As many lockdown restrictions begin to lift, we are all trying to navigate what life looks like now. How do we re-enter life responsibly and compassionately? How do we care for ourselves and our communities? The world has changed in the past year—we have changed, too. We know that nothing is guaranteed, life could shift again just as quickly as it did before.
We are standing in liminal space, the in-between of the known and unknown, the already and the not yet.
As we stand in this doorway, may we consider what we want the room we move into to look like. Let us curiously imagine how the Church and the world can flourish post-pandemic.
When it comes to leading a church, running Alpha, or simply being a Christian in this moment, we believe there are three temptations we need to watch out for and three ways we can meet those temptations.
Temptation One: Strategize in Your Own Strength
Have you ever seen a really active dog who’s been held back and leashed for too long? When they’re finally set free to run, they charge ahead at full speed. After more than a year of restriction and caution, some of us might be tempted to act like that dog who’s finally been let off the leash. We want to charge ahead and do all the things we’ve been dreaming about. We want to release our passion and act on behalf of God and the world.
There’s nothing wrong with that desire to act. But, it holds a temptation. We can move forward so quickly, in our own strength, that we become blind to how God is moving, deaf to what his Spirit is saying.
God is gracious and patient. He’ll let us run ahead. And sometimes, in our eagerness, we run ourselves right into a wall we could have avoided if we had simply stopped and listened to God’s Spirit.
John Wimber speaks to this idea when he talks about an experience he had with God in which he felt God say to him, “I’ve seen your ministry, John. Now, it’s time for you to see mine.”
Let’s be careful to avoid the temptation of building our own kingdom in our own strength. Instead, let’s take time to understand what God’s spirit is saying and follow the spirit’s lead and the spirit’s pace.
Temptation Two: Back to Normal
The thing about a doorway is that even though it can lead you into a new room, it can also just as easily lead you back into the same room you came from. Liminal spaces are precarious. They have the potential to transform, but transformation is not a guarantee, it’s a choice.
This pandemic has shed light on so many things. It’s opened our eyes to pain in the world around us and made us more aware of the deep hurts of others. It’s shown us new ways to work, connect, and support one another. But all of this has been exhausting. We’ve had to adjust, juggle, learn, and adapt. Many church leaders are tired. Many of us are tired.
It’s tempting to want everything to just go back to normal—back to the way things always were. It’s easier to cling to the former ways, to return to what is familiar, than it is to accept a new reality among us. But to return to normal is to miss God’s invitation for newness, for renewal.
Pruning produces new fruit. New fruit makes new wine. New wine requires new wineskins.
This isn’t to say that everything needs to radically change. This isn’t an invitation to throw everything of the past out the window. However, we can’t let fatigue lead us to ignore all that we’ve learned this past season. We can’t let weariness determine whether we will keep moving forward and doing hard work, or sink back into our old patterns.
Wrestling with new ideas, alongside other people, ultimately brings new energy—new life. It keeps us humble and postured with a mindset of being willing to go wherever God might need us.
Let us resist the ancient voice that says, “Let us return to Egypt!” Instead, let’s take the opportunity to reconsider why we do what we do and discern with others if there is a better way forward.
Temptation Three: Stay in Our Bubbles
New territory brings new fear. There is a temptation to stay isolated—not just physically isolated in our homes, but socially isolated from anyone and anything that seems different, stranger, or other.
One of the ancient fears that has always pursued the people of God is the fear of those who are different. We fear those from different denominations, ethnic backgrounds, economic backgrounds, and those who speak and think differently than we do. We create bubbles of thought, where we surround ourselves only with those who agree with us and shun those who might think differently. We limit the power of God and limit our opportunity to love and practice hospitality.
Hospitality in the original language (philoxenos) means to ‘love the stranger.’ It is the direct opposite of ‘fear of the stranger’ (xenophobia). The stranger is not our enemy. The stranger is an opportunity for us to love.
This fear of the stranger shows up when we stay in our denominational bubbles and don’t listen to our brothers and sisters in other parts of the church and world. The solutions that we may seek might exist in strangers we fear. We need each other.
We are all strangers to someone. We are all different. As a recent depiction of Jesus said in the show “The Chosen,” we would do well to “get used to different.”
So, how do we respond to these temptations? How do we move forward and flourish post-pandemic? There are many ways forward. Let’s consider three that begin with listening.
Step 1: Listen to God
Ephesians 5:17 tells us to understand what the Lord wants us to do, for the days are evil. We live in a time where people are hurting and hurting each other, dying and killing each other. Our world is clearly broken. We can’t fix it on our own. The situation is too complex, too culturally varied to figure out on our own. Just when we think we’ve figured things out, they change. We must keep a posture of humility before the Lord, asking for his continuous guidance.
This is a time for prayer and fasting to discern what God has for us. There is a movement quietly starting of people hungry for a word for God, thirsty to hear God speak and do what only God can. We are sensing from our prayer partners around the world, a call to extended fasting during this season. Many of our own staff have committed to praying and fasting, some even committing to weeks and months of fasting.
God is speaking. He asks only that we get quiet enough to hear, still enough to wait.
Our world is hungry for something authentic and real, something of depth. We’re all tired of trite answers, easy platitudes, and hypocritical performances. We want an experience of the living God’s presence among us.
Do you want to flourish as we move forward? Increase your capacity to listen to God. Set aside additional time just to listen and take this aspect of your life to a new level.
Step 2: Listen to People
Having first listened to God, we turn then to the neighbor at our side and the stranger in our midst. What are they saying? Set aside your assumptions. Listen with humble curiosity. Desire to understand. Be genuinely interested.
Listen not just to what they are saying, but what they are feeling. Are they afraid? Are they hurting? Are they weary? People have been traumatized by the events of the last season. They are longing to be heard and seen more than ever.
There is no doubt that the political polarization that we are experiencing here in the United States creates a challenging moment for the work of evangelization. But political polarization is nothing new. It has happened and is happening, all over the world, throughout history. One of the greatest tools we have for fighting against the tendencies of polarization is listening.
The church that listens to people will be the church that flourishes.
Church leaders who are willing to listen will attract people. They will create a congregation, a community, that is willing to listen. Furthermore, church leaders who are willing to listen to other church leaders—especially those outside their own tradition—will find encouragement, fresh ideas, and new friends for this season of ministry.
As the world gets more and more polarized, argumentative, and slow to listen, we must show that we are not of this world. We are different. We listen to others the way God listens to us, compassionately and patiently. This is not a time for division, this is a time for radical connection, earnest unity, and inclusive listening.
Step 3: Listen to the World
Culture is shifting rapidly. If we do not listen to the voices outside our walls, we will miss what is happening in the world. We must break out of our bubbles and start listening to a wider community in order that we might hear the pulse of the world as it changes.
A doctor can’t diagnose a patient without first listening to their ailments. We can’t expect our churches to meet the world with healing and hope if we don’t know what’s broken and where the pain is coming from. In order to be God’s hands and feet in this world, we must first listen.
After leading his 93rd consecutive Alpha, Nikki Gumbel said, “There’s no better way for me to know what people who are exploring faith are thinking than to be right next to them in an Alpha group, listening.” This is how we find out what the world is thinking and needing, we sit ourselves down right next to those who are outside the Church and we listen.
The church that flourishes post-pandemic will take note of what is happening in the world, what they hear from the world, and will humbly posture themselves in partnership with God’s Spirit to respond actively to the needs the world is expressing.
Now is the time to look forward. We believe God is stirring the waters, about to do a new thing, and we want to join with Him, by listening to His Spirit, listening to other people, and listening to the world at large. Will you join us?
Alpha can equip your church, small group, or your friendship circle to do just this. Learn more about how to run an Alpha, attend a Run Alpha training, running Alpha, and then registering your course to access rich (free) resources to support your weekly sessions.