9:38 in a time of corona

by | 9 May, 2020

Largest ever mobilisation in peacetime

In just 72 hours in March 2020, 750,000 people were recruited for service as NHS responders. In scenes that Moses would have been familiar with (Exodus 36:4-7), the recruitment had to be prematurely suspended and people restrained from coming forward.

Listening to the stories of those who signed up, it seems that there were at least three compelling reasons:

  • Sense of ‘wartime’ national crisis and ‘coming together’ against a common threat.
  • Love for the NHS and a sense of personal debt/gratitude to the service.
  • Desire to do something active and meaningful to help, not just being a bystander.

Alongside the official NHS volunteers recruitment there has been the equally impressive but less well publicised story of 3,500 local Covid support groups springing up – often co-ordinated through Facebook. If the group in my area, with 2,800 members, is anything to go by (even allowing for only a smaller subset being active in practical help), this represents hundreds of thousands more volunteers serving their communities.

What can we learn for gospel ministry mobilisation?

Admittedly, there are very important differences and limitations to the comparison. Gospel ministry is a marathon and not a disaster response sprint. And we need to ensure we are raising up biblically qualified leaders. Nevertheless, the last couple of months show that it is possible to mobilise a very large number of people when there is a sufficient sense of crisis; love for the cause; and accessible opportunities to do meaningful work, make a difference and be part of something big and historic. And of course we know that there is a far greater crisis facing this nation, an enormous privilege in serving the Church of Christ on the mission of God, and work to be done which has eternal significance.

The example of local Covid support groups is a particularly interesting parallel. Mobilisation of gospel workers in the UK is not a top-down effort: it is a local project. Covid support groups have sprung up organically as collaborations of small grassroots organisations at the local level, sharing best practice, avoiding duplication, coordinating efforts. Imagine if in every city and county in Britain there were clusters of like-minded local churches working together to raise up gospel workers. At 9:38, that’s what we would love to see.

Perhaps the time has never been better to ask the question: How can you maximise your gospel ministry?

  • This is a time of great gospel opportunities. 1 in 4 British adults are tuning into online services.
  • This is a time of greater gospel ministry availability for many. Of the 6 million on furlough, perhaps 100,000 are believers, able to give more time to gospel work. Many are already doing that. Others, in the difficult position of having to take reduced hours, are trying to dedicate some of that time to serving their church family.
  • This is a time of innovation and flexibility in training. Regional gospel ministry training has gone online. Crosslands and Union are providing high quality online theological education. Oak Hill is offering virtual open mornings. People are loading up their MP3 players with great resources (e.g. the back catalogue of John Owen conferences hosted by London Seminary or Carl Trueman’s classic series on the Reformation).
  • This is a time of uncertain futures. None of us knows where we’ll be next year. The whole financial system is being shaken. It is very unsettling, and for some very painful, but it’s also a time of opportunity to prayerfully reassess and change direction. Some doors will shut but new possibilities will open for individuals and for churches.

What is 9:38 doing and planning?

  • Listening to and consulting with church leaders, gospel partnerships and to ministry trainees – as they work extraordinarily hard, ministering, adapting and taking opportunities in this strange time and planning for the new normal.
  • Working on a number of new, downloadable resources for those exploring gospel work and for church leaders (e.g. on mobilising, mentoring, establishing a church training culture, recruitment/advertising, selection and nurturing of leaders).
  • Promoting gospel ministry vacancies – which are still coming in as churches in Bath, Sheffield, Plymouth, Cheltenham, Maidenhead and London seek to push on in mission and in training the next generation.
  • Planning for the Maximise conference, eight months away – 6-8 January 2021, with Richard Coekin and Nigel Styles among the speakers – as we seek to stoke our passion for ministry of prayer and Word which exalts Christ, enjoys the Father and evangelises the lost.

Also, with the encouragement of our Trustees, 9:38 is making use of the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. We are very aware that we are supported by the grace of God through the generous giving of his people and that those people are facing severe financial pressure and uncertainty in this season. So far, we have seen little impact on giving (for which we are hugely grateful) but we do not want to be presumptuous in regard to this sacrificial generosity. We want to steward what we have been given well for maximum gospel use and long-term sustainability. So we have agreed that both Fran and I will take periods of furlough leave (4-6 weeks)  in May and June. This should have relatively low impact on our operations but make financial savings and best use of limited resources.

Over the next couple of months please pray:

  • For church leaders and trainees as they work hard to reach the harvest field and raise up more workers.
  • For wisdom and guidance as we write resources and gather best practice – that this would be of maximum usefulness to churches.
  • For Maximise conference planning.
  • For Fran and I to make the very best use of our time, both while we’re working for 9:38 and while we’re not.

 “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful” (Heb 12:28)

In Christ,

Andy Harker
Director | Nine Thirty Eight

Photo credit: Nicholas Franks Digital

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