Confidence in Christ on the frontline, part 1 | Evangelism in lockdown

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We caught up with Duncan Steed, a doctor based in Portsmouth and part of ChristCentral Church. He’s been running Discipleship Explored on Zoom over the last few weeks. 

Hi Duncan! Thanks for chatting to us. First off, how have you found being a doctor during the pandemic?

It’s been an interesting time to work as a doctor! Hospitals across the country have had to change the way they do things. Junior doctors were due to be rotating jobs back in April but we couldn’t because of the virus, and all of our rotas have changed too with longer shifts. 

The sacrifices of some of my colleagues have been staggering - some haven’t been able to see partners or children for the duration of lockdown. 

I work in the local hospital in acute medicine and most of my time is spent in A&E assessing admitted covid patients. Thankfully admissions are going down now.

I caught the virus myself and had symptoms for a few days - I’m a doctor in the Royal Navy and live on the naval base so I had to go off to a quarantine block. I wasn’t allowed outside so someone would bang on my door with my food. It was a bit miserable! 

How did you get involved leading a virtual Discipleship Explored course? 

When lockdown began my pastor wanted to organise lots of online activities to encourage people to stay connected during this time - everything from offering prayer to zumba classes! 

I volunteered to help by running a Bible study and had already been thinking of reading through Philippians with a group. Then my pastor told me about Discipleship Explored

If you think about it Paul was in a lockdown situation communicating to encourage the church with the media he had access to - a pen and a courier. And he was able to use that to encourage the church in Philippi in a time of trouble. So it’s strangely parallel to us in lockdown using the media we have access to - Zoom!

How does a session work?

We start at 7.30pm on a Thursday and spend half an hour catching up and talking about what struck us over the week from the follow-up material or the last session. At 8pm my group insists we pause to join the clap for carers! We finish at 9pm sharp as there’s nothing worse than a protracted Zoom, although some people will then stay behind a bit longer to talk more after we officially close. 

What are the benefits and challenges of running Discipleship Explored on Zoom? 

There’s loads of good things about running the course online. It’s easier for people to attend - it’s not intimidating and takes much less effort than going along to a course in person. It also allows people to join who wouldn’t normally be able to. For example, in our group we have a lady who is over on the Isle of Wight for lockdown, and two women who have young children.  

In terms of group dynamics, you can let the awkward pauses hang for a little longer on Zoom. It somehow doesn’t feel as long or awkward as in person!

One challenge is really being able to open up to each other over some of the deeper questions we ask on the course. Some of them are hard-hitting and self-examining, and it can be difficult to have these discussions on screen. 

What have been some big encouragements as you’ve studied the book of Philippians with your group? 

The pandemic has forced people to think more about what they are living for and what is really important in life. 

There are so many alternative activities like online cookery and fitness classes to help you fill your time and to distract you from thinking about these big questions, but if you get the virus and end up in ITU what really matters is where your confidence and security lies.

The first session of Discipleship Explored was so good in helping think about how we find this confidence and security in Jesus. Some people hadn’t thought this through before and so it was amazing to see people chewing it over for the first time and starting to apply it. 

One session that stands out is Philippians 3 and the image of the athlete pressing on to win the prize. One group member said she realised for the first time that the prize is just Christ - and nothing else. And she’s so right - everything we do, even our service at church, is an irrelevance unless it is gripped by that one passion for Jesus. We really enjoyed thinking about that together. 

What would be your top tips for new leaders? 

We used the films - they’re a great length and really draw you in. I would ask people to scribble down some notes or anything that stands out to them when they’re watching the films as I found that really helped our discussions afterwards.  

As I mentioned before, there’s loads of advantages to running a course on Zoom but there’s only so much people feel happy sharing on a screen, so try and follow up with people 121 afterwards if you can. 
I have been leading this series on my own and it probably would have been good to have a co-leader (particularly a female leader as we are a mixed-sex group).

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