I spent this past week gathering as much information as I could about the Coronavirus in an effort to figure out how to conduct church services in a reasonably safe way. I also met with our church deacons Tuesday night and with a small group of pastors Friday morning. Both meetings were about one question: “Should we continue to have church services during this pandemic?”
I wish everyone could have sat in on that pastors meeting. That way everyone would understand and appreciate not only how much us pastors loathe cancelling church but also our motivations for that loathing. It’s not about our egos, our desire for the spotlight, or our fear that we might lose a paycheck. What it’s all about is our concern for Christ’s church, the people that comprise it, and this nation itself. As I said in that meeting, “Isn’t it awful that in this time of national crisis (pestilence), a time when our churches ought to be full as we seek God’s help, they are empty?”
The topics we kicked around in that meeting were definitely a mixed “box of chocolates.” For example, we talked about the option of forging ahead with regular services and having faith that God will keep our people safe. We talked about having our congregations meet in multiple rooms and getting the sermon feed into those rooms, the idea being that more space will allow our members to keep a six-foot separation between themselves. We talked about setting up loud speakers and letting people sit in their cars and listen to the sermon. We talked about letting people bring their camping chairs and sit in our church yards as they listen. We even talked about the best way to disinfect and sanitize a pew without ruining the varnish on it. Now there’s a conversation I never expected to have!
Here are some other topics that got mentioned:
- Hebrews 10:25 does tell Christians to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, but it doesn’t say to do so in the midst of a pestilence.
- Our elderly members, who by all accounts are the most susceptible to the Coronavirus, will be the first ones in attendance if church is held.
- Those older members are the same ones who are the least likely to have internet access and be able to watch a sermon online.
- If some people get out of the “routine” of attending church, they will never get back into church.
- If those people don’t come back, are they genuine Christians anyway?
- Could this virus be God’s way of separating the “wheat” from the “tares” (Matthew 13:24-30, 34-43) in His church to get us back to a spiritually purer membership?
- Is this virus God’s way of testing the church to see just how much faith we have?
Friday night one of the pastors followed up our meeting by texting out a link to an article written by Michael Brown, who is a well known pastor, theologian, and Christian radio host. The article was a good read on the subject of whether or not to have church in the midst of a pandemic. Here are three quotes from it:
…even if I am not concerned about my own health, I run the risk of becoming infected and carrying the virus to someone else. And so, when hundreds of us gather together for a church service, unless we can guarantee that every person there has sufficient faith not to be infected, then our gathering presents a health hazard to others. That’s why I do not see this as an infringement of our rights as much as an opportunity to love my neighbor.
…It is also wisdom that shows us what to do. That’s why, when we are driving on the highway and there are ice patches forming all over the road, we slow down. That’s why, when there is a hurricane coming, we shutter up the windows. That’s also why we lock our doors at night. And why we don’t let our 5-year-old child wander around the neighborhood. It’s called wisdom.
If and when the government illegitimately seeks to steal our rights, we will stand up and say, “We must obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29). This, however, is not that time.
Lastly, let me mention one other topic that we addressed in that meeting of pastors. One of the men offered the legitimate criticism that the actions of the church during this pandemic have really not been all that different from the actions of the world at large. While I agreed with his assessment, I likened the situation to the church being in a boxing match and getting hit with a haymaker punch in the opening seconds of the fight. As the old saying in boxing goes, “Everybody has a plan until they get hit.” Well, we got hit with a devastating right hand thrown by the Coronavirus and it addled us, knocked us off our game plan, and forced us to either lay down and take a count-out or get up and try a new plan.
Thankfully, that latter option is what’s happening in churches all across America as we are putting in the effort to figure out how to “do church” in this strange new society the virus has created. We’re streaming sermons online. We’re posting helpful things on Facebook. We’re writing blog posts. We’re writing articles. We’re doing podcasts. We’re sending out group texts. We’re using Twitter and Instagram. Seriously, it’s a great thing to see because if there is one thing our churches tend to struggle with it’s ministering in fresh and creative ways. So, in that sense, God is bringing good out of the Coronavirus just like He promises to do in Romans 8:28, and He’s still ministering through His church just like He promises to do in Matthew 16:18. For that I’m grateful and truly amazed at just how resilient (and dare I say resourceful) the church can be. It’s just a shame that it takes something like this virus to force us out of our comfort zones and get us there.