about in-person gatherings that you cannot do at this moment, but there’s no strict orders against front porch sitting. In fact, you can stay socially distant, you can wear masks, and you can catch up on matters of eternal importance—COVID-free—while sitting outside.
While in-person church visitation has fallen out of practice in our frenetic, over-busied, schedule-cluttered culture, this pandemic seems to have resurrected its usefulness by slowing the world down a bit. And so this is a fantastic opportunity for the church to send some of its “Timothys” to visit with its members.
Our folks enjoy a good front porch visit from a deacon, pastor, or church friend. In addition, I’d bet that more discipleship has happened in front porch swings than in my office. And I’d be willing to make the same bet that if you’ll send some Timothys from your church, you’ll also be more effective at building up the body.
Certainly, there are lots of other ways your church is already working to close up the cracks people fall through. What I’ve written here is, of course, not exhaustive. But, in addition to what we’ve been attempting at our church, we’ve found that these means keep folks from getting lost and forgotten. Just some simple, old-school member care methods: write ‘em, call ‘em, send somebody to see ‘em. That works for us. What is working for you?