We live in serious times. In a matter of days, life as we know it has been turned upsidedown. Even so, the call of the Body of Christ is to participate in the Great Commission. So, while the work of the church may look different in the coming days, her mission remains the same: To Make Christlike Disciples.
The coronavirus is our current reality. As news concerning the pandemic unfolds, fear is gripping the hearts of people all over the world. Alongside developing COVID-19 reports, the headlines also remind us of the plummeting stock market, the necessity for social distancing, and the inevitable economic downturn. During these unprecedented times, we need to remember that God is good, Christ is on the throne, and the Holy Spirit is not quarantined (although we should be).
If there has ever been a time for us to be the hands and feet of Jesus, it is now. As God leads, we must continue to engage the mission of making disciples no matter what. With that said, I would like to offer some advice, as I have been in ongoing conversations with various ecclesial leaders and medical professionals over the last few days.
Shepherding The Flock
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want… Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me…” (Psalm 23)
My heart is that of a shepherd. I have wept this week while praying for my people. Even in my current assignment as a District Superintendent, I consider myself a “pastor to pastors.” When the load gets cumbersome for the pastors and churches across the Kentucky District, I find it a great honor and a sacred responsibility to help bear the burden. Stated plainly, I am all-in with my people—whatever it takes.
Biblically speaking, a shepherd is one who guides, protects, and watches out for the well-being of the flock. When traversing uncharted terrain, shepherds always take every precaution to keep the sheep out of harm’s way. That means leading them away from steep cliffs, keeping them out of thickets, guiding them away from uneven ground, and always being on the lookout for lurking predators.
No good shepherd would ever take a chance on making the flock vulnerable to impending danger. With this in mind, the safety of our congregations should be our top priority in times like these.
Guidance For Church Gatherings
Over the past few days, several pastors and church leaders have reached out for advice about worship services. Through conversations with leaders across the southeast region, we have discussed several ways for pastors and churches to remain engaged amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The White House’s current response plan limits public gatherings of no more than ten people. We are encouraging congregations in Kentucky to follow these guidelines until further notice. We remain hopeful that if we follow the ten-person recommendation for the time being that we might resume meetings with a fifty-person limit, as previously suggested by the CDC, sooner rather than later.
The following is a list of recommendations for worship services in the coming weeks. If you have other ideas, I would love to hear from you.
1.) Online Worship – Many congregations offer live-streaming, Facebook Live, YouTube channels, and other possibilities for online engagement. I am confident that if your church doesn’t have the technology to provide online services, that neighboring churches in your area would be glad to help you.
2.) Small Groups – Worshipping in smaller clusters might entail opening the sanctuary several days during the week for segments of ten people or less (maybe even multiple times per day). You should avoid handshakes, hugs, and up-close conversations. Make sure everyone spreads out, remaining ten or more feet apart.
3.) Drive-In Church – This idea sounds fun. I have heard that some congregations are planning to hold worship services in the parking lot. Weather permitting, pastors would lead from a designated place with a PA system. Parishioners would drive-in, keep their distance from others, and either roll the windows down, sit on the hood, or stand just outside their vehicle as they worship together.
I suggest treating smaller gatherings as you would any other service. Be prepared to lead times of corporate prayer, preach the Word, lead in song (even without music), receive an offering, and invite others in the community to attend. We may be surprised by visitors that might show up for something like a “drive-in” church, as people will be looking to get out of the house.
Depending on the size of the congregation and the method chosen to offer services, pastors may need to preach ten or more times per week. We should gladly be willing to do whatever it takes to provide the hope of the Gospel in these uncertain times.
Submission To Governing Authorities
Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities… The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” (Romans 13:1-2)
As pastors and church leaders navigate this uncharted territory, we must be more watchful than usual. With that in mind, the following has been passed down by church leadership for direction in the coming days.
- Obey the guidelines of the federal government.
- Follow the instructions of the state government.
- Observe the advice of local officials (city/county).
Ultimately, every local church can make decisions for themselves, as they have a certain level of autonomy. However, I must state that I agree with the instructions of our ecclesial leaders, medical professionals, and elected officials. If pastors and churches choose not to follow the guidelines provided by governing authorities, by default, they assume all liability.
Although the coming months are going to look different, shepherding the flock with wisdom must be a priority—which always includes keeping our people safe.
1.) CDC Guideline – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is navigating new territory with COVID-19. As they learn more, their recommendations are revised and posted online. The following link will keep you updated. Click on the link, scroll down to “Latest Updates.” CDC Website: Centers for Disease Control & Prevention
2.) The President’s Guidelines – We all know that President Trump is quick to say, “fake news” when he believes something to be untrue or politicized. However, as the coronavirus has become imminent, the President has taken a firm stance on keeping American citizens safe. The President nor his staff view this as “fake news.” The following is a link to the White House statement concerning COVID-19. These recommendations are in alignment with recommendations from CDC. Website: The President’s Coronavirus Guidelines
3.) State & Local Instructions – Follow the directions of the elected officials in your area. Every local context is different. For example, restrictions in Louisville or Lexington will be different than smaller communities like Jamestown or Burkesville. Consequently, I believe it is necessary to pay attention to the recommendations of your local area. A good rule of thumb concerning COVID-19 is to “err on the side of caution.” Website: Kentucky Department of Public Health
Be The Church
“I was sick and you looked after me… Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:36-40)
No doubt, the church is going to look different in the coming days. I hope we are truly willing to “Be The Church” in this dark hour. Becoming the hands and feet of Jesus requires taking the church to people, not merely inviting people to gather in a building.
I realize that some pastors and churches are anxious to continue with their regular worship schedules regardless of the warnings. We all know that decisions like this weigh heavy on the hearts of pastors, church boards, and other key leaders. While I would never criticize a church for gathering, I hope we all recognize the potential dangers of COVID-19.
The coronavirus is affecting the elderly and those with compromised immune systems more significantly than any other demographic. One of my daughters has a weak immune system; thus, we understand the real danger of her potentially contracting the virus. Again, as shepherds, we must be willing to protect the most vulnerable among us, as aging members fill the pews in many of our congregations.
Keep in mind, people in your congregation will likely be exposed to COVID-19. There is no vaccine available at this time. While survival rates are high, there is always the possibility that someone you love could lose their life. Imagine being a leader in a church, ignoring the recommended guidelines, and having someone pass away. A scenario like that could forever mark a congregation.
While I consider myself among those that will never be moved by fear, I do believe we should heed to spiritual authority and exercise spiritual discernment. Nonetheless, I can tell you with certainty that I will be serving on the frontlines, as I am planning to help the sick and elderly in the coming days.
For pastors and parishioners who are healthy and eager to serve, I advise you to be willing to:
- Turn your church buildings into medical centers for the sick when hospitals are overrun.
- Develop teams to deliver groceries and medicine for the elderly and those infected with the coronavirus.
- Serve alongside the medical community by offering spiritual and physical help in understaffed hospitals.
- Serve at local rescue missions, as COVID-19 will likely impact the homeless and underprivileged communities on a greater level.
To genuinely “Be The Church” in the coming months, we must learn to think differently than ever before. Consider Mother Teresa serving on streets of Calcutta, or Saint Francis communing with the lepers, or better yet, Jesus who describes our responsibilities by saying, “For I was sick and you looked after me” (Matt. 25).
Remember, “Where two or three are gathered in His Name”—there is the Church! You will be surprised at what God will do in these small settings. I am convinced that in the coming days, the Holy Spirit is going to help us to reach people in ways we never dreamt possible.
God Is Bigger Than COVID-19
Don’t let fear rule the day. Be assured; God is not surprised by any of this. He is not pacing the floor, wringing his hands. So, while we shouldn’t allow fear to control us in the coming days, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use wisdom.
God uses times like these to draw people close to Himself—to help them see what’s really important. People staying home and our normal routines being put on hold sounds like the kind of situation God might be using to prepare us for something greater. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
In times of crisis, the church is given the opportunity to be what Jesus calls us to be in the first place—The Body of Christ. These become the moments in history where God does His best work. In these difficult days, the most important thing we can do is draw near to Jesus, have ears to hear, and lean into the grace of God.
Think of it; God may be using the coronavirus to revive an Acts 2 model of New Testament Christianity. If we pay attention, I truly believe these could be days of great harvest: “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).
(Sources: The Board of General Superintendents and the District Superintendents of the Southeast Region Church of the Nazarene)