It has been an interesting couple of weeks. Only a month ago, many of us had never heard of self-isolation or social distancing . Now we long for the day when they disappear from our vocabulary. Yesterday, thousands of pastors appeared (or at least attempted to appear) on the internet, trying the best they could to minister God’s word to people they love but cannot be with. It is most certainly an interesting time unlike anything most of us have experienced before.
The internet is abuzz with ways to ‘survive’ COVID-19. My intention is not to compete with them, but rather to give you a few principles to help you walk wisely through this strange season.
1. Seek appropriate Gospel community
Before you jump to conclusions that I am not taking socially distancing seriously, hear me out. I am not suggesting we ignore the government regulations and hold a Sunday morning service. Yet I am suggesting that we cannot take a 3-month hiatus on all Christian fellowship. The gospel calls us out of isolation and alienation into reconciliation and relationship, not just with God, but with His people. We are going to have to be creative about forming this since the church is not allowed to formally facilitate it; but the presence circumstances do not nullify the biblical exhortation to live in gospel community together. So get creative and think about how you can ‘encourage one another and build one another up’ (1 Thes. 5:11) and ‘stimulate one another to love and good deeds’ (Heb. 10:24).
2. Maintain your spiritual disciplines
When we are jolted out of our normal routines, we usually respond in one of two ways spiritually: 1) we draw closer to the Lord; or 2) because we were already spiritually adrift, it finishes driving us from the Lord. If you are reading this, that probably means you desire the first. Since the normal means of church life in our culture have been temporarily taken off the table, it is vital that you be proactive in your spiritual care. Each of us should be spending time in prayer and Scripture study every day. We also need to be exercising our spiritual gifts to serve the body (in a social distancing sort of way of course, haha!) and actively working to share the gospel.
3. Be attentive to the needs of others.
This Sunday we will be examining John 15:12-15, which reminds us of the importance of loving one another. Again, the easy means by which we interact, learn of needs, and meet them are presently not available. But that does not nullify the command to love one another. In fact, now is the time when the strength of our belief will be shown. How we love one another is an incredible witness to the watching world. We need wisdom and discretion to know how to do this well, but we must learn to do it, for the sake of the gospel and for the spiritual thriving of our church family.
4. Maximize the extra time with your family
Our entertainment based, consumeristic culture is being forced to slow down and stay home. This is good for us. Leverage the cancellation of all extra-curricular activities for the good of your family. You have extra time, so be sure to include daily family worship in your schedule. If this isn’t a normal part of your family routine, now is a great time to form that habit. Not only that, but play games, interact with one another, and make fun family memories. You could view your kids being home as a burden to be endured, or as an opportunity to spend extra time with them. I encourage you to view it as the later and intentionally redeem the time.
5. Limit your social media intake
I have selected the words of that heading carefully. I am not telling you to turn off all technology or abandon your social media accounts. But I do think you need to limit the amount of time you spend on them. I think this is always true, but especially in a time of global fear. Social mediums like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. rarely accurately portray reality, and the mainstream media’s non-stop coverage does not always paint an accurate picture of what is really going on. Stay aware and connected, but don’t live on your phone, computer, or TV. Your life will be better for it.
6. Recognize the generational gap
I want to identify something I have observed as I have watched this develop and interacted with many people over the last week. Younger adults have far different attitudes than older adults towards our present circumstances. There are a lot of reasons for that. Personally, I think that both sides have some legitimate thoughts and concerns, which I am not going to get into here. I highlight this so that each of us is aware that not everyone feels the same way about COVID-19 and how it is affecting us. So don’t assume that everyone in the church family is thinking the same way you are. If someone is more concerned than you, do not assume that they are functioning in fear; and conversely, don’t assume that someone who is less concerned than you is being foolish. Instead, listen to one another, be gracious, and be careful. Now is a time for unity, love, and understanding, not social or political debate.
7. Realize that this is not forever
I read an article about a week ago arguing that the sudden suspension of corporate gatherings was the ‘new normal’ for the North American church. The article went on to describe how the church experience you all had yesterday, coupled with small groups, is the way forward. Not only do I disagree with this theologically, I also find the rhetoric unnecessary. I do not pretend to know how long this is going to last, but I do know that the complete shutdown of society cannot last forever. From a church standpoint, this is a very inconvenient season in which we must greatly adjust our approach to church life. But it is just that, a season. Like all seasons, it will pass, and life will press on. The current abnormality is not the new course of life.
8. Is this the end?
Every time global events like this happen, people wonder if this is the birth pangs Scripture says will happen just before Jesus returns. It is natural and even good for us to ask that question; but we need to realize that we cannot answer it with certainty. Would a global pandemic fit nicely into what the Bible says will happen at the end? Absolutely! But as I reminded you on Sunday, this is by no means the first time the world has experienced something like this. To date, this is not nearly as serious as some previous seasons of suffering on the globe. Believers in those times thought it was the end too. So take those kind of projections with a grain of salt, and realize that regardless of whether this is the end or not, it doesn’t change our purpose (to glorify God and enjoy Him forever) or mission (to make disciples of all nations). If we will focus on them, we will thrive in any season of life.
9. Pray for wisdom
My last encouragement is that you pray for wisdom. Each of us needs wisdom to navigate this well. We need wisdom to conduct our homes for God's glory. The elders and deacons need wisdom to make good decisions for the church. I have a little secret for you…they don’t teach you how to deal with this stuff in seminary! I know every pastor preaching on some media medium yesterday tried to put their happy face on and act like their church isn't going to miss a beat; but I also know that they are wrestling on the inside. The concerns of the day with the myriad of opinions about it are pushing the limits of their leadership capacities. Church leaders need your prayers! And so do our governing authorities. They are there by God’s divine appointment, and regardless of how you feel about their leadership, they deserve your prayers. They are in a hard place and must make hard decisions. So pray for them to have wisdom to make the right decisions knowing that no matter what decision they make, some will not like it.
This is the time and place God has ordained for us. He gives us the grace we need each day to walk faithfully before Him. Although our present circumstances are not what we would choose for ourselves, God has seen fit to bring us into a time such as this. So let us walk in the light as He is in the light and be ambassadors of the gospel to the watching world. May God be glorified in all we think, say, and do.