A marathon is 26.2 miles. An ultra-marathon begins at 50 miles and extends up to 100 miles.
Yesterday I was interviewed as part of a panel for re-opening the church in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. There is really not an expert on this topic. We are the blind leading the blind but we have a Good Shepherd. In the course of the interview my friend Ron Hunter from D6 asked me this question:
You pastor in Houston (for the past two decades) and helped people through Hurricane Harvey (a category 4 that started NOAA rethinking how they categorize storms) as it did $125 Billion in damages, making landfall three times, and devastating your region. Compare helping people then and now with COVID-19. Advise pastors on the long-term mindset in ministry through the tragedies?
I did compare the two disasters and the response of the church then and now. You can watch that here… (available live Thursday, April 30, 2020) on Facebook at 10 AM central and then at www.d6family.com/covid19/ permanently). But, as we are all thinking through the tactical issues of re-opening the doors of the church I wanted to reveal three lessons I learned through Hurricane Harvey that will apply to our leadership during and after COVID-19.
1. This is an Ultra-Marathon. You have heard people say, “It isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon.” Let me say to you, this isn’t a marathon. What we have here is an ultra-marathon. Just a week or so ago (April 16, 2020) I walked through a home we are rebuilding as a result of Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall in Houston on August 25, 2017. We are still rebuilding almost three years after Harvey. We will see long term ramifications of COVID-19 requiring new strides in leadership and ministry for years. Prepare yourself for the long-haul. Your hope is not in going back to normal. Our hope is in Christ as we run this race. Pace yourself and fix your eyes on Jesus. His purposes. His plans. His people.
2. Mental Health is a long-term priority. Already you are seeing this if you are paying attention. Maybe even in your own house. Hurricane Harvey caused fear and loss. Guess what COVID-19 is causing in our communities: Fear and loss. On a grand scale people are fearful of getting sick and dying. Many have lost a friend or family member to death. Others are fearful of the drastic downward turn in the American and global economy. Job loss is real. Dreams are crushed and life seems to be on hold or just monumentally different. Domestic abuse is up in the stay at home order. Anxiety and depression are monsters some are fighting as we quarantine. When the world re-opens and finds its new normal, people will feel the effects of post-traumatic stress for a number of reasons resulting in a myriad of familial and personal issues. Where spiritual and mental health collide, ministry leaders must triage now and prepare to develop people, tools, resources, ministries, and community health partners to help. Mental health may be a more pressing issue than the virus itself before this is all over.
3. Home is really important. I believe we all understand this. As our families have been under stay at home orders they have been through a crucible of sorts. Many of the things absorbing family time and focus have been removed. External pressures like a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, learning to work and school from home, and for some, just cooking, force new family dynamics. All spiritual formation for the next generation is being pushed online into homes. Parents are either the primary faith trainers or there are no faith trainers in this moment. We need to remember the partnership between church and home is more than creating resources. We really have to help each family know God, experience His peace in the midst of chaos, and disciple the next generation to know and follow Christ, not perfectly but authentically. We should be really convinced right now that home must be a significant focus of our disciple-making, present and future.