“One of the most challenging aspects of the #COVID19 recovery will be disagreements over acceptable post-COVID social norms between friends and family. Hurt feelings will abound if we're not careful. Extend lots of grace. Everyone is different.”
– Charles Smith, vice president of Midwestern Seminary
After weeks of stay-at-home orders and restrictions on in-person gatherings, the question of exactly when and how to return to “normal” is the hot-button topic right now. On one hand, most everyone is getting tired of Zoom meetings and would prefer to have real meetings instead. On the other hand, it’s not like the coronavirus has suddenly disappeared, and different people can have different comfort levels based on their own health situations and perceptions of risk.
Because of these differences, this season of return can be a minefield for your community group. Opinions will vary. Emotions can run high. Accusations can be made. We must remember Peter’s reality check: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). And one of Satan’s oldest, most effective tricks is division. He will use disagreements, pride, and hurtful rhetoric to separate God’s people.
With that in mind, here are three traps your community group can fall into as you seek to return to normalcy, and three biblical solutions to avoid them:
Pitfall #1: Fall in love with your own opinions.
Opinions are like Spotify playlists. Everyone’s got one, and we’d rather listen to our own, thank you very much. If we fall in love with our own opinions of what social norms should and shouldn’t be, it will be difficult to love others who think differently. We all have unique circumstances, vulnerabilities, and preferences, and that’s okay. Sometimes, the best next step is to encourage everyone involved to ask God for wisdom (James 1:5) and then let them be free in their decision.
Solution: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)
Pitfall #2: Expect everyone to read your mind.
During this season, we all need to be assertive. Some may cringe at that word. But remember, assertive doesn’t mean aggressive. It means being bold and clear, especially regarding your preferences. If you aren’t comfortable showing up at an event or going somewhere or being close to others, you’ll need to speak up and let your community group know. Communicate humbly, gently, and clearly—that’s way better than expecting people to read your mind.
Solution: “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:6)
Pitfall #3: Look down on the opinions of others.
Arrogance will destroy your group very quickly—especially when there might not be a right or wrong answer. If you believe someone is being overly cautious or grossly negligent, have a conversation with that person, not about that person. Looking down on others, gossiping behind their backs, and avoiding difficult conversations will erode trust fast. It’s better to extend grace by finding points of agreement, believing the best about them, and trusting that the Holy Spirit is working in their heart.
Solution: “The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves.” (Romans 14:22) “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Galatians 5:13-14)
In light of the above, here are three questions to discuss with your group:
- Which of the three pitfalls do you believe you will struggle with the most?
- When you think about meeting together in person, does anything make you feel nervous, fearful, or uncomfortable?
- What are some practical ways as a group we can consider one another’s interests above our own (Philippians 2:4)?
In everything, strive to “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10). And “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,” be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2-3). When you do that, you create the kind of “normal” that God calls us to in community.