This year, Covid-19 caused many changes in our world. But during this pandemic, the Baptist Association’s Gen1K Vision of ‘1,000 healthy churches in NSW & ACT by 2050’ remained. Hear from our Gen1K Team Leaders about how they continued to work towards this vision amidst months of scatteredness and uncertainty, and the things that God has been teaching them (which they will treasure going forward)
The Covid season brought many challenges for our Leadership Development team, causing them to reassess how they communicate, and rethink some of their training events. But their desire to want to see leaders continue to thrive meant they pushed through – and it paid off! ‘Leadership Conversations’ was a big event that they were hosting, with plans to have a speaker come from overseas, host a young adults night, and hold a day-long, in-person event. Grae McWhirter, Team Leader of Gen1K Leadership Development, says: “We had to change everything completely, and put it fully online. But we ended up having lots of pastors and leaders join from all over the place, and it was really meaningful.” The team have also been making the most of technology. “While many of us are hoping that we never have to use Zoom again, there’s been great benefit for us in connecting with pastors and churches that are more distant physically,” Grae says. “The engagement we’ve been able to have has been really positive in the midst of a difficult situation, so I think we’ve learnt about the need to do that better, and we’ve now got some skills to do that well. For example, the engagement in our ‘Live Q&A’ sessions every second week has been phenomenal, with hundreds of different people connecting from all around the state and territory.”
The season has not been without struggle, though. “A lot of our pastors and leaders are faithful and resilient, but really tired,” Grae explains. “Interactions pastors have with people in their churches have been more taxing – because everyone they’re talking to is anxious in some way, or struggling in some way.” So, the Leadership Development team has aimed to encourage pastors and leaders to be aware of their own wellbeing. “We’ve found that a lot of our pastors have been giving a break to their leaders, but then taking extra burden on their own shoulders. So we’ve tried to encourage them to delegate, to be kind to themselves, and to put their hand up when they’re struggling.” Rev. Nigel Lyons from Tahmoor Baptist, is one of our pastors who has seen the value of self-care. After navigating a high amount of output within a short amount of time (with deaths in his church, evacuations from bushfires, fear of flood, and then the effects of Covid), Nigel knew he couldn’t outsmart continuous change, and had to consider self-care. “If we don’t service our car, things could break down at the worst time – while we’re carrying things or people in said car,” Nigel explained (in a ‘Live Q&A’ session). “As pastors and leaders, when there’s so much change, we have to ask: are we servicing ourselves with self-care, like we service our cars?” For Nigel, seeing a Christian psychologist helped him gain good tools and practices for self-care.
Read about one of our pastors here.
Our Youth & Young Adult leaders are also tired. Steve Dixon, Youth & Young Adult Ministry Facilitator (as part of Gen 1K Leadership), says: “They’ve been asked to do more, more often. Our volunteer youth leaders are also struggling…While the youth pastor is often known by the parents, volunteer leaders usually aren’t, and therefore they are struggling to maintain the interaction that they would have if ministry was face-to-face.” There have been plenty of stories of young people inviting their friends to experience some aspect of youth ministry online. But even these stories come with difficulties. “The connection with a youth leader or pastor that typically happens in-person doesn’t happen in the online forum,” Steve explains. “Typically, the youth leader gets some contact details, can get in touch with the parents, and form some sort of relationship that gets built up…So the connection there has often been lost, and we therefore don’t see repeat engagement.”
Steve says: “Covid has highlighted the critical nature of community for young people. It’s shown that you can have great online content or production, but if there’s a lack of relationship, you’re going to see young people disconnect and go to places where there is strong relationship; sporting teams, families, friendship networks – which are places that can often be devoid of faith-based conversations or faith-based input.” It’s this realisation that causes Steve to pray that youth and young adult ministries would emphasise relationship in this season. “Content still matters,” he says, “but now more than ever, we can go and get any content from any preacher in any country whenever we feel like it…For older generations, belief often comes before belonging. Older people come for the content – and then end up finding community. But for young people, it’s the opposite. The community needs to be the thing that is emphasised.”
For our Gen1K Mission team, Covid has presented both opportunity and challenge. Team Leader Jamie Freeman says: “In a crisis, churches are often first responders in a community. So, our community engagement team has been working to help churches in the area of essential services.” We’ve seen great initiatives come from this, such as ‘Molong’s Pantry’ – a service offering low-cost food and toiletries to the local community during Covid, as a ministry of Molong Baptist.
For other Gen1K Mission team members, supporting church planters was vital during Covid, as they’re particularly vulnerable. “They don’t have the same infrastructure and support systems that established churches have,” Jamie explains. “While they’re agile/nimble and can probably respond better, they don’t have the security around their income, or the same level of leadership support.” However, Covid hasn’t stopped church-planting from happening! Our Gen1K Vision means we need 40 churches on the NSW Central Coast within the next 30 years, and during the pandemic, the ‘Greenhouse Network’ launched the planting of a third church on the Coast – ‘Meeting Ground’, led by Will Small. In Will’s words, Meeting Ground is a “small, relational church environment where people who have barriers against mainstream churches can come and feel safe/seen, feel like they can bring along their spiritual trauma or doubts, and go on a journey towards some sort of reconstructed faith.” With Meeting Ground, the Greenhouse Network is pursuing the “mixed economy” approach – the idea that in order for any type of person to find a fitting spiritual home, we need all sorts of different churches (conventional and simple).
In terms of moving forward from the pandemic, Jamie has some ideas – but is choosing to prioritize the importance of listening and observing at this stage. “We need to be really open during this season…If we rush to infer meaning or make too many plans, we could miss the new thing that God is doing,” he says. This attitude stems from Jamie being reminded of our desire to control. “In the western world, our lack of control was often masked – except for in moments such as when we lost a loved one or a job. But Covid has revealed that we’re really not in control,” he explains. “The church can either respond by wanting to ‘get back to normal’ in order to feel like we’ve regained control, or we can surrender and accept a God who is in control.” Part of this is encouraging churches to build adaptive and reflective practices – something that Jamie says Georges River Life Church has implemented well with their church-wide surveys that take the time to ask their people questions before making any changes; Questions like: What have you learnt during Covid? What are you missing about pre-Covid church life? What would you like to see change for the better?
The Gen1K Health team has had a significantly increased workload during the Covid-19 season. “We have about three times as many active church health engagements as what we would have had this time last year, so the team is feeling a bit stretched,” says Team Leader, Ian Altman. Many churches have reached out for positive reasons. “Churches that are really healthy have strong levels of resilience,” Ian explains, “And they are asking for help in working through strategic vision, reviewing their current structures, processing what’s happening for them as they look to the future – lots of house-keeping stuff that they’ve probably needed to do for some time, and are now taking the opportunity to do so.” At the same time, a lot of issues that were under the surface going into Covid-19 have been revealed in some churches as a result of the pandemic. “We’ve had a small number of struggling churches that will actually close and rebirth. We’re seeing some leaders within churches resigning – more than what would usually happen within a year – leaving the church without appropriate levels of governance. And, there’s been an increase in the number of conflicts or relational tensions between leaders, so they too come to the forefront. It’s been quite busy and draining, dealing directly with people in high states of emotion.” But Ian’s attitude remains positive, as he realizes that helping to deal with these dysfunctions now will eventually result in good stories down the track!
Ian has also noticed encouraging changes as the Baptist Association has been serving our churches well. “There’s been a significant increase in the level of trust, and the level of engagement, with the Association as a whole – right across all our teams,” he says. “Even our regional leaders have felt more included in our movement, showing there’s now a greater sense of connection across the board.” Ian adds, “There’s also been a big uptake in whatever training we run – for example, many people attended the spiritual care courses, which shows that they’re really open to our resourcing.” And for Ian and his team, the use of Zoom has allowed new church engagements to exist. “In the same day, I can meet with a church way down near the Victorian border, and then speak to a church way up near the Queensland border,” Ian says. In terms of lessons learnt, Ian believes that God is doing a new thing amongst us. “Some of our churches will do a hybrid going forward – of keeping church online and doing things on social media as ways of engaging,” he says. “The majority of churches won’t simply go back to the way things were pre-Covid. And I think that lines up with what scripture teaches; new wine needs new wineskins, and it’s up to us to engage with that.”
Praying for our Gen1K Teams:
Gen1K Leadership // Praise God for increased engagement between leaders, and pray it would continue post-Covid. Pray for ongoing resilience, creativity, effectiveness, rest and faithfulness for all of our leaders in this uncertain timeframe. Pray for our Youth & Young Adult leaders as they learn to prioritise relationship in this season.
Gen1K Mission // Pray that the team would hold loosely to their own plans and allow God to determine their steps. Pray for our planters and baby churches that are vulnerable in this time. Pray for partner organisations (like BaptistCare & Baptist World Aid) who have had to navigate complexities as they care for the vulnerable.
Gen1K Health // Praise God for increased levels of trust and connection for the Association. Pray for wisdom as the Gen1K Health team engages in highly-emotional places, strength to continue to do so, and opportunities to continually get times of rest.
+ Pray that our Gen1K teams will work well together towards our one goal!