As we reflect on our collective pandemic experience, I believe it is safe to say that most of us never imagined that our two-week social-isolation experience would last 15 months. The unimaginable unfolded before our eyes, and we confronted a new reality. I still remember my surprise at the possibility of closing our church doors just two weeks before celebrating our fiftieth year serving our community. After the governor of Maryland issued the executive mandate limiting gatherings, our first Sabbath service seemed eerie, as it marked my first experience preaching to empty pews and a camera.
Because we faced the daunting task of maintaining online services while also developing a protocol for outdoor church, all in the space of weeks, I can affirm that God sustained our meager efforts. His faithfulness allowed us to hold outdoor services that complied with state and county safety guidelines, even at the height of the pandemic.
During this experience, God touched the hearts and minds of our members, and the Triadelphia Seventh-day Adventist Church continued to give. I am convinced that faithfulness to stewardship principles helped strengthen our church family during this health crisis.
Before I share some basic concepts that I believe encouraged faithful giving, it is critical to emphasize that stewardship and generosity begin with a sense of gratitude and community among our members. Individual gratitude leads to a desire to show appreciation and return kindness. We were blessed by members who experienced heartfelt appreciation for their local church and recognized the value of community in Christ. With gratitude and community as our foundation, the following practices served to motivate sustainable giving:
1. Purpose: State guidelines limited indoor gatherings to only ten people for the first three months of the shutdown. It was immediately apparent that it was critical to foster a sense of meaning and purpose at a time of isolation and uncertainty. Seventh-day Adventists are blessed with an inherent purpose, the preaching of the gospel. Meaning is found in carrying out our blessed mission.
We realized that physical isolation would hinder our efforts, but maintaining a virtual connection would facilitate them. Our audiovisual team helped to create a full online church service, including a 45-minute Sabbath School program with an engaging lesson study, global mission spotlights, and the weekly message to the world church from Elder Ted Wilson. Members enthusiastically attended the virtual church services and invited friends.
Soon people joined us from from around the globe. One church elder recorded and shared short videos, made using social-distancing practices, during the virtual services. The videos brought a sense of normalcy as we could see our friends and hear their greetings. Soon after, members recorded outdoor children’s stories that were ultimately incorporated into our virtual worship service. Our musically gifted members volunteered to record special music, and through significant editing efforts, we enjoyed a virtual choir and music ensembles.
Support for our children in their Christian walk became paramount. Our children’s ministry team developed an entire Sabbath School program via Zoom. Not only were local church members involved, but we also welcomed out-of-state visitors. Pathfinders and Adventurers continued their weekly programs via Zoom and later held outdoor, socially distanced, in-person activities, even throughout the winter.
One function of a church family is to encourage one another. To that effect, we established biweekly phone and Zoom prayer groups. We embraced both our local and global mission. In 2020 we held two online evangelistic meetings, supported Adventist World Radio, and had follow-up virtual Bible studies. After sharing the Mission Spotlight, we included a segment highlighting local efforts to share the gospel in our community. Our local ministry’s mission, meaning, and purpose became a source of encouragement and helped us recognize ministry opportunities.
2. Communication: It is impossible to overemphasize that communication goes both ways. Elders and board members prioritized clear communication through regular virtual meetings and prompt information sharing. Elders made weekly calls to all church members, not only those who live alone. The focus was to ensure that everyone who needed support or simply a friendly conversation could find it. Member feedback was not only accepted but sought out, and we incorporated many of their recommendations into weekly activities.
We formed a reopening committee within weeks of the implementation of the initial restrictions. The committee looked for options to conduct in-person church services while meeting state and county guidelines. By the first Sabbath of July, we began outdoor worship services at our “Chapel in the Woods.” Further in-person meeting opportunities developed as restrictions loosened.
For all this, communication was essential. When everyone is aware of the plan, everyone can focus on carrying it out. A weekly e-mail newsletter to share updates, virtual meeting links, and a Sabbath bulletin was a welcome addition to our members’ e-mail inbox. The monthly newsletter became a highlight, incorporating stories, member interviews, and even a section on the history of the Triadelphia church. Additionally, a WhatsApp channel, “Triadelphia Connected,” was created, and all members were invited to post prayer requests, pictures, praises, and daily joys. It allowed us to keep up with each other, and we were reminded that although apart, we were not alone.
3. Good Stewardship: The Bible outlines principles for giving generously. It also delineates principles for spending wisely. The pandemic brought much financial uncertainty and underlined the need for ongoing careful administration and open discussion of spending priorities. The finance committee carefully reviewed financial issues and brought recommendations for responsible use of funds.
Monthly meetings were well-attended, and lively discussions ensued about the best way to support our local and world ministry. Good stewardship equals judicious use of available funds, which ultimately leads to trust from our members. That trust resulted not only in an increase in tithe and offerings but, more important, an increase in churchwide involvement in varied ministries and projects.
Do you know what gives you meaning and purpose? If you don’t know it, you can’t communicate it. Without open and transparent communication, those around you will not share in the mission and fund it. As a child, I quickly learned that before my parents agreed to fund any of my requests for money, it would be necessary to present a clear plan for its use. Despite their love and support, they were unwilling to give unless they understood how their limited resources would be invested. Our members desire to support local and global endeavors. Properly communicated and timely plans will encourage them to be involved through finances, time commitment, and the use of their talents.
A final thought: Purpose, communication, and good stewardship require collaboration. Teamwork, as a biblical principle, recognizes God’s leadership and our dependence on Him. The team that asks for His guidance will inevitably grow stronger because we are drawn closer through Him. Biblical teamwork allows us to find opportunities to serve one another and seek a greater purpose. The opposite of teamwork is not individuality but competition. A sense of unity and purpose will not develop as long as there is a spirit of rivalry among members or ministries. A church family that seeks to pray, work, and play together, virtually or physically, will develop spiritual and financial maturity. Hebrews 10:24, 25 inspires us with the following words: “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.” £