Over the course of the past month, while dealing with the changes that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought, I have spent a great deal of time in deep thought and prayer. I have thought a lot about the changes that this pandemic has brought to church ministry and about how God’s grace is present and bringing goodness and growth during this dreadful time. For some churches and religious organizations, the pandemic has resulted in an abrupt stop to their ministry practices. On the other hand, I have seen other churches flourishing more than ever during these times as become a body of people active and present outside of their building’s walls. This has got me thinking that ministry should never stop; it should only ever adapt.
It may seem easier to simply throw in the towel during these turbulent times and leave ministry for when things are back to “normal.” But when have things ever truly been normal? The Disciples' experience on Pentecost was anything but ordinary (see Acts 2:1-13). People of God have a history of adapting ministry to the times in order to continue to fulfill the mission of God. Countless experiences of the Israelites in slavery (Exodus 1:1-22) and exile (2 Chronicles 36:1-23), exemplify the adaptive ministry of God; not to mention the ministry that took place in rebuilding their lives and temples after slavery (Exodus) and exile (Ezra/Nehemiah). The ministry of Jesus Christ continually changed to suit the situation. When you go breaking ethics codes and “normal customs,” such as Jesus did on a regular basis, you are going to encounter circumstances outside of what is usual. Jesus broke ethical codes and "normal customs" to reveal a greater sense of God’s love and the need for God’s people to love more deeply and intently. One story that vibrantly sticks out to me is the story of Jesus and the tax collector Zacchaeus (see Luke 19:1-9). The epistles of Paul also reveal this nature as he had to address the unique contexts in which the young church found itself.
Adaptive ministry is one that embraces the contexts, situations, culture, and social norms of various communities and creates avenues for the Holy Spirit to move and thrive. As a United Methodist, my tradition is steeped in the life, ministry, and influence, of John Wesley. John Wesley was no stranger to adaptive ministry as he lived in an emergent time in British history. Mr. Wesley faced the challenge of reform as he observed a church unwilling to go out and meet the needs of the people and carry out the ministry of Jesus Christ (Matthew 25:31-46). He set out to do something different that more fully lived into the gospel of Jesus Christ that he knew and loved. John Wesley is only one example of how the changing times brought about a change in ministry and created avenues for means of grace instead of obstacles to grace. Many times disasters, crises, pandemics, tragedies, and misfortunes are opportunities to let ministry thrive instead of decline.
I have always been an advocate that we have a God of opportunity — a God who works in and through every opportunity, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to bring about goodness. If we embrace opportunity and seize it with great creativity, innovation, and passion, this moment can work for the Kingdom of God. The road we travel is rough, fellow pilgrims, and the COVID-19 pandemic is only another large bump that calls us to challenge ourselves and find ways to continue to be the Church in new and effective ways. Let us embrace our calling during this time and know that ministry should never stop; it should only ever adapt.
Chad T. Mogus (Texas, USA)