Easter is cancelled.
If you are a pastor, those three words are unfathomable. Yet that is exactly what you were feeling and facing two weeks ago when gatherings of ten people or more were banned. In some regions, that number has even been reduced to groups of five.
Easter, along with Christmas, is the biggest service of the year. It’s a significant time for believers to worship the risen Savior together. It’s a strategic time for churches to reach out to those far from God. Churches all across North America are figuring out how to celebrate Easter in different ways than they ever have before. You can’t cancel Easter!
Necessity is the mother of invention.
In their 2009 discipleship book The Trellis and the Vine, Colin Marshall and Tony Payne concluded with these prescient words:
Imagine that [a] pandemic swept through your part of the world, and that all public assemblies of more than three people were banned by the government for reasons of public health and safety. And let’s say that due to some catastrophic combination of local circumstances, this ban had to remain in place for 18 months . . . there would be no services to run . . . no group activities or events of any kind to organize, administer, drum up support for, or attend. Just personal teaching and discipling and training your people in turn to be disciple makers. Here’s the interesting question: after 18 months, when the ban was lifted and you were able to recommence Sunday gatherings and all the rest of the meetings of church life, what would you do differently?The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne
When this COVID-19 pandemic has passed, and it will, how will our ministries have changed? Will we be more like Jesus on the other end coming out of this?
“”We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies… So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.”2 Corinthians 4:8-10, 18
Necessity is the mother of invention. COVID-19 is forcing us to get creative and inventive in the ways we “do church.” But is there an even greater necessity this crisis has brought to the surface?
Are our ministries producing multiplying disciples? Are we making disciples, who make disciples, who make disciples?
Let me ask this another way. Are our people actively engaged in relationships with spiritually lost people? Are our people equipped to share the gospel, and are they having spiritual conversations with their lost friends, neighbors and co-workers? Are our people meeting with and discipling new believers?
When you remove our ability to program all these activities for the church, it becomes much more clear to us whether our people are committed disciples or merely comfortable believers.
If we can’t program disciple-making, what are we left with?
Relationships. People connecting with people outside the four walls of the church. People not “doing church” but instead “being the church.” People loving their neighbors. People checking in on their friends. People praying together over the phone. People texting scriptures to encourage one another.
When our survival as churches depends not upon the strength of our programs but instead upon the strength of our relationships, what will this necessitate us inventing as leaders to equip our people in being even more intentional and impactful in relational disciple-making?
Perhaps the simplest and most strategic tool for implementing relational disciple-making is something we call Prayer Triplets.
A Prayer Triplet is a group of three people who commit to meet together and pray with and for one another every week. You can break down that weekly meeting time into three parts. Care. Share. Prayer.
CARE – the group begins by catching up with one another and checking in on how one another is doing.
SHARE – the group shares what God is teaching them through His Word, or perhaps they do a simple study together like one of Sonlife’s IWTFC Booklets. The group also shares about their relationships with spiritually lost friends and any gospel conversations they’ve had in the past week.
PRAYER – the group ends their weekly time together by praying for one another, and by praying for each other’s spiritually lost friends and the development of those redemptive relationships.
A Prayer Triplet is a great relational disciple-making strategy that implements what we call Circles of Concern in our 4 Chair Discipling training. Each Chair 3 “worker” who is being equipped to make disciples needs to think about three spheres of disciple-making relationships.
SPHERE ONE: At the top of the triangle is another Chair 3 “worker” or Chair 4 “disciple-maker” who will encourage the Chair 3 “worker” and hold them accountable in their disciple-making journey.
SPHERE TWO: Below that top circle are two circles that represent two Chair 2 “believers” the Chair 3 “worker” is spending time with to help them to grow to be like Jesus in their character and priorities.
SPHERE THREE: At the bottom of the triangle are three circles that represent Chair 1 “spiritually lost” friends the Chair 3 “worker” is building relationships and sharing the gospel with.
If you need help determining where someone is at along the disciple-making journey, Sonlife’s 4 Chair Discipling Inventory can be found on the Like Jesus App. You’ll also find a digital version of the Circles of Concern on the App.
A simple way to look at this is that a Prayer Triplet can consist of one Chair 3 “worker” with two Chair 2 “believers’ they are beginning to disciple, and each commits to also pray for and invest in three spiritually lost friends.
As your people are looking for meaningful ways to connect spiritually, the use of Prayer Triplets during this COVID-19 crisis could set your ministry up with powerful disciple-making relationships that far outlast this awful pandemic.
If that happens, the results could be so profound, you might never want to go back to business as usual program-reliant church strategies again. No, you can’t cancel Easter. He is risen! Hallelujah! But what would you be willing to keep cancelled when this crisis has passed so that disciple-making fruit may flourish?