I've been fascinated with the word resilience. I even like the way it’s pronounced. While it may sound silly to native English speakers, for an ESL student, it can be exotic. For example, try to say Feliz Navidad. Beautiful and exquisite, right? Resilience may not compete in significance with other famous words in the Bible like love, peace, and grace—but resilience has been, and continues to be, at the heart of ministry today.
There are many layers of nuances in the use of the word resilience that seem to build upon each other, and all of them are important: the ability to spring back into shape, to adapt well, to thrive in the face of adversity and significant difficulties that threaten existence.
The most common use of resilience is the ability to recover quickly from difficulties. Despite the alarming daily news of COVID -19, churches are looking to "bounce back to the former shape." Parishioners are eager to meet face to face to partake in communion and to listen to the choir and the preacher. Those great old days! Churches are looking to go back where they were. They look for stabilization. They exercise resistance to the threat.
Another use of the word resilience is the ability to adapt. Churches did not disappear just because of the social distancing and the quarantine that ended in closing doors. I witnessed churches change by quickly learning how to use media and different platforms to gather together, worship together, share a word of encouragement, and even perform weddings and partaking in the Lord's Supper. Churches are surviving by adopting new channels to obtain the same results. Churches still are in the mode of fighting a threat.
Perhaps a more important nuance of resilience is the ability to thrive in the middle of adversity. To thrive, the church needs to build on recovering and adapting—but this time, the church evolves. There's still the felt need to meet face to face, adopt new channels. . . and yet, something new has emerged that becomes important, sometimes even an essential part of what it means to be a church. The threat is no longer a threat, but a trigger that promotes toughness, adaptation, and empowerment to improve so that the church's later state is better than the former one.
The million-dollar question here is: When facing a life-threatening difficulty, how does the church avoid becoming a victim where the threat determines the outcomes? During these past few months, I’ve seen the church rising to the point of becoming healthier. That is the beauty of what being resilient means.
As we anticipate society “going back to normal,” I encourage you to consider what ways your church has shown resilience. In what ways are you healthier because of the ways you adapted? Who have you reached that you haven't been able to reach before? How is your church healthier because of it, and in what ways can you continue these new ministries or forms of ministries?
Resilience is a beautiful word, and more importantly, it is essential to the life of the church.
Marco Avila is Resonate Global Mission's Regional Mission Leader for Eastern USA.