COVID-19 and church planting
The pandemic is exposing the need for greater application of the gospel in our lives and our church communities
I could never have anticipated the extent to which COVID-19 would disrupt the lives of countless people, both sick and well, throughout the world. At the time of writing (in late March), churches are trying to figure out how to care for their members and carry on their God-given mission when they are unable to gather together for corporate worship or in other ways.
But perhaps this season is a divinely orchestrated opportunity to reevaluate the health of our churches. I have been praying for God’s mercy and the alleviation of suffering around the world. At the same time, as someone involved in local church planting, I have been praying about and reflecting on what the Lord wants to show me through this season for our church.
COVID-19 exposes the health of our hearts
Our kids have been out of school for several weeks now. It has been great to spend more time together as a family, going on long bike rides, playing games, etc. But, as we are encouraged to practice social distancing and I’m staying inside with them more, I find myself sinning more by my impatience, irritability, and anger toward my family. Can you relate? The current circumstances bring more of the residual sin in my heart to the surface, and I am confronted once again with my desperate need for God’s rescue. I need God’s transforming work by the gospel through repentance and faith, and I am learning to apply the truths of the gospel in this area of my life. I am hearing similar struggles when I talk to church members via Zoom, and I suspect others people, including non-Christian friends in our community, are experiencing much of the same. Perhaps two of the best ways I can serve our community as I pray for this pandemic to pass is to:
- Continue to pray for and seek gospel transformation in my own heart and
- To find ways to encourage others by speaking the gospel to them in love.
COVID-19 exposes the health of our relationships
“I’m turning 50 this year, and I don’t know how many more years I have left,” a non-Christian friend confided in me recently. “I find myself wondering why I’m doing what I’m doing.” I don’t know if he was prompted by the current situation or just by the realization that he is getting older. Either way, I’m glad he felt comfortable enough to share this with me and that I could share how his story intersects with God’s story. This is a man who had told me several times in the past that he would never become a Christian. But he has been coming to our Sunday gathering weekly since the beginning of this year and even participating in our Zoom Sunday worship gathering since we started meeting virtually. It has taken several years for him to get to this place—years of his wife’s faithful prayer and gospel witness, as well as our community spending seemingly mundane and non-spiritual quantity time with him and seeking to demonstrate the gospel through words and deeds. Even if it takes years, we want to continue to cultivate deep relationships with our non-Christian friends in our community, so that in a season like this, when people feel fearful and anxious, we are close enough to offer them the hope they need through the gospel.
And what about relationships in the church? Do people in our churches know each other well enough to give and receive help from one another even when we can’t gather on Sundays? Is each member in a close relationship with at least one or two others so that they can receive prayer, support, and encouragement and can continue to mature in Christ? Can the work of disciple-making continue without a large-group gathering? I value the public preaching of God’s Word, sacraments, and corporate singing and prayer. These are all means of God’s grace to his people for their discipleship. But gathering on Sunday alone is insufficient to foster the kind of relationships in which life-on-life discipleship happens. Perhaps the current season of not being able to have normal Sunday gatherings is an opportunity for churches to review their disciple-making strategies and make sure there is a pathway for each member to be in discipleship relationships with others.
Regardless of the current situation, I want to keep praying for my own heart transformation by the gospel and helping others to do the same. I want to continue to cultivate deeper relationships with a few individuals inside and outside the church while continuing to pray for opportunities to show and share the gospel with them, trusting that Jesus will keep building his church.