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O.P.E.N.: 4 Things Elders Must Do

Photo of Gary JohnsonGary Johnson | Bio

Gary Johnson

Dr. Gary Johnson has served in the preaching ministry for four decades.  He now leads e2 as Executive Director full-time, coaching pastors and elders nationwide.  He holds a Master of Arts degree in Church history from Lincoln Christian Seminary, Master of Ministry and Divinity degrees from Cincinnati Bible Seminary, and a Doctor of Ministry degree from Grace Theological Seminary (Indiana).  Gary has taught as adjunct professor for a number of seminaries, including Cincinnati Christian University and TCM Institute, a seminary serving Europe and Asia.  Gary has been blessed to travel overseas for the purpose of training elders and pastors in cross-cultural settings on over 100 mission trips.  Gary and Leah have been married over 40 years, and have married sons, Jared and Aaron, who are both serving in the ministry.  His pursuits outside of church life include running, mountain climbing, racquetball, cycling, and back-packing.  Still, one of the greatest joys in life for Gary is being called “grandpa” by his six grandkids.

Believe it or not, last Sunday, May 3, was declared “ReOpen Church Sunday” by Liberty Counsel, an organization that defends the rights of churches. Though we may have the legal right to do so, elders must determine if now is the right time for their local congregation.

Throughout America, we hear of many states and communities reopening businesses, parks, offices, stores, malls and more. Some churches have already reopened. Two Sundays ago, churches in Montana were permitted by their governor to resume gathering. It appears churches may be opening sooner rather than later. But what about the church you lead?

Your elder team must determine what is best for your church.

When people are stopped at a red light, individuals respond differently when the light turns green. For example, when the light goes green, some people look to their left and right one last time to be certain no one is speeding into the intersection, and then they proceed with caution. Yet, if you are like me, I put the pedal to the metal and I am off and running! Similarly, when your governor gives your state the green light to reopen, your elder team must determine how your church will respond. Think O.P.E.N.

O – Oversee

At e2 Effective Elders, we have coached over 7,000 elders and church staff to practice elder governance as found in Acts, and one responsibility of elders is to on-board policy. A policy will be needed to reopen the local church. President Harry Truman is well remembered for having a sign on his desk declaring “The buck stops here.” Truman did not think that he had ultimate authority in the country, but that he had ultimate responsibility for leading the country.

As shepherds of the church (1 Peter 5:2-4), we are responsible for the well-being of the congregation and must oversee when and how the church reopens.

P – Plan

Long before the light goes green, your church needs a plan to follow for its reopening. This doesn’t mean that the elders dot every “i” and cross every “t” of the plan, but you must give thought to major components of the plan and then trust the church staff to develop and execute the details.

For example, elders must decide if the church will practice social distancing or not, and if so, the staff then determines how to implement that decision. Elders must decide if the church will be a “touch-free” environment, and if so, the staff determines how to observe communion without passing plates, etc. Elders must decide if children’s ministry will open right away, and if not, the staff need to design family-driven worship services.

E – Engage

Elders need to engage the congregation with essential communication. Once the plan is completed, it must be communicated to the congregation before they arrive for their first Sunday back on campus. People need to know what to expect when they pull into the parking lot for the first time. Use the website, email, video, even snail-mail to creatively and thoroughly communicate specific information with the entire congregation about your reopening.

And be sure to communicate the why behind your well thought-out plan, which is simply to create as safe an environment as possible for everyone to appreciate.

N – New Normal

All of us are moving into a new normal. We will never be “back to business as usual” on the other side of COVID-19. The word bittersweet best describes the day we are back in church. It will be sweet to worship the Lord with one another. Yet, there is a bitter aspect in that many people will be grieving loss. In addition to the loss of life, untold numbers of people have lost jobs, retirement savings, businesses, memories of canceled commencement and wedding ceremonies, and much more.

The new normal demands that we acknowledge these losses and help people cope with grief and fear. Joshua led God’s people into a land where they had never been, and we will be leading the local church into a new social environment where we have not yet been. Just as He said to Joshua, God calls us to be “strong and courageous.” After all, God will be with us every step of the way (Joshua 1:9). Welcome to the new normal.

As of this week, the CDC reported 91% of fatalities to COVID-19 are Americans 55-years of age and older. People in that age group are well represented in congregations as regular church attenders. If we fail to develop a plan for as safe an environment as possible, we will put far too many people at risk of infection. As shepherds, we must work to keep the flock together and safe.

Elders must determine the when and the how of reopening the church.

(For more from Gary, check out Used with permission.)