BECOMING THE CHURCH WE WERE MEANT TO BE

By Pastor Kyle Trigg, Family Pastor at First Alliance Church, Calgary, Alberta
Student in the Master of Arts in New Testament program 

While working to form the United Nations after World War II, Sir Winston Churchill famously said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” We have all come to know in many ways that a crisis brings disruptions, almost all of which are unwanted! However, Churchill understood that crises can serve as catalysts for change in ways few other things can. Undoubtedly, COVID-19 has uncomfortably altered our familiar ways of operating. However, like the men from Issachar, if we seek to understand the times, we will know what to do and discover new pathways forward. I believe the Lord has an invitation for us to look different on the other side of this pandemic than we did before.

How COVID Helped My Church Become A New Kind Of Church

When the government implemented gathering guidelines for churches and asked us to “walk a mile,” we asked what it would look like for us to walk two. As a result, we made the choice to go online before we had to. Of course, this was not an easy choice! Who wants to be responsible for breaking an 82-year streak of weekend gatherings? But only the Lord could orchestrate how this decision became a transformative pathway for our community.

Shortly after our church made this decision an organization asked if we would partner with them to house homeless and vulnerable men. While our building was empty of the usual weekend attendees, we realized that every day it could be filled with those Jesus spent so much time with. Almost immediately, our building became a homeless shelter housing over a hundred men, and we discovered that even in our physical absence we could be present for “the least of these.”

As we kept asking, “What does love require of us?” we saw our church increasingly committed: expanding a meal program to feed families in need, financially supporting initiatives, giving clothes to the needy. What began as a hospitable “yes” grew into our church becoming a primary social service provider in our city impacting thousands—and we are seeing formation happen in the midst of this crisis. We do not have to get through the crisis to see lives changed; God wants to change lives in these difficult days.

A story that represents much of our hopes: when we first suspended gatherings, one of the responses we received was from “Sam,” who shared his intentions to find a new church because of our giving in to fear. I hadn’t heard anything further from Sam until a few weeks ago when, to my big surprise, I saw him getting baptized! Shortly thereafter we received an email from Sam thanking the church for the choices that were made months earlier, acknowledging their value. A life was changed! While of course this is not always the case, it is encouraging to see at least one family’s change.

Another example is our children and youth ministries. The leaders long to gather our kids again, but for now they gave up their spaces to ensure our guests have a safe place to stay. We are now renovating our building so that we may permanently host our guests. We truly have discovered a different way for us to be the church.

Questions For Those Who Feel Stuck 

A mentor of mine once shared, “Crisis reveals character far more than it creates it.” That is to say, who we are is revealed most in complexity. Of course, we know an adrenaline rush can win a battle, but in prolonged crises character wins the war. Crisis does not just reveal character, but it also reveals what matters.

Not every church is called to become a homeless shelter or food agency (though some are!). So, if you’re wondering what things Jesus may be inviting you into, here are some questions that helped us: “What is the most loving thing I could do right now?” and “What opportunities are in front of me right now?” God has given us everything we need to do all that we are called to. If we don’t have something right now, we don’t need it right now. Examining what we do have can help us recognize what invitations are being extended.

So many of us, particularly those involved in church leadership, have believed or perhaps said something like, “The church isn’t primarily a building—we are the church!” COVID has revealed how much of that we believe and are willing to put into action. Now, I am a passionate believer for physically gathering with the church—few things have shaped my life and calling more than the corporate gathering of the body. But one of the phrases that we have adopted at our church is, “We don’t want to just talk about the Jesus stuff, we want to do the Jesus stuff too!” And COVID has allowed us to learn new ways of doing the Jesus stuff.

While I have the privilege of sharing today, I love being able to say it’s been an “all-in” effort with my church family led by our Lead Pastor James Paton!

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