The last few weeks have been a struggle and stressful for me, and I am sure for many of you as well. The spread of the coronavirus took us by surprise (or maybe not for you), but we definitely were not as prepared as we could have been. I admit, when this all started I was one of the people who believed it wasn’t that “big” of a deal, and it will blow sooner than later. It seemed like people were overreacting toward the situation and taking extreme precautions. Here we are almost 3 months out since the start of the outbreak we now have a pandemic on our hands, with 191,127 confirmed cases around the world, and over 7,800 deaths1. People continue to panic buy, despite the urging of public officials not to do, to the point where others are not able to purchase what they need. Hand Sanitizer and toilet paper (why???) are nowhere to be found, and grocery stores are being wiped clean daily. Our hospitals are overwhelmed, insufficient means of testing, and many parts of the world are shut down to prevent anymore spread. This is now a “big” deal and it will take months, possibly even years, to recover from the effects of the virus spread.
Churches also have been greatly impacted in this unprecedented season and there are many things we will have to do differently as we continue to deal with the corona virus. We are seeing more churches canceling all their group meetings in accordance with government directives, and moving all or parts of their regular worship services online. As a pastor, I’ve wrestled with this idea, because on the one hand, I know we need to protect our most vulnerable and high-risk people by stopping the virus from spreading even more, but on the other hand, I want to encourage believers to stand strong in their faith and not respond in fear as it says in 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” Whatever our church would decide, I felt it would be at best a compromise and not a real win-win situation. But then I was reminded in Romans 13:1, “Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.” This means we are to submit to our governing authorities as God has placed them there, and we can have faith that God’s hand is at work through these authorities. They do hold our best interest at heart and are concerned for the overall health of the public. It’s not like they are asking us to give up our freedom of religion or stop meeting entirely, but to adjust how we worship during this time. Frankly, I praise God that we have such amazing technology to respond in this way, and we still have an opportunity to do certain elements digitally. While doing things online cannot truly replace the face-to-face interaction of corporate worship and experience we get from a regular service, we must remember two things: (1) this is temporary and not a permanent solution, and (2) many people and other churches have been doing the online worship thing for many years because for some, that is the only way the are able to participate in worship and yet people still come to know the LORD as their Savior and learning God’s Word on a deeper level. I love technology, and I think we can tap into its potential to truly make a difference for God’s Kingdom in our community and the world!
It is not just about providing an alternate form of worship, the underlying issue is ministering to people during these troubling times. Like I said earlier, the impacts of this coronavirus will have a serious affect on our lives and people are already afraid and frightened. There is uncertainty about the future. Many have already lost their jobs or greatly reduced hours, students are home, which means parents must stay home to watch their kids, business are losing out on income, and home owners and renters who cannot pay their mortgages or rent are just a few examples that add more fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. The needs will soon become insurmountable and I believe it is time that churches to respond to this crisis. We cannot just sit idly by watching online sermons or reading daily devotionals (which is GOOD!) in isolation, but actively live out our faith. In the time of great need, the disciples didn’t want to do anything about it because they recognized they did not have the resources to help the 5,000 men (more if you include the women and children), as they were so focused on meeting their own needs. But how did Jesus respond? He said, “You feed them” (Mark 6:37). Jesus is asking us to meet the needs of the people around us, especially in a time where it is so easy to focus on ourselves and our own needs. We may think we might not have enough, but as we know in the rest of the story, Jesus provides in miraculous ways. This is what it looks like to live our our faith. To trust Jesus will provide the means for us to care and love our neighbors. We cannot act like the priest or Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan who avoided the injured man because it would interfere with their “worship” at the temple, but see those in need and respond with mercy and compassion.
The challenge of online church activities is that it is more difficult for us to see those who are in need, because we are literally isolating ourselves (intentionally due to the virus). The temptation we have is that we consume “church” rather than act like one. I came across an article from the Gospel Coalition which gives A Practical Way to Love Your (Self-Isolated) Neighbor. It gave a great idea to pass out these flyers to our neighbors to ask them if there is anything they need. I plan to pass them out to my neighbors and the church that I serve at so I can meet some real needs, and I encourage you to do the same. I want to make myself available during this time to grab groceries, bring a meal and drop it off at your porch, or to talk and pray with you. I am here for you.
I’ll leave you with a quote that really sums up what I am processing by A. W. Tozer: “A frightened world needs a fearless church.”
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.