It is almost month 8 of wearing a mask where I live and it has radically changed our day-to-day lives. The process for grocery shopping, ordering food, and going to doctor visits has added obstacles that most Americans didn’t have to think about before the coronavirus came to our shores.
The world has changed, and the church has too. When it comes to serving our guests, we’ve talked about asking three questions when it comes to serving them well: 1) How do we prioritize the guest? 2) How do we anticipate their needs? and 3) How do we remove obstacles from their path?
So, if this virus is adding obstacles to life everywhere else, do those obstacles still exist at church? And, more importantly, should they? Let’s take a look at how we can answer those same three questions from behind our masks:
1) How do I prioritize the guest?
Just about everyone I know is on a different level of comfort with public safety measures, but ignoring their preferences and recognizing the need should be our primary goal when it comes to serving through a mask.
In fact, being good stewards of medical opinions and going out of our way to make our guests comfortable is prioritizing them! The literal definition of “prioritize” is to “designate or treat something as more important than other things.”
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. – Philippians 2:4
Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. – 1 Corinthians 10:24
He must increase, I must decrease. – John 3:30
We know that the second greatest commandment that Jesus gave us was to love our neighbors as ourselves. Honestly, I strive to love them more than myself. Why?
Because it’s not about me. And, believe it or not, wearing a mask tells people: “I am FOR you. I’m not serving myself in this position – I am serving you and your needs matter, too.” When people know that you’re “for” them, they begin to trust you, and trust breeds relationships. Relationships allow you to help guide someone into a growing relationship with Jesus.
2) How do I anticipate the needs of the guest?
Sometimes I play a game when people-watching (I’m not a creep, just observant — keep it moving!) to see how many people forget their mask and have to walk all the way back to their car. Myself? I’m up to 37.
If I’m walking into a church focusing on getting there on time, making sure the kids look presentable, remembering to register for service, etc… the last thing I want to do is forget my mask. That’s why we keep extras! You know the mama with 3 kids, 2 backpacks, and 6 juice boxes doesn’t want to walk all the way back to her car.
But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? – 1 John 3:17
So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are in the household of faith. – Galatians 6:10
Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. – Matthew 5:42
Everyone has needs and it would be so foolish of us to assume that we can’t at least alleviate the tension of remembering every little thing for the day. And you know what?! With half our faces covered, I can’t tell if people are happy to see me or if they’re excited to help me! When you anticipate their potential confusion over where to go or to share the uplifting spirit of church, use body language like waving and “thumbs up” or bigger motions when you’re serving!
Whether it’s hand sanitizer and face masks, or even smiles and umbrellas, it’s our job to observe our area, test procedure, and be quick to offer our guests whatever it would take for them to have a successful visit.
3) How do I remove obstacles from their path?
This is already a toughy because the pandemic has caused us to add obstacles as a new “norm” to our lives. Do we remove those obstacles out of comfort and ease, or do we allow those obstacles to shape the environment we’re building? No, to the first and maybe a little, to the second.
Sure, masks are annoying. No one ever asked me if I wanted to wear a mask, but I know that my mask isn’t for me. My mask is to protect everyone around me who doesn’t know where I’ve been or who I’ve been around. Sometimes (in very rare occasions, like global pandemics), obstacles need to remain in order for the safety and good of the whole. Safety is the only obstacle people should have to “overcome” at church.
In answering this last question, you probably know that I’m going to remind you that there are physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual obstacles that every person juggles when they come to church.
It’s important to think of these four obstacles through the lens of a pandemic: Are they at high risk for infection or is there someone in their household that is? Are they afraid or overzealous when it comes to the virus? Have they lost someone in the past year that has changed their outlook on life, medicine, and church? And do they believe that God is still good through all of this?
See, when we choose to serve through a mask, we’re choosing mercy and faith. We’re choosing humanity and goodness.