Recently GM announced a major shift in corporate strategy; the automaker plans to go all electric, phasing out production of gasoline-powered automobiles by 2035. Even in the last few years the company was advocating for environmental regulations to be relaxed, but GM’s leadership believes that electric vehicles are the future, and they want to be ahead of the curve. The world is changing, and the automaker is adapting too.
When John Wesley was a parish priest in the 1700’s, the Church of England’s fruitfulness was drying up at the vine; a lot of people just weren’t going to church anymore. Wesley wanted desperately to reach people with the Good News of Jesus Christ, but his well-constructed, academically informed sermons fell flat in the mostly empty chapel he was appointed to.
Wesley was reluctant to change his strategy, and his evangelist friend George Whitefield’s invitations to go out into the world to preach the gospel just seemed undignified for a refined and proper parish priest. But the Holy Spirit prompted Wesley to give it a try, and the experience changed his life and the world. The enthusiastic response his preaching generated in the city square and a farmer’s field led Wesley to commit himself to going where the people were rather than waiting for people to finally show up at church, generating a movement that became the Methodist Church.
Like many people I am anxious for the Covid19 pandemic to subside so that we can return to in-person worship, but I also know that God is teaching us some important lessons during these difficult times. One is a reminder of our United Methodist roots – we are a people who take the gospel to wherever people are gathered. In Wesley’s time, people were in the city square or a farmer’s field; now people are online, and we are developing our skills in online worship and digital ministry. As eager as we are to return to gathering in person, we cannot ignore the reality that churches who were attracting 50 people to worship before the pandemic are now having 200-300 people watch their online worship.
Does that mean we phase out worshipping together in our sanctuaries, the way GM is phasing out gasoline-powered vehicles? Of course not. Christians have been gathering together since Jesus called the fishermen to be his first disciples, and we’re not going to stop gathering now. But we can use what we’ve learned about online ministry to reach people long into the future. (And if the Trustees want to meet online even after the pandemic, I’m all for it.)
I’m looking forward to getting the Covid vaccine and the opportunity to see you again in person. With all the driving I’ll be doing in my new role, I’m planning to buy my first hybrid vehicle – not just gasoline, but electric power too for better fuel efficiency. I’m pretty excited about that.
Maybe a hybrid is a good model for the church going forward. Not just meeting in person in our sanctuaries but going out to where the people are through online worship and ministry, so we reach more and more people for Jesus Christ. In this season, we are called to become people who are competent and creative in digital ministry skills.
I’ll see you at church – in the sanctuary, in the city square, in the farmer’s field, on Facebook, on YouTube, on Zoom.
Thanks for listening –