Jeff Clark, Rural Matter Institute of the Billy Graham Center
During this time of crisis, it seems that everyone has an opinion about what the church should or should not be doing. You can go online to hear Zoom calls, Webinars, and FB videos give you advice. “Experts” have popped up overnight to guide you through this time. Websites have pages dedicated to providing you with the resources you need.
I am not saying that this information is bad. In fact, I continue to put resources on a web page for Rural Matters Institute. However, knowing who to listen to and what resources to use can be daunting. If we are not careful, this flood of information can lead to a “paralysis of analysis.” We can become overwhelmed and wind up doing nothing. For example, I texted an interim pastor this last week to see how his little church of 20 was coping with things. His response was, “I don’t know how the people in the church are doing because the church is closed.” The truth is, the church is NOT closed, only the building is closed.
In order to wade through all this information and to counter the temptation to throw up our hands in resignation, we need to return to one source for our instruction for how to handle trying times. We need to renew our commitment to the Bible and its teachings.
Returning to the Bible
So, what does the Bible have to say about COVID-19? Well, nothing specific about this particular virus, but it has lots to say about times of trial and anxiety.
The first and foremost thing to remember is that God is still on His throne and has not abdicated His authority to Satan, to a virus, or to any government. Jesus said in Matthew 16:18 (CSB) “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” This means that we are not given the responsibility to protect the church, make sure it stays open, or worry about the finances. The church belongs to God and to Him alone. He will keep it open until He wants it shut. We cannot kill a church or keep one alive one day longer than God wills. This does not mean we are to act foolishly concerning the church. It means that our focus is not on preserving the church, but in obeying what God has called the church to be and do.
If our job is not to protect the church, then what are we supposed to be doing during these trying times? The answer to that question remains the same no matter our situation. We find the New Testament church doing three basic things whether they were enjoying peace and prosperity or whether they were dealing with severe persecution.
Three Basic Tasks of the Church
The three things the New Testament church was focused on were evangelism, worship, and care for those in need. I know the first question that comes to mind in our unique situation today is how can we do these things while we cannot meet together, while we try to maintain social distancing, and while we encourage our elderly and most vulnerable to stay inside? The answer is that it is not easy, but it can still be done.
Evangelism can be done many different ways. One way is by making phone calls to neighbors to see how they are doing and offering spiritual support during this time of crisis. I read about a pastor who made a simple post card that provided the church’s name, email address, and phone number. If people would contact the church, they would help people in their community run errands and provide counselling for anyone in need. That pastor went through town and placed that card on every door in the town. What were the results of this project? We do not know yet. The thing is, he was trying something to be a witness in his town, and I would think the town appreciated the effort. I know God must have been honored by his willingness to witness!
As for worship, there are 10,000 websites, blogs, and other things online to help with how to get your sermon online. You need no advice from me on how to do this. What we may need to think about is how to help families lead their own worship times in their own homes. Helping people in your church worship may involve you sending out each week a worship guide that could include things such as suggested songs, scripture, a Bible study, and prayer points. One of the first steps of discipleship is helping people feed themselves and their family spiritually.
Care for those in need involves being willing to make visits by phone, going to the store to purchase food for shut ins, counselling people who are afraid, walking with people who are sick, (Yes, you may have a member of our church or your community that becomes infected with COVID-19. They will need your support as they are sick, afraid, and vulnerable.) and you may even have to provide support for people who lose a family member to COVID-19.
Much has been written about revitalization. There are many good programs dedicated to helping churches revitalize. I still believe that the best way for a church to experience revitalization is to recommit to fulfilling these three basic Biblical mandates; worship, witness, and care for the people. By so doing, the church returns to its original task, God is glorified, and people in the community see your church as a church that cares. I believe God will honor such simple obedience.