Atrophy happens. It is the result of not doing anything. It is natural. It happens in nature, it happens in our bodies. It has happened in our churches over the last year and a half. Just like our muscles atrophy and weaken through lack of use so our spiritual muscles atrophy though lack of use. The question as things reopen is will we put the work in to develop and grow those muscles that have atrophied in recent months?
The muscle of hospitality – hospitality is a command for God’s people. We should be a hospitable people, not just to those we know but to strangers. The pandemic has mothballed our hospitality or much of it. Some of us have been able to extend hospitality to singles as we enfolded them into our bubbles or as we’ve made use of our gardens but many of us haven’t. Will we, as things reopen, put in the effort to work on that muscle with the pain and ache that brings? Just like physical exercise a gradual build up may help, you don’t go straight from the couch to 5k, you build up gradually. In the same way we need to work up to this, take stock of where you are, and look at where you want to get to, and plan a gradual growth with a goal in mind.
The muscle of serving – necessarily the pandemic and the various restriction we have been living under mean that many areas of service have been restricted. Some of us we haven’t felt comfortable serving, and if we’re honest we’ve secretly enjoyed the rest. I wonder if that’s telling us something to us about overwork and managing workloads for those who serve going forward as a church, but that’s another post for another time. For now we need to recognise that many haven’t just got out of the habit of serving, they have enjoyed being served and the rest and that is a good thing. The challenge as things reopen is to engage them in serving again. To begin to rebuild the muscles that have atrophied. That needs to be done individually and gradually, gently but definitely. Will we plan for this? Will we be blunt about the need for service? And how will we apply the lessons God has been teaching us to serving in church in the future?
The muscle of being served – The nature of church over recent months means a smaller number of people have taken on most tasks. The challenge for those who have done so is to recognise that they will need to exercise the muscle of allowing and appreciating being served – even if something is not done how we would do it. It was great last Sunday to sit and listen to someone else preach, and I’m looking forward to doing it again this Sunday. But it was also a challenge, I haven’t been exercising the muscle of listening to a sermon over recent months as I’ve preached week on end for various reasons. Now I need to exercise and develop that muscle again. That will be the same for all of us who serve.
There are lots of other areas where atrophy will have set in our churches. It’s vital as leaders we identify them, help people acknowledge them and lead in showing the way out of them. One huge danger as we do so is burnt out. We’ve spoken as a church of only reopening and restarting things as people feel able to volunteer to lead them so that we have a healthier culture rather than an overburdened one. I’m also doing some thinking on lessons learned about ongoing service for those in our church and how we put that into practice as things reengage.