In an attempt to deny my middle age, I took up Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) a few years ago (think Tough Mudder, though that is one I have not yet done). I remember the moment on my first race of 10km as I broke out of the bush track and could see the finish stadium a couple of hundred meters away. I still had fuel in the tank, so I put my foot down and increased my speed. As I got closer I could see the end, the people resting, the celebrations, the…wait, what? The course bent sharply to the right and led away from the finish for another two kilometre loop, which was far from easy with a number of other obstacles along the way. It was a heartbreaking moment after the sprint to, what I thought, was the end.
The thing is that I think we may be there now. We are in a lockdown but there is bend coming up that is going to shake us if we are not ready. To understand why, we need to go back and have a look at what has happened.
Phase 1: March – July’ 20 // Lockdown 1.0
The first pivot we needed to make was to move from normal life to lockdown. This needed to be made quickly, because the government told us it needed to be made. We needed to work out how to run a church service online, how to care for people, how to do ministry remotely, how to run a house full of people who never, never, never leave. But we learned, and adapted and made a few mistakes, but we got there. We made it work.
Phase 2: Sept ’20 – June ’21 // Return 1.0
Then in September 2020, we all begin to emerge from our hobbies and habits that made us living like families of hermits. Church services resumed. People went back to work. Life slowly returned to normal.
But the important point here is that it was slow. Unlike the previous pivot, there was nothing pressing this change. No government health order demanding we go back to normal life. Some people were slow to return to church. Some of those were very slow to coming to church regularly or return to serving. At this point we realised how much momentum we had lost from Lockdown I, but it was building and coming back, until….
Phase 3: July ’21- ?? // Lockdown 2.0
A few weeks ago we learned about Delta (and not the one from The Voice). At first, we thought “we can do this, the Northern Beaches had a small outbreak in December, we can do the same here”. But then we realised that Delta doesn’t play like the other strains and we went into lockdown. At first I thought, “two weeks, we can do that. We have done lockdown before, we know how to do online services, we know how to care for people remotely, we can do this, it’s not new. We probably won’t lose a lot of momentum since these two weeks are over the school holidays anyway”.
But now we are staring down a longer lockdown. If this is a lockdown that goes for more than four weeks it will be different. Not because of the lockdown itself but because of what happens next…
Phase 4: ?-? // Return 2.0
While the pivot to Lockdown 2.0 was a lot easier than the pivot to Lockdown 1.0, I want to warn us all that the pivot from Return 2.0 will be a lot harder than the pivot from Return 1.0.
One of the differences between Lockdown 1.0 and 2.0 is that the first was a blip on the screen, an anomaly. We got through it but all breathed a sigh of relief when it was over and thought “let’s not do that again!” As an one-off it was survivable partly because it was a one-off.
But you add in another one and this could be a pattern. I know that the Premier is saying this will the last lockdown we will have, but then John Farnham said that was the last tour he would do, and we know how that ended.
So when people come out of this lockdown they may be even slower to do so. In the back of their heads will be questions like “will there be a Lockdown 3.0 or 4.0? Will it be like the never-ending Fast and Furious franchise? Is there another strain, a Guy Sebastian, waiting in the wings? What if rushed vaccines don’t deal with this strain? What’s the point in going back or committing myself to something that I may have to drop again?”
I think it will take a lot more energy to return us to good momentum in ministry. More than what it took from Return I. People will be slower to return, more sluggish after an 18 month war with a pandemic, rather than a 6 month one.
What can we do?
We mustn’t see the end of Lockdown 2.0 as the finish line, or you will be like me in my first OCR race. The end of Lockdown 2.0 will have a sharp bend and another couple of hard kilometres. So we need to be prepared and have the energy to do this. We also need to set our expectations that things don’t just go back to normal as soon as the government lifts restrictions. It will be harder than Return I.
Go Into Planting Mode
When I was involved in planting a church, things took a lot more energy because there was no momentum. You had to work on the important things and get them going. You couldn’t assume anything, especially that people were just going to turn up and serve because there was no momentum. You had to create everything.
I remember reading a book where the author was challenged “What if your church wasn’t established but was a church plant, what would you do differently?” And then “whatever that is, do that”. We will need to prioritise and focus and work hard to build momentum again.
I wish it wasn’t the case, but the race isn’t over yet.