Be the Church: 8 Ways to Minister During a Pandemic
Don’t just go to church–BE the church.
Have you heard that before?
No matter where you are in the world, your life has probably been affected by COVID-19, the novel strain of coronavirus that has rapidly become a global pandemic. Opinions on the dangers of the virus vary widely on social media, ranging from “It’s basically the flu, but not as deadly,” to “the world’s healthcare systems will be completely overwhelmed and millions of people will die.”
I’ve been following the coronavirus news since January, mostly because we were preparing for a family trip to Asia. I wanted to do my due diligence in being informed about the risks of our travel.
Fast forward to mid-March, and here in Michigan we’ve gone from being spectators of the coronavirus closings all over the world to having all of our K-12 schools and most of our universities emptied out in the space of 4 days.
On Tuesday night (March 10) my pastor husband and I discussed the ethereal “what-ifs” of having our church’s services canceled. If that happened, what how would we do to keep kids and young families connected with our services? What would it be like preaching to an empty sanctuary for a live-streamed sermon? We talked over some ideas and fell asleep. Then, almost unbelievably, less than 24 hours later, the what-ifs were our new reality.
My church is one of MANY affected by these drastic social distancing measures. We don’t have any known confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our little village (at least at this point), and please don’t feel that I’m complaining. I know we have things pretty good right now.
But, here it is, Sabbath morning and I’m not in church. We’re doing worship here at home…watching the livestream, participating in the children’s classes that our dedicated children’s leaders and media team recorded on (very) short notice this week. We’re being blessed by our church leaders, even here at home.
In the Bible, though, the church is referred to as the body of Christ. That body of Christ, folks, is made up of people, not buildings and not church services (online or otherwise).
Church attendance, though a blessing, and although it’s important, is NOT the best measure of our Christianity.
If you have faith and accept Jesus as your personal Savior, you are the church, along with everyone else who does the same.
Seize the Opportunity to Be the Church
Instead of viewing this COVID-19 situation as just a spiritual challenge, we can use it as a spiritual opportunity.
We have an opportunity to BE the church in new ways that we haven’t been, or haven’t thought of, before. Social distancing presents challenges, of course, but certainly should not stop us from ministering to our communities.
Honestly, our clergy and elders cannot do all the ministry that needs to be done on any given day, much less in this time of crisis in our local communities. We should be stepping up and working to be the hands, feet, and other parts of the spiritual body, 1 Corinthians 12-style, that will show Jesus to the people around us.
If you’re not involved in regular ministry, now’s a great time to start. If you are, keep it up! If your ministry has been stopped in its tracks because of COVID-19, roll with it and innovate. Satan wants us to sit at home, lamenting our woes and fearing the virus, or venting our frustrations at our lives being put on hold (in some ways) for no reason. If we do that, he wins this battle.
Faith over Fear
We know, though, that God can turn bad situations into beautiful stories that turn out, ultimately, for good. Genesis 50:20 says, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good…” This verse is composed of the words of Joseph, spoken to his brothers who had, many years earlier sold him in to slavery. A really awful situation, right? But Joseph didn’t wallow in misery. He didn’t just wait for God to rescue him before he started being a living witness to the people around him.
Joseph allowed his faith to shape his response to his bad situation.
Let’s take our cue from Joseph, and do the same.
Want tips for keeping a healthy home while we’re practicing social distancing? Check out the great post by my friend Jacquelyn at A Healthy Home.
8 Ways to Be the Church While Practicing Social Distancing
I have a few ideas for things you can do, and I’ll share them below. Of course you know better than I do the needs of your immediate community and of the people in your sphere of influence, so I’m sure you can come up with your own ideas, too. When you do, I’d love it if you’d share those ideas in the comments below, so that others may be inspired by your thoughts, plans, and continuing ministries to the people around you.
Here are a few ideas for how you can be the church in the face of new social distancing guidelines (in no particular order):
1. Check in with people.
This one is kind of a no-brainer, but when we’re all adjusting to our worlds changing in the space of just a few days, it’s easy to forget that this is happening to other people, too. Call them. FaceTime or Skype them. At least send them a text message! Let people know that you care, that you miss seeing them around, and that they can reach out if they’re feeling isolated or alone. Especially think of elderly and immunocompromised people, single parents, and stay-at-home parents who already struggle with feeling alone a lot of the time. Decreased opportunities for social interaction add to an already intense burden on these populations.
2. Offer to run errands.
Right now my little family is basically self-quarantined because we’re sick. Right now is not the time to be out and about with the sniffles or laryngitis, so we couldn’t get our groceries on Friday like we usually do. But, my sister stepped up and delivered groceries to my doorstep and it was such a blessing to me! When I’m recovered, I’d love to pass along that blessing to someone else who could use it! Can’t shop for someone? Consider getting them a Shipt or Instacart membership for the next month or two, so they can order groceries to be delivered to them. People may also need prescriptions filled and/or picked up, and may feel too vulnerable to do it themselves. If you’re not at risk, do these important things for them! You could be such a blessing to someone in need!
3. Continue your small group (or start one!).
At my church we have about 50 small groups meeting during any given season, and although COVID-19 has disrupted many of our current groups, most of them are carrying on one way or another. If you’re in a warm area, you may be able to take your small group outside where you can continue meeting more safely. Or, think about moving your group discussions to an online platform like Zoom (which has a free version that will work well for most small groups), so that you can meet via video conference from the comfort of your own homes.
Not sure you want to start a small group? I get it. Last September I started co-leading a small group about discipleship parenting with a friend, which is not something I EVER thought I would do. But even for my introverted self, it has been a huge blessing in my life, and has led to really meaningful connections with other moms, some of whom I probably would never have even interacted with if not for our group. Tomorrow my group will be meeting through Facebook live video, and we’ll decide together on where to go from there.
During this time of social distancing, let’s find new ways to connect. Start an group, join an online group, or (even better) come up with a new and improved idea to foster connections.
4. Donate food to kids in need.
One of the huge ramifications of K-12 schools closing all over the place is that many families depend on free or reduced price school lunches to feed their kids 1-2 meals per school day. If these kids don’t go to school, some of those families can’t afford to feed them, and we can help. If you’re here in Berrien County, Backpacks for Berrien is working to provide food to kids in need, and will gladly accept donations of food or money. Wherever you’re located, try checking out your local school system’s website and search out information about how you can help.
5. Provide childcare.
Do you know a parent who can’t work from home, but has nowhere to put their kids because school is out? Offer to watch their kid/s for a day, or two, or three during the workweek while school is not in regular session. Use your best judgment, because social distancing can be tricky with kids, but getting outside with the kiddos will help a lot! Many people will be under huge financial strain if they have to miss work to stay home with their children during this time. If you feel that you can help, go for it.
6. Be a conscientious social media user.
Use your social media channels to encourage, inform, and lift people up. I know these are trying times, and I’m not suggesting we ignore reality and pretend everything is always sunshine and roses. But so much of what I am seeing and hearing on my feeds in the past few days is intensely critical of people making really tough decisions under incredible pressure from a lot of different directions. No need to pretend everything is okay, but we do have a responsibility to show by our love that we are disciples of Jesus (John 13:34-35).
Check out your Twitter and Instagram feeds, your Facebook page, and whatever else you’ve got going on, and see if your social media presence is indicative of the love of Jesus. I’m not trying to say that you should be proselytizing or only posting Bible verse memes. I’m just thinking that we’re going to be better witnesses if we pay attention to the tone and tenor of what we’re choosing to put out there. What you post as a follower of Jesus makes a huge difference in how people (especially those who don’t know Him personally) shape their view of Him–even when you’re not talking about Him at all.
Prayer makes a difference. Our world needs prayer right now. Federal and local governments, healthcare workers and policy makers, teachers and school administrations, clergy and lay church leaders, parents and kids–we all need prayer. Thousands of people are sick, and many more are terrified. All of this and I’m only focusing on issues stemming from the COVID-19 crisis. Obviously there are other enormously important tragedies happening all over the world that have and continue to call for prayer, too.
No matter what your gifts and talents are, you can be a prayer warrior. Decide what/who you want to pray for and do it. Pray tenaciously and with an open heart, and God will hear you. Romans 8:26-27 tells us that even when we aren’t sure what to pray for, or even how to pray, the Holy Spirit transforms our prayers so that they are acceptable to God. We don’t have to be perfect pray-ers to be heard by the Almighty, we just have to be willing.
8. Offer services from your business, or share your expertise.
If you operate a business and can donate your goods or services to fill a need in your community, please do! Do you know a lot about how to use Google classroom or Zoom or another online platform? Teachers may need to master it in order to carry out a transition to e-learning for the next few weeks. Offer to help them learn! Are you a seasoned homeschooler with tips for moms who have no idea what to do with their newly e-learning kids? Share your best tips! I don’t know exactly what it is that you have to offer, but think about it prayerfully, figure it out, and share it!
Social Distancing Does Not Have to Mean Lack of Meaningful Connections
Let’s do what we can as the body of Christ to reach out and make meaningful connections during this tough time. God’s ready to turn this bad thing into an ultimate victory for Him. Are we ready to work for Him, or are we going to stand in His way?
I want to take this opportunity to teach my kids that Christianity isn’t just about going to church. Christianity is about being the church. Being a small, but always significant part of the body of Christ. Each part is important and has a job to do. You do, I do, and so do our little disciple boys and girls!
Love is the best way to show others that we’re serious about Jesus.
Love is the best way to show others that we’re serious about Jesus. Finding ways to love, especially in a time of social distancing, should be a high priority as we strive to introduce our kids, every day, to living with Jesus first in our hearts.
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