On the morning of Sunday, October 24, I had volunteered to teach our Sunday school class. Because of that stubbornly mean virus, we were scheduled to meet on the grounds of the church.
Prior to the start of class, there was a lot of chatter. Some of that chatter centered on college football.
In this case, the focus was on another tough loss for Virginia Tech. Apparently, this loss has landed the team’s coach in the hot seat. Fans at the end of the game were chanting—“fire Fuentes.”
Yes, coaching college football today is tough work, just ask Ed Orgeron, head football coach at Louisiana State University.
Back on October 17, the university’s athletic director announced that Coach Orgeron would not be returning for the 2022 season. He will finish out this season, and in December the coach will receive a nice Christmas present—$5.68 million.
Yes, Coach Orgeron who over the last few years has made some questionable decisions all in the name of winning football games is having his contract bought out for a mere $16.949 million.
Clearly, I made the wrong career choice. I should have aspired to become a college football coach.
Win some games, maybe earn post season bowl game appearances, maybe win a national title, make some questionable decisions in the name of winning, and then be let go, not fired, and walk away with millions. That’s not a bad gig, especially if a coach has no conscience.
But, back to Sunday school class.
Without question, COVID-19 has punched churches in the nose. Normal predictable routines for the weekly operations of a church have been completely disrupted. I sense there is a weariness hanging over churches. Congregations are in some instances becoming impatient with how the virus is still impacting offerings from a church.
Preachers in particular are at the center of this decision making pressure. Being a preacher is tough enough without a pandemic pestering you every minute of the day. And in truth in this environment, there are no easy answers.
I believe in the early stages of the virus, churches scrambled mostly via technology to punch back at this nemesis.
And when churches had the right resources in place, they did an admirable job.
Yes, technology allows for a connecting to a congregation. However, it isn’t quite the same as physically being in the sanctuary, fellowship hall, or Sunday school classroom.
Natural born worrier that I am, I sense churches are now facing a troubling undertow of disconnection. What churches have offered during the pandemic is losing its punch, its effectiveness.
In 1992, political strategist, James Carville, is credited for this campaign statement—“It’s the economy, stupid.” As preachers continue to find ways to counter COVID-19, they would be wise to reword Carville’s statement—“It’s the congregation, stupid.”
Preachers, their staffs, and their congregational leaders must realize it is urgent, I mean urgent to simply reach out and reconnect with the congregation.
This can’t be neglected. To neglect this opportunity will only allow the virus to continue to punch churches into obscurity.
Yes, reconnecting might be difficult work. But, the survival of the church depends upon this effort. Preachers who can’t figure this out might as well go ahead and resign from their position. There will be no post-pandemic survival without the reconstructing of relationships—period.
Somewhere in the wild blue yonder God is up there.
I’ll be honest with you somedays I wonder if God is still on the job. Somedays, I want to fire him as I question his apparent inability to respond to the weariness down here.
I’m sure there are days when God wants to fire me too. I can only imagine how close I have come.
I can hear him now, “Get a strike force of angels ready. Pike is driving me nuts today. He is ineffective, whining, fearful, impatient, not listening, has no vision, selfish, wobbling, stubborn, critical, and is losing his faith.”
And then maybe one little angel will brazenly pushback at God, “You know Yahweh, while all that might be true, I will say this about old Bill—his heart still has hope.”
Later on that same Sunday afternoon, my old heart saw a bit of hope.
Our kids church leader and her team offered a Halloweenie Roast and Fall Festival. The young families in our church were the targeted audience. The team knew a bonus would be to pick up families from our community too. A gaga pit, parking lot chalk art, an art project, hotdogs, and local entertainer, Jonathan The Juggler, were part of the event.
Overall, I think the outing was a success. Not a huge crowd, but a diverse crowd, and it appeared everyone enjoyed the activities.
I never cease to be amazed at the skills of Jonathan Austin. He is more than a juggler. Multiple magic tricks, a risk taker juggling batons of fire, all incorporated with the riding of a unicycle too.
He is in constant motion, in constant verbal interaction with the audience, and constantly attuned to himself. Jonathan’s timing is unequaled.
The diversity of his multiple skills is impressive. Yet, those skills mean nothing without timing. And there is another critical piece in his hour long performance—Mr. Austin quickly learns his audience.
What might preachers, their staffs, and church leaders learn from a Jonathan The Juggler performance?
Here is a sampling of Mr. Austin’s critical skills:
- He takes risks.
- No physical or mental energy is wasted, every movement, every thought has a purpose.
- He immediately connects with the audience, without any hesitation he learns names when the show needs participants.
- He knows his skills, but Mr. Austin isn’t afraid to learn new skills to keep his performances fresh.
- He works at timing, and he never fails to make that point with the audience and anyone selected to participate.
Timing is critical in life too.
Preachers, their staffs, and church leaders have no time to continue to misjudge the urgent need to reconnect with their congregations. To do so is like misjudging the timing in juggling three flaming batons.
Many factors impact the development of a successful college football team. Recruitment of players is one of those critical pieces. If all of the fluff was tossed aside in the recruitment of a player, the most decisive element that a coach offers is building a relationship with that recruit.
The same holds true for preachers.
Preachers must be able to build relationships with their congregation, not just a favored few—all.
My non-theological reading of the Bible recalls that Jesus worked to build relationships with all. Yes, that is tough duty, but necessary duty.
In truth the pandemic provided a perfect opportunity for preachers to do this. Investing time to build relationships across a congregation is just as important as using technology to reach those same members.
Preachers, their staffs, and church leaders who ignore this disconnect will continue to see challenging times ahead.
Congregations recognize this disconnect.
For months, they have been in its quiet turmoil. And in truth, that turmoil is impacted by a divisive disconnect in America too.
Deep in the hearts of some members, they are thinking—if the leadership in this church can’t reach out and help me in meeting my needs, now might be my time to bail out. Maybe, I need a new church.
During the pandemic for lots of different reasons, churches have already lost members. A college football coach knows that losing streaks aren’t helpful to his tenure. Preachers and their staffs need to recognize that losing members, no matter their tenure in the church isn’t a good path.
John 14:27 states: “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
When I think about church, my heart is troubled, and my heart is afraid.
Maybe its just me, but I believe that disconnect in churches is very real.
And the truth is simply this—preachers and their staffs must roll up their sleeves and find the path to reconnect with their congregations.
This is urgent.
Time isn’t on your side.
And remember, even God knows—“It’s the congregation, stupid.”