Our American culture is in the throes of concern over the Coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic. As I write, people are purchasing household items and food at alarming rates, leaving store shelves empty of some basic goods. Whether our fears are realized or not, people feel this anxiety acutely.
The concerns over the spread of this virus are leading government officials to close or encourage the cancellation of large-group meetings, including church services. Churches are full of people in the age categories and health conditions that make them susceptible to this virus, making church gatherings especially complicated for them. Even if your church meets over the next few Sundays, the vulnerable are wise to keep themselves home.
As I process the political wrangling, cultural upheaval, and scientific pronouncements, at the end of the day I am a pastor charged with the spiritual health of a congregation. Are there ways through this for a pastor and faithful congregation? Instead of mirroring our cultural reactions, what responses are wise? What kinds of responses are good for us and our neighbors? How can we even glorify God?
For pastors, leadership is an expression of theology. Here are some ideas on discipleship and ways to minister to those who are most vulnerable.
Take Cues from Our History
Christians have been here before, and we can take comfort and wisdom from the actions of those who faced these kinds of things well. During the first 100 years or so of the early church, there are letters written by Roman governors during times of plague talking about the behavior of this strange new group of people, Christians. The letters talk about how Christians stayed behind in infected towns to take care of the sick. At least one letter laments the lack of compassion by the Romans while Christians were taking care of everyone, not just their own.
The Roman world had no healthcare system as we know it today. In fact, if you are grateful for a robust and stable healthcare system, you have your Christian heritage to thank. Two thousand years ago Christians stepped in where the culture around them stepped out. We can do the same today.
Encourage Wisdom Over Neglect
Encourage your congregation to be smart and follow CDC guidelines. If you are sick, stay home. If you are really sick, consult your doctor. Wash your hands and follow good hygienic practices. Try to pay more attention to good science and epidemiology than social media worry. Christians believe in the power of both prayer and soap.
Be Attentive to the Vulnerable
Encourage tangible action and neighbor-love. Do we have neighbors who could use some help? This can be an actual neighbor, family member or friend, or someone we know at church who may be in a compromised health situation, homebound, or suffering from overwhelming anxiety. Call them. Ask them if there are things they need. Encourage them and pray with them. Don’t perpetuate anxiety but help them “cast their anxieties on God” (1 Peter 5:7) and “pray about everything” (Philippians 4:6).
If you are buying supplies, buy some for others as well. Find a balance between being wisely prepared and hoarding. Hoarding takes resources from others and encourages a cycle of panic. Take supplies to the homebound or sick and set them outside their doors. Your church may even want to consider making this a budget item for the next several weeks.
Use Technology to Your Advantage
Many of the people in your congregation are glued to their phones and social media feeds looking for information and wisdom. This is a chance to be proactive with Scripture, responsible information, and prayer. We have an opportunity to turn people’s attention toward Christ and discipleship right now.
Post Scripture and brief commentary. Take encouraging Psalms, Paul’s thoughts in Philippians 4:4-9, or Christ’s teaching on being salt and light to our world “so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16), and use them as unifying thoughts for your congregation.
Post prayers and prayer requests. There are people in your congregation who are sick and/or homebound and who can use some spiritual attention from their brothers and sisters in Christ. Encourage them by activating the hospitality and prayer of your congregation.
Encourage Faith over Fear
We want to know how to respond as followers of Christ, not followers of a currently divided culture. Right now, the cultural response contains a lot of fear and political wrangling. We need to be wary of both. Fear doesn’t stay at fear, it quickly turns into anxiety, stress, selfishness, and even anger. None of these glorify God. None of these are fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).
Immerse Yourself in Prayer
There will be those in our culture who mock this step, but that’s OK. They don’t know Jesus like we do. In fact, we should pray for them (Matthew 5:44).
Pray for the sick and vulnerable. Pray for families who have lost loved ones and for an end to this pandemic.
Pray for wisdom for our leaders on every level—city, county, state, and national. There are plenty of decisions being made on international levels that need our prayer as well.
Pray for our healthcare workers. They are first responders in situations like these.
Pray for people to find Christ. God can make use of situations like these to create cracks in the hopes we place in human institutions and turn our hearts toward Him.
Pray for God to be glorified. In all things and at all times, God is good and great. God does not cause evil, but He is always greater than the evil and brokenness around us. We don’t need to know exactly how this can happen, but we can pray that God will work all things together for His glory.