No one saw the Coronavirus pandemic coming, including pastors and congregations. Churches were going about their business until suddenly, they couldn’t. If we could have anticipated this crisis, much like Jesus shared in the story of the bridegroom, we would have done some things differently. Given what we’ve learned and seen over the past few weeks, if we had to do it over again, presumably most Christians and church leaders would have prepped better for COVID-19…
- If we knew we’d soon be unable to gather in a facility, then we would have adopted a less building-oriented, weekend-centric (and more biblical) definition of “church”
- If we knew one day we’d forcibly become the “church scattered” under safer-at-home orders, then we would have developed a neighborhood, empowerment strategy and implemented tools like Love Your Neighbor for reaching our community
- If we had only known how many Christians in the face of a pandemic would be more concerned with self-preservation than self-sacrifice, fear rather than faith, then we would have ensured “Knowing” had actually transitioned into “Being” and “Doing”
- If we’d known a time was coming when so many non-believers would be asking spiritual questions and how few churchgoers would be equipped well to provide answers, then we wouldn’t have offered a free pass on evangelism and discipleship
If leaders had emphasized and members embraced the following 7 biblical truths before the pandemic, it’s likely that many more Americans would be coming to faith during this crisis…
Wish We Knew Then What We Know Now…
Hindsight is 20-20 so it’s easy to play Monday morning quarterback today. The reality is that trends in America before Coronavirus hit our shores made it difficult for churches to share certain hard truths. The “Nones” and “Dones” were increasing dramatically. Smaller churches couldn’t match the facilities and programs offered by the “Walmart” down the street. Most new members represented transfer growth from another church. Pastors couldn’t afford to scare off the visitors and non-believers they wanted to attract and retain.
But those concerns seem rather shallow now with COVID-19 decimating families economically and physically, while opening doors to a potential spiritual revival that unfortunately seems unlikely to materialize. Church members simply weren’t ready to assume the discipleship, compassion and evangelism responsibilities and expectations they’d long ago abdicated to the “paid professionals”. As we watch this opportunity pass, wishing we’d been a little less reluctant to “rock the boat”, going forward will churchgoers internalize and pastors more boldly proclaim these 7 messages that would have made all the difference at a time like this?
1. “Living (in Christ) requires dying (to self)” (Galations 2:20)
To overcome paralyzing fear, the soldier in the foxhole must assume he’s already dead. Few churches teach the corresponding and critical concept from Scripture – the realization that we’re already dead, so we can’t resort to self-preservation in a crisis when there’s no “self” to preserve. We are free to surrender everything to the Lord and pour ourselves out for the sake of others during a pandemic, filled with the Holy Spirit and not self-absorption.
2. “Unconditional really means there are no conditions” (1 John 4:20)
A common and convenient myth (which we just debunked) is that “self-love” is a prerequisite for loving anyone else. When life and health are threatened, it’s human nature to retrench and protect our own. But it’s Christlike to love unconditionally, where we adopt a looser definition of “family”. Who is my brother and sister? Who is my neighbor? Is the person lambasting Trump or lavishing praise on him really a relative? Does our Agape love extend to that person?
3. “Those you love dearly face a dire fate unless they come to know Jesus” (Matthew 5:22)
As we hear death toll figures from COVID-19, now in the hundreds of thousands, we can become desensitized to the eternal destination awaiting those who died without knowing the Lord. That’s the toughest message for pastors to share, especially with those new to church or the faith, but it should be our Red Bull energizer for evangelism. The question is do we really believe there’s a hell if we’re not telling anyone how to avoid it? The world defines “love” as tolerance, but true love is exchanging temporary discomfort for everlasting joy.
4. “Leading people to Christ is in your job description too” (Matthew 28:19)
God does call pastors to a special role the ministry, but we’re all on the hook as micro-expressions of church to tell neighbors, friends and family about the Great Physician, particularly today when people need spiritual, emotional and physical healing more than ever. In fact, the job description of a seminary grad is less about performing ministry functions than multiplying those who do them.
5. “Learn answers to the questions non-believers always ask“ (1 Peter 3:15)
Jesus’ mandate to make disciples goes well beyond inviting people to church or living an exemplary life, hoping people will ask us about Him. Church buildings are closed yet non-believers are Googling “prayer” and “hope” at record clips. That puts individual Christians on the front lines during the Coronavirus outbreak, to pursue the lost and respond when they ask “do all roads lead to God?”, “why do bad things happen?” and “what about all those hypocrites?”.
6. “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11)
Jesus, Peter, Paul, John the Baptist all came out the gates preaching the same message – repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand. Today, sin is rarely confronted head-on in churches, either from the pulpit or one-on-one, fearing it’s too controversial in this politically charged day and age. During the COVID-19 crisis even faithful churchgoers, anxiety ridden due to job loss and isolation, are resorting to alcohol and pornography to self-medicate. If every churchgoer were a true disciple, they would fully grasp that obedience is at the core of following Jesus.
7. “Kindness is easy; relationships are hard” (Luke 10:25-37)
In a pandemic, those suffering need healing, not a hand-out. Writing a check, providing a meal or making a call is nice – but not transformative. Investing over a long period with messy people is hard – and life changing. Church members have become accustomed to events and seasonal outreach, which are transactional. Few are aware of their accountability to act as “pastor” of their neighborhood, practicing a prayer-care-share lifestyle with those impacting by the crisis.
It’s Your Turn…
Why didn’t pastors drive home those messages more emphatically? Will we learn from missing the opportunity to spark revival during the pandemic, caused in large part by decades of catering rather than challenging churchgoers? Will we become even more concerned about our own church’s survival or choose to decentralize and empower individuals to reach neighbors for Jesus? If the latter, then churches should consider implementing Meet The Need’s FREE Love Your Neighbor solution.