Here are four stories from March and April 2020 from ministry trainees in different parts of the country and different contexts sharing what their experience of gospel ministry in lockdown.
Lots to learn
I’m Sam, a Ministry Trainee at Redeemer Winchester. As a trainee, my normal week consists of coffee shop meet-ups, student Bible study groups, attending training in two different cities and helping run Sunday gatherings as a whole church family: all of which are now banned! When the vast majority of your work has to stop, how do you carry on working?
That’s the question that I’ve had to work with over the past few days. Since the lockdown was announced just over a week ago, I’ve been doing all my work sitting at my desk some 200 miles away from my church. I’ve had to adjust and change the way things are done but regardless, work carries on due to the power of technology. Instead of meeting people in coffee shops and homes, we’re meeting over video calls. Instead of attending training in person, I attend training through Zoom. Instead of meeting together as a whole church family, we stream the service into everyone’s homes. I’m working out how to do the same jobs in a different way.
We are only a couple of weeks into lockdown so there’s still lots of uncertainty, and lots to learn and adjust in terms of how we do church remotely. Yet these changes have forced me to learn skills I never thought I would need at the start of this year. For example, I now have to pre-record most of the service for Sunday and use video-editing software to prepare it and upload it – skills I definitely didn’t have prior to the lockdown!
I do certainly miss being able to meet up with people face to face to share a coffee, a meal, or to look at God’s Word together. It’s wonderful that these things can still take place over video calls but there’s something very precious about actually being with people to do these things. I think the Lord is teaching me, as I’m sure he’s teaching many others, that we are human beings made to be in community with others. I’m confident that when this comes to an end, I will value time with others far more than I ever did before.
I’ve been massively encouraged to see the lengths that people in various churches, including Redeemer, have gone to in order to love and care and serve others; the Church showing itself to be a brilliant light.
This is a strange time for me as a Ministry Trainee but I’m incredibly grateful that I’m still able to serve in my role and that God is using this time to help grow me, shape me and teach me even more than usual. In uncertain and testing times, relying upon the unchanging Lord is more of a comfort than ever before.
I’m Luke. As a trainee at Moorlands Church, Lancaster, working with internationals, my ministry has been particularly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. From late January, many of our regular guests began self-isolating, and since cases escalated in March, around 50% of those we were witnessing to made the decision to return home at short notice. It’s really sad knowing that we will likely never see most of them again, and it feels like our ministry to them was cut short. The remaining 50% are trying to get home but are facing flight cancellations and little support from their home governments, so they have remained here in isolation, often without many local friends. Though we want to reach out to them, many are too polite to accept help and uncommunicative on social media.
On a personal level, I can no longer enjoy many of my favourite parts of being a ministry trainee. No more chatting with people at church, no more singing together, no more working in the office with the other trainees. Working from home has also taken some getting used to – I live in a small house and have had to use my bedroom windowsill as a desk! Unable to continue our cosy, familiar habits and events, we have been forced to be creative and proactive in how we keep our ministries going and keep proclaiming the Gospel.
One of the challenges of reaching out in this time is that we don’t know what is going to work, and what people are interested in joining. One of our team has started up an online Bible study for internationals; encouragingly, a lady who normally can’t make evening studies is now willing and able to join in. I am eager to reach out to those who are needy and lonely with a more casual event, though this is taking a while to plan and finalise. Other than this, whilst church has gone digital and started presenting Sunday meetings as pre-recorded live-streams, my lack of technological prowess means I’m not too involved in putting the videos together; however last week I had the strange experience of recording myself doing the reading for Sunday in advance, and it has been fun getting to grips with video-chat software for all our staff and leaders’ meetings!
Though the changes haven’t been easy, it is encouraging to remember that God is sovereignly in control over the present circumstances. With that in mind, the mission remains the same – to build myself and others up to be more like Jesus. I have been able to continue meeting with my 1-to-1 partners via video chat and have been encouraged by how they have been relying on the Word to keep going and process the situation. These uncertain times have opened many people up to having deep conversations they would normally shy away from; for example, I received an email from a relative asking questions about God’s sovereignty! My prayer is that these times will show many their need for Jesus Christ!
Words of eternal life
I’m Conor, a ministry trainee at a Church in Oxford called St Ebbe’s. My primary sphere of ministry is undergraduate students although the scheme is highly varied so I end up serving the church family in lots of different ways. However, since the arrival of coronavirus my role has been impacted significantly!
Most notably – after weeks of planning, we were just about to head off on our annual student getaway called ‘Ledbury’, when we got the call on the 13th March that it was no-longer going ahead. This was frustrating as it is often the highlight of the year for many students and us as a staff team. We were grateful however, for modern technology that allowed us to create an online version of ‘Ledbury-At-Home’. Talks were uploaded each day on the Ebbe’s YouTube channel and I was in charge of creating online fun and entertainment – the highlight of which consisted of an online talent show that saw several students send in highly amusing entries! It was encouraging to see many students engaging well with the online content and they were really thankful for the talk series on the topic of ‘Behold our God’, especially given this uncertain time.
From late March the universities have taken everything online, which means that most students have headed home. As a student ministry team, we have therefore taken our usual weekly undergraduate bible study online. Via video conferencing we’ve been looking at different Psalms each week and I’ve found it encouraging to see the characteristics of God which David treasures most when the waves of anxiety and despair start to rise.
I’ve also been helping out with creating the ‘Daily Service’ that we record and send out at 8:45 each day on the St. Ebbe’s YouTube channel. This has involved a chunk of video editing and filming each day, but it has been great to see many people engaging online and the live-chat feature each morning makes for especially good viewing, particularly when mission partners worldwide tune in and let us know how they are doing.
As a church staff team, we have been meeting together each morning to pray and update each other on how the church family is doing. This has often been a mixed time – it’s been really sad to hear news of those known to us who have been significantly affected by the virus, but encouraging to pray and lift those who are in particular need and their situation to our Father in heaven, who cares for us.
I really miss being able to gather as a church each Sunday, see others in my fellowship group and serve alongside my fellow ministry trainees. Yet I have seen the Lord’s kindness in how he has helped me to recognize the many good things that he gives to me each day that I take for granted.
And amongst the many voices and opinions we hear at the moment, I’m praying that many would see that Jesus’s voice is the one worth listening to at a time like this. As Peter says ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’ (John 6v68)
8 things we’ve been learning
- Church is people. It’s been encouraging to be reminded that church really is made up of people not buildings. And a big part of gospel ministry is personal relationships. It’s great to be reminded of that and I’m thankful we’ve been able to continue communicating and praying and reading the Bible together. But at the same time it is sad not to be physically gathering. I really miss seeing people at church and catching up with them in person and having conversations with individuals post-church.
- A lot of training and ministry can continue via technology. Without mid-week groups to set up for, creche to run and service sheets to print, I wasn’t sure I’d have much to do. As it turns out I’ve had lots to be getting on with, just in a different format to what I’m used to. There are Bible studies to write and send out on Mondays, a kids vlog on Wednesdays and youth Zoom meetings on Fridays. And we’ve continued attending our regional ministry training day and church meetings via video conferencing. It’s been great to see how many people are engaging in online platforms, and to keep opening the Bible with them. I am so thankful to God for the technology we have which allows this to continue!
- But video conferencing has its downsides. It is great as a way of staying connected, but it is tiring to spend so much time at a desk looking at a screen. Normally, if I was feeling a bit brain dead I’d go and mop the kitchen floor or some similar mindless practical task that needed doing, whereas now everything is on my laptop. It’s also more difficult to keep up with how individual youth group members are doing and feeling via big group video calls, without seeing them in person.
- And not everyone is online. One new area I have been able to get involved with outside my main area of focus has been putting together a weekly printed newsletter for people who don’t have internet access. It has been really encouraging to gain this experience and to be part of supporting our wider church family in this unusual time.
- We can pray. I’ve been spending a lot of time in Philippians and been challenged by the way Paul continues to pray for the Philippians despite being far from them. I’ve realised how little time I set aside to pray for Church family and particularly the youth. I hope this time will increasingly grow in me a deeper dependence on God in prayer.
- We need to work harder preparing Bible studies. It’s been interesting to think through questions which get across the passage’s main idea without just saying the answer, when there won’t be a leader there to rephrase the question or guide discussion. I have found this challenging at times but have really appreciated it as an opportunity to train and learn more!
- Motivation is clarified. Without the usual structure of my day and others in the office with me, lockdown has brought to light the wrong motives I sometimes have for working. When working at home no one can really see what you are doing, so if you’re motivated by what others will see, your motivation will run dry. If my motivation is to love and support my church family and glorify God through them growing in Christ-likeness, then I will be much more keen to get out of bed and keep working, even when others will not see it or when I won’t see the direct impact of it. I’m thankful for that refocus and for the privilege of being involved in this work.
- Our calling to grow in Christ is not context-dependent and there are now new opportunities for that growth. God’s call, for me, and everyone, to grow to be more like Jesus, stays the same. With that in mind, I am thankful for the unique opportunity (strange though it is) that lockdown gives to learn, train, adapt, spend more time in God’s Word and grow.
Francie Jones and Lizzie Powell are ministry trainees at Christ Church Cambridge.