By Matt Crawford
This period of social distancing during the COVID-19 crisis is unprecedented for our generation. It is difficult as a society, and it is particularly painful for the body of Christ, who are called to assemble themselves together on a regular basis.
Although this distancing isn’t normal for us, it’s the right thing to do for a period of time in order to protect our church members and to love our neighbors well through limiting the spread of the disease.
That being said, Scripture calls us to “Pay careful attention, then, to how you live—not as unwise people but as wise—making the most of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16).
Pastors have to pay attention, considering how to live wisely and to make the most of the time God has given them.
The Lord is sovereign. He isn’t at all surprised by COVID-19, and He’s given us this moment in which to lead his people and to press on in the Great Commission.
I truly believe God is using this crisis in powerful ways, both to open the hearts of unbelievers through their realization of their human frailty, and to focus His people on what is most important.
Discipleship in the church doesn’t stop while we’re socially distanced. The mission of Christ doesn’t stop while we’re separated through concern for the spread of illness.
In fact, in the current environment when so many are drawing back and turning inward in response to the crisis, the church can stand out even more through her love and care.
If you lead your church members to be proactive within their communities right now, who knows how the Lord will use that to bring about a harvest of souls?
Who knows what individuals who were formerly hardened to the gospel might be softened to it through your members offering care, especially during a time when so many are operating with concern only for themselves and their own families?
Another hidden blessing in this moment for the church is that all of God’s people are forced to think of themselves as missionaries in their communities, rather than just relying on their neighbors hearing the gospel from pastors in a large gathering.
Large gatherings aren’t happening right now, and Ephesians 4:12 makes clear that pastors are to be “equipping the saints for the work of ministry.”
Your people can still have an impact in small groups—with their neighbors and coworkers, people they meet in the grocery store, and within their own families—as they make the most of the time they’ve been given in this unique situation.
Try Something New
In my ministry context, we had an important staff meeting early this week, just as the COVID-19 crisis ramped up.
Our lead pastor took the initiative to encourage us to be creative and to use this opportunity to try new things in ministry. He challenged us to see this as a time when our ministries could thrive instead of just limping along.
This week, our entire staff was required to turn in a list of ideas on how they can leverage the unique opportunities we currently have to serve our church and community.
Here are some practical thoughts and tips that I’ve drawn from those conversations and plans:
1. Be proactive.
As you lead your staff and volunteers, don’t just see this as a time to coast until the storm passes by.
God is working good out of this crazy time for His people (Romans 8:28). He has often used crises in the world to cause unbelievers to look outside themselves for help. Don’t miss that opportunity!
Consider requiring your staff to turn in a ministry plan during this period of social distancing, so that your team contributes to gospel advance in these difficult days.
2. Be creative.
Many churches that have canceled services are livestreaming services online. But how else could you use this medium? Discipleship groups can continue to meet via video conferencing.
Our church’s kids ministry created a special Facebook group in the midst of this crisis, and they are pushing out creative resources for parents to continue to disciple their kids—especially in light of how much time they are spending with them at home.
My friend Fayez Ayoub, pastor of North Florida Baptist Church in Tallahassee, is using Facebook to provide a daily devotional called “Lunch Break” every day at 12:30.
You could do something like this—studying through a book of the Bible day-by-day, walking them through a Christian book that will help them grow, or leading them in guided prayers.
Your people are going to need extra encouragement, and this time provides you an exceptional opportunity to let people know you care.
3. Be consistent.
Count the cost before you announce that you’re going to do a series of videos online, or whatever your plan may be. If you tell your people that you’re going to do something, follow through on it with consistency and quality.
Making those online interactions about the same length of time is also important; that will improve the consistency with which your people participate.
4. Be systematic.
The longer our society is subjected to social distancing, the more likely the effects will be widespread. People are losing jobs, facing anxiety and extreme uncertainty, and they’re increasingly isolated.
But many of them won’t take the initiative to reach out to you, their small group leaders, or other church members.
You have to lead your church members in taking initiative on reaching out—whether through texting, phone calls, FaceTime/Skype, or all of the above.
This is especially relevant for your deacon ministry, but it is likely going to need to be an all-hands-on-deck situation, with staff, elders, deacons, and key volunteers working through lists of church members.
Those contacts should involve:
- A general check-in to see how they’re doing
- Asking if they have specific needs with which the church can help
- An update on the church’s current schedule and response to the crisis
- A time of prayer together
- Clear communication of the church’s love and care for them and their family
If our period of social distancing is extended, you should work multiple times through your list of church members.
5. Be strategic.
Use this time to work ahead. As hard as it is, put down the news updates on your phone and use this time to knock out important projects you’ve pushed to the back burner.
Plan future sermons now so when normal community interaction is restored, you can get out of the office and connect with people for the sake of discipleship and the mission of Christ.
You might put staff members on long-delayed projects around the church campus—cleaning out and organizing things to make your ministry more efficient and effective.
And be strategic and intentional in your community involvement during this time.
For example, our church is financially partnering with a local food bank in order to help feed kids in our city who normally eat two meals a day at their public school.
6. Pray, and lead your people to pray.
We worship the same God who performed all the miracles of healing in the Bible. His “arm is not too weak to save, and his ear is not too deaf to hear” (Isaiah 59:1).
Beg God to send his mercy on humanity, and ask him to use this crisis to bring many to faith in Christ.
Lead your people to pray for their neighbors and the nations, and watch God use this crisis to give them a heart that beats for the Great Commission even when we aren’t social distancing.
Like you, I look forward to the day we can be together again as God’s people, hug one another, and worship Him as the gathered body of Christ.
But until then, let’s make the most of this difficult but unique opportunity to demonstrate God’s power and love.
MATT CRAWFORD (@matcrawford) is the east campus pastor at City Church Tallahassee.