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THE COVID-19 CHURCH CHALLENGE: Doing Church Will Change

Updated on March 22, 2020

“A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences” (Proverbs 22:3).

Who among us hasn’t been exposed to these following experiences? Our local stores emptied of hand sanitizer, canned food, toilet paper, and water. Fights erupting over the sale of limited supplies of face masks. Anger arising over congregations choosing to continue to gather for worship, prompting local communities to accuse the church of not being socially responsible.

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) has spread rapidly from Asia to Europe and North America over the past week, bringing with it a level of panic and angst— everywhere from the supermarket to the stock market to the local church—not seen in recent times. To date, the global count has risen to more than 200,000 infected, while the death toll has topped 8,000.

Our way of doing church will change. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic challenge, I encourage you to hold tight to what is sacred—and hold everything else loosely. Why? It is because congregations are creatures of habit. Churches are built on traditions, liturgies, and the order of worship. Over time, the line between what is fundamental to the faith and what is merely a traditionally-conditioned response gets blurred in every church.

Do the Communion elements have to be actual wine and unleavened bread to count as holy? If you don’t actually lay hands but speak to someone via cell phone, are your prayers for healing still effective? Does a church have to gather in the flesh in order to count as a congregation?

Every church, and every member of our church, will have different views on such often-undiscussed questions. The COVID-19 pandemic presents a chance where we catch our breath and take inventory of our doctrinal position. And every church board and pastoral staff team across the United States has been in contact with each other to grapple with what is flexible and what is non-negotiable in the eyes of God.

As a pastor, the biggest challenge for me has been navigating our church through the un-chartered waters between fear and wisdom. It is especially tough as fear often has a way to mask itself as wisdom.

The question is, “How many precautionary measures that are presented come across as sound judgment and how many preventive actions are too much, that they cross the border into irrational fear and anxiety?”

The wisdom of Proverbs 22:3 challenged me to think on my feet and chart a course through this unprecedented pandemic: “A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.”

By definition, a prudent person acts with or shows care and thought for the future. Are we being a prudent church in actively participating in a community effort to secure the health of everyone? And are we rapidly responding with a prescribed practical program to stop the spread of COVID-19?

Indeed, these are tough waters to navigate, as we have to attend to the two pressing issues: First, address the safety of our members by way of prescribing and abiding to the recommended medical health measures; and second, avoid having to yield to the cultural climate of fear, anxiety, and self-preservation.

Bottom line, we want to ensure our church family that we are not just communicating a biblical response, but also casting a vision for how to be the people of God in such a time as this.

In practical terms, a church’s response will vary depending on its biblical doctrine, local context, and imminent exposure to suspected cases of COVID-19. There is no correct answer. This outbreak will reveal the character of every church. In the midst of change, we are learning how to do church. Let us look to God and prayerfully seeking his wisdom for the most biblical and applicable response during these extraordinary times.

Lord God, based on the challenging crisis before us, allow our church family to remain sensitive to our local context and lead us to respond in a biblical way which is according to your word.

As this outbreak will reveal our character as a church, remind us that we will make you known in our lives in the way we handle the crisis through the strength you supply us.

In the midst of change, teach us how to be your church in the world, as we look to you and prayerfully seeking your wisdom for the most biblical and applicable response in such an extraordinary time as this. Amen.

© 2020 Gicky Soriano


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