Anthem Church Community Announcement

Anthem,

Most of you have been involved with our Gospel Communities (GCs) over the past year, or perhaps even longer. As you have heard us say time and time again, these groups are the lifeblood of our church, our main points of ministry and connection. Though not perfect by any means, these smaller groups of community have been a means of grace to our church, allowing each of us to experience, in our own lives, the power of the body working to build itself up in love (Ephesians 4).

In October of 2019, we commissioned deacons as GC Leaders over five groups. Brad and Kalie Grigsby, Deb Roy, Paden and Devan Rourk, Peter and Candy Beeman, and Luke and Jen St. Clair all agreed to assist the elders in serving the people of God as leaders of GCs. When they came on in these roles, they agreed to a term of service, which was October 2019 - May 2020. The original plan was to then have groups take the summer off and provide material for smaller groups to take and meet with, should they so choose. This would allow our leaders to rest and would also give them time to pray and consider whether they were called to commit to another year of service in this role.

As you all know, our leaders served admirably. All of them. Though imperfect like the rest of us, they sacrificed time, energy, sleep, and resources to serve us, pointing us to the gospel and helping us walk in the daily stride of our faith.

Then, out of nowhere, March of 2020 took us all by surprise.

The introduction of COVID-19 to our county brought with it sweeping changes to how we do ministry. In all areas of Anthem’s scope, we had to ask ourselves and innovate - how do we minister to one another when we can’t even be in a room together?

So, like everyone else at the time, we transitioned to a mostly online church. And with little to no training, the leaders hopped on Zoom and provided love, guidance, and support, even from a distance. Again, they led admirably, doing ministry in an unprecedented manner, many of them also working full time jobs during the day.

May of 2020 came, and with it the end of the agreed-upon term of service for these leaders. However, with COVID restrictions still in full effect, we knew that community connection was vitally important for our people over the summer. So I begged all of our leaders to serve through July, which they did with no complaint, doing their best to navigate social bubbles, transitions back to in-person outdoor gatherings, all while navigating their own shifting personal lives through the pandemic.

In August, they received a well-deserved break.

And we had great plans for GCs to begin again in September. We had the year mapped out and everything: a fresh new schedule, leadership cohorts, and I even made a fancy handbook for leaders.

We had planned everything for GCs in 2020-2021… but what we didn’t account for was the season we had just walked through and the toll it would take on the whole church, including our fearless leaders.

As the pastor of community here at Anthem, I need to take ownership where it is due. I admit that these feelings started first with me. Mid-August came around, and the time came to check in with the GC leaders, and I felt strangely… reluctant.

Instead of feeling excited about re-engaging, I felt apprehensive. 
Instead of feeling energized about a new ministry year, I felt overwhelmed and uncertain of what a new year would even look like with our current structure, which proved challenging enough in the past season.
Instead of confidence in the fruit of our ministry strategy, I felt uncertainty and a hitch in my spirit. It’s not that I didn’t think GCs were important or worth doing - it’s that they just didn’t feel right for right now. Something was off.

This was confirmed when I checked in with all of the leaders of the GCs and spoke to the elders. You all need to know: the GC Leaders all have a deep desire for everyone at Anthem to be loved and cared for. They love you deeply. They care about your soul, and they desire for you to feel connected and rooted here at our church.

However, the elders did not feel at peace about moving forward with our current structure in this season. We are united in our concern for our leaders and our people, unconvinced that another year of GCs in this context wouldn’t be more detrimental than life-giving for all involved. We take responsibility for our deacons and our people, and are striving to do what is best for all of them as shepherds of the flock of God.

After prayer and discussion, we just don’t see a way for us to responsibly, viably, and consistently hold GCs as they currently exist in this next ministry cycle. 

So moving into the fall, we will be not be holding GCs as our primary means of discipleship and community, in hopes that a future season will allow for us to return to some form of this ministry that we have all grown to love.

Of course, this is a major shift for our church. While the pastors are busy meeting and praying through what community looks like on the other side, here are the details we can share at the moment:

  1. After performing a few final duties, all of our GC leaders will be decommissioned as deacons, with the exception of Paden Rourk (who also serves as Deacon of Operations) and Kalie Grigsby (who also serves as one of two Deacons of Women’s Ministry). Since “decommissioning” might sound a bit like “firing” to some, let us be abundantly clear: no one is being asked to step down due to incompetence or failure, no one did anything to disqualify themselves, no one did anything that would make us think twice about having these men and women serve again in a heartbeat. The role of deacon (the word in original Greek is akin to “servant” or “minister”) is attached to a task or a ministry; once that task or ministry ends, so does the office. Since we are no longer are having GCs for the time being, the deacons that help oversee this ministry no longer need to serve in this role. In short, these men and women have served honorably, so honor them. Thank them. Praise God for them. We as pastors honor each of them and thank them from the bottom of our hearts for their year (and beyond) of service in a time the likes of which none of us have seen or experienced.
  2. We still deeply care about community, and the pastors aren’t taking this transition lightly. We are planning ways to carefully and thoroughly transfer care of every member in this time. Additionally, we are passionate about creating spaces for new people, of which there are many in this season, to connect. In this next season, community will be primarily facilitated through men’s and women’s ministries, so be on the lookout for more information soon about what this will look like in the fall of 2020.

We understand that this is big news, and is perhaps difficult or frightening news for many of us. We as the pastors understand this, and are working hard on ways to ensure connection, growth, and flourishing for our people.

However, as the leaders work, there are some things that all of us can do to help lighten each other’s load. So to close, here are a few pastoral exhortations:
  1. Some of you feel well connected in this time. You feel like you have people here at Anthem, you feel connected, you feel at home. For all of us, our tendency when we start to feel this way is to settle in: “I have my spot now, and I can finally rest.” I am challenging you: do not forget what it was like when you didn’t have people. Invite others into your fold. Care for them. Serve them. Now is not the time for cliques or a lack of engagement over non-gospel issues. The spiritual, mental, and physical health of your brothers and sisters depends on your proactivity. If you know there are people alone, if you know there are people hurting, take Christian responsibility for your brother or sister and reach out to them and include them in your life.
  2. Some of you have been meeting in creative ways in this season, and many of you have formed great relationships within your current GCs. Please, don’t stop these. Just because the formal church structure of community is shifting doesn’t mean that the relationships need to end. Keep those small backyard gatherings alive. Keep meeting for coffee or drinks with that person or that group. Keep learning together and growing together… and invite someone new next time.
  3. Some of you might feel lonely, isolated, or discouraged in this season. Now is not the time to sit in this and wait for someone to come to you. Most of the time, it’s not that people don’t care about you or your family, it’s that others aren’t aware of what you need. Reach out and be proactive in seeking people (and if you are reached out to, reciprocate.)

Church, we love you deeply. Though we mourn the loss of a season gone by, we look forward expectantly to the possibility and the promise of God’s work and love in the season to come. We are still the church, and there is still opportunity for us to build one another up in deep, meaningful ways, even in this difficult time.

Hebrews 10:23-25 - “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

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