I love and hate the fact that my church family cannot meet in person right now. Virtual meetings are better than nothing, but I hate the isolation. At the same time, I love the challenge this presents. This pandemic forces us to rethink “church”. This has taken us back to the basics: shared Bible reading, prayer, and service.
Last month was the first time we took our corporate worship service online. It was also a time we planned, in God’s providence, to launch a 40 day corporate Bible reading plan. Our plan takes us through the Bible, Genesis to Revelation, by reading 1-2 selected chapters each day. These chapters are selected “high points” of God’s redemptive work.
We are over half way, and thanks to the coronavirus, it seems participation is higher than usual. We’re walking through God’s grand story of redemption as a body. All week long we have a shared experience, a common message from the Word of God. Many of our small groups are discussing the readings. We also send out daily videos from the pastors and we often reference the Scripture for that day.
We’re finding moments of connection when our Sunday services feel so spread out. Considering all that is happening during the six days between each one, it is a precious bit of community. We deliver the daily readings to our people’s email. I’ve heard from my church family, how they’ve incorporated the reading into their days. I’ve personally used it for our family devotions during dinner.
More importantly, this plan reminds us that God, not any man, is the main character in history. We see prophets, priests, and kings come and go, but God remains. We see fear in the eyes of God’s people but we see the faithfulness and sovereignty of God. Bible reading in the midst of coronavirus reminds us that we are a small part of God’s grand story rather than viewing him as an assistant in ours.
But in addition to Bible reading, this experience has encouraged me to pray. Sometimes it takes a pandemic to get us to pray more. We are not less mortal than a month ago, nor are we less in charge of our future. Yet Coronavirus exposes our reliance on God in ways our record-setting economy didn’t. I personally realize my inability to control my surroundings, I turn to God who is always in control. This is not only true for pastors, it’s a common feeling shared by many in our congregation.
How can we use this felt need to develop the discipline of prayer?
If you’re a writer, you can model it. Write a prayer for your congregation to pray each day or once a week, or share some of your personal favorites. Include the prayers of Paul, or Psalms that are appropriate for this time. If you don’t want to write your prayers, record them and send a video out to your church.
Encourage your people to pray specifically for members of their small group. If you have a directory, online or otherwise, encourage people to pray for each person in their church by name. You might suggest a particular Psalm to pray for each other.
“Corporate” prayer can take place over zoom. Ask a prayer warrior or two in your church to lead an online prayer time. You can hold one at lunch time, another in the evening, or morning. Keep record of specific prayers, and take time to praise God for his answers.
Finally, volunteer work has allowed us to make physical connections with people in need–with appropriate distance–when the stay-at-home order is in place. Some of our members are using their extra time to serve at a local food pantry. The pantry lost many volunteers because they are in the age category most at risk of Covid-19 complications. The pantry also has to spend more time packing boxes rather than allowing people in their store-like facility. In addition, some pantries have closed, creating a greater need to be met by fewer volunteers. Friends can volunteer to serve at the same time. They get to love neighbors while making a much-needed personal connection in the process.
In this time of isolation, it is comforting to know that the Spirit of God is not limited. We are free to participate in the work of the body from our own living rooms or food pantries. Let’s provide our congregations with ways to stay connected and to join us in Scripture reading, prayer, and service. What unique ways have you found to be “together” when together is hard?