Dear NCD Pastors and Church Leaders,
The start of a new ministry year is right around the corner. The kickoff to this new season of ministry, more so than any in memory, presents church leaders with so many difficulties. In light of this, please know that our NCD team prays for you often, and is always available to help you navigate the specific challenges that your church is facing. In addition, we want to take this opportunity to provide a summary of our current coronavirus guidance and offer a word of encouragement for the months ahead.
- As you move forward in September, we encourage your church to keep your “fingers in the text” regarding reopening, precautions and executive orders. Along these lines, we continue to suggest passages like Titus 3, James 3, Jeremiah 29, 1 Peter 2-3, Romans 13-14, Acts 5, and Hebrews 10.
- In light of the ongoing polarization regarding safety measures like face coverings and social distancing, we encourage you to allow for differing perspectives and take a gracious posture when it comes to enforcement at church gatherings. The gospel has made us brothers and sisters in Christ.
- Executive Order 20-74 temporarily limits total occupancy for in-person congregational worship to 50% of total capacity, not to exceed 250 total people.
- Executive Order 20-81 temporarily requires face coverings for all indoor public settings.
- Since Minnesota has wisely decided to allow local school districts to chose between online, hybrid or in-person learning (Executive Order 20-82), we recommend churches consider what local schools are doing as a helpful guideline when planning in-person children’s and youth ministry in the months ahead. You are not bound by their decisions, but they will give you an excellent starting place as you think about in-person ministry for children and youth.
- In humility, we want to say again that we do not believe this is the time for churches leaders to assert first amendment rights or promote civil disobedience. Instead, we would encourage you to pursue unity (Ephesians 4), cultivate personal humility (Philippians 2), and model a willingness to set aside your individual rights for the sake of the gospel (1 Corinthians 9).
- We continue to encourage each NCD church to reach out to local civic leaders and law enforcement, working with them in any way you can.
Let me conclude by sharing something that has been on my heart. Over the last five months, I have personally struggled with how to respond to the unrelenting wave of troubling news, conflicting perspectives, political polarization, and relational conflict. What began as a short, temporary season has grown so large and dragged on so long that any hope of a “return to normal” seems foolish and naive. At some point, many things will likely settle in, but to a new normal that is hard to predict. During this time, I confess that I have spent far too much time dwelling on things that are outside my control and not part of my stewardship. I imagine many of us may have struggled in similar ways.
As we look ahead, I want to invite you to consider a change in perspective that I believe God is calling me to embrace. It flows from Philippians 4:11-13, which says, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Increasingly, I feel God calling me to stop focusing on the the discouraging aspects of our situation, to stop spending my emotional energy longing for a return to the pre-covid days, to cease complaining about the inconveniences that our coronavirus response has brought, and to stop wishing for my preferred, comfortable future. Instead, I sense Jesus is calling me to be content, to focus on first things, to prioritize my relationship with Him and those around me, and to pursue gospel-shaped ministry in the days ahead, no matter the situation. Put another way, it is time for me to put first things first (again). Perhaps you can relate. If so, let me invite you to consider a similar pivot.
These next months will be challenging, no mistake. But by God’s grace, they can also be wonderful, joyful, and filled with fruit that lasts (John 15). May God grant these things to our congregations, and to each of us personally, as we walk with him.
District Superintendent | North Central District | EFCA