by Rev. Sarah Locke
I have to admit, that with almost a decade of ministry behind me, I have not always been a 7 day a week disciple. Disciples listen to God’s word through scripture and the Spirit and then daily attempt to live in such a way that they reflect the WORD in their lives.
It isn’t that simple, and some days are easier than others.
While I knew intellectually that I needed to read scripture for my own heart and life daily, even as one called, equipped, educated, and appointed to ministry, I haven’t lived into my call as a disciple. And if I haven’t then there are many more clergy and laity like me.
It became clear to me about 3 years ago that many of the loving, kind, and faithful Christians I knew didn’t know how to interact with scripture, talk about it, or pray through it. I felt God call me to do what I could in what little circle of influence I had. I started my first Facebook Bible Study in the Fall of 2018 and 77 women and myself walked through a study written by a fellow United Methodist pastor, Jessica LaGrone.
It was life-giving.
Daily, I posted a scripture, a teaching video (7-8 mins) and then a discussion question for the evening. I know that sounds intimidating, but if you take time on the front end to do the work, it really does run like clockwork. Since then I have done six (6) online Facebook Studies and my group has grown to 300+ folks.
I connected my calling to the free tools I had at my fingertips. It hasn’t been flawless, but it has been good for my soul and God’s people.
In the midst of a pandemic, our job as clergy has not changed. We have always been called to help folks connect with God and to become fully authentic disciples of Christ. We have always been called to help people grow in their daily habits and spiritual disciplines that will move them closer to Christ. We have always been called to teach them to listen to the Spirit so that God can work in them. We are called to give tools.
So while it may seem intimidating, here are some tips from a fellow explorer:
1) Be yourself
I have refused to be anyone but myself, in all my messy imperfect glory. When I say something ridiculous or trip over my words, I laugh it off. I do not wear make-up, my hair is often in a just woke up messy “top-knot” on my head, and I try to angle the camera so that my double chin doesn’t show too badly. I am me. That is all God called me to be. So why not be yourself? It will help the people you minister with to be comfortable in their own skin and imperfections.
I share my struggles with the text, my misunderstandings, and the way I see God working in my own failures for good. Every group I run is closed, meaning that once it starts nothing can be digitally shared easily. Create safe space digitally but also emotionally. People will only be as vulnerable as you are willing to be.
2) Offer REAL content
If you stay on the surface they will too. If your goal is to encourage people to engage daily with the text; then you need to be engaged with it as well. Model dedication to the text and show what it looks like in real life. What are the questions you bring to the text? What gives you hope and what challenges you. You must study, prepare and pray. Do the work in your spirit and it will help them to try as well.
You do not have to develop the content yourself. Here that again – You do not have to develop the content yourself. There is so much good theological teaching out there. People have studied, wrote, cried over, and poured their hearts into the content. Why not let their work do what it was called to do? However, YOU MUST GIVE THEM CREDIT! Find good content, teach it in your own words, and engage it with your own stories. Then encourage your people to do the same. Encourage folks to share how the story has impacted their life and how it challenges and encourages their walk with Christ.
3) Be Consistent
This is simple and yet so hard. Do what you say you will do when you say you will do it. Use the tools that all this online software builds in. Schedule posts. Record videos beforehand and schedule them.
4) Don’t fall into the Perfection Trap
We may feel pressure to be perfect when we do ministry in such a public way. If what we do isn’t perfect, then it isn’t worth doing. That line of thinking is just WRONG. Doing something to the best of your ability is all we are ever called to do. All I have is a cell phone, a selfie-light (and honestly that is only a week old), books/Bible, and a Facebook page. Experts may tell you that you need an awesome microphone, better streaming devices, an expensive camera, and a perfectly done background. All of that is great – but if you aren’t authentic and you aren’t offering real content none of it matters. Do what you can with what you have and do your best. People will connect to it as they can.
5) Only do what you can sustain
Many of us pastors have a hero complex, and we think we can do everything for everybody. We can’t. I teach online because it is my passion and it gives me energy. It is simply a part of my calling. I have colleagues that have amazing podcasts, blogs (like this one), or YouTube channels. That is their calling, not mine. What is God calling you to do in this season to reach people? What is God calling you to do that you will still be passionate about doing when this COVID-19 season passes? What will give you life that you can do well and will give you energy? Do that. And ONLY that. Point people to other pastors that are doing cool things that will help them. It doesn’t HAVE to be yours to be good or worthwhile!
Our calling has not changed in this season, only the tools have. Be grounded Christ, listen for only his voice. This is not a competition; we are all partners in ministry. If you allow God to use what you have, it will be enough. Just try it and see.