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Strengthen: Observations of churches in a pandemic

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic (late in March, which seems likes years ago), author Andy Crouch wrote an article raising the question if the pandemic was a going to be a blizzard, winter or short ice age. We now know six months into this “long winter” that it was definitely not a blizzard, and we pray not the beginning of an ice age.

We are all too familiar with the challenges COVID has brought to our world, but I do not think COVID caused these challenges as much as it magnified them. Most of the problems being faced were already there, and the pandemic has simply exposed and escalated them.

These challenges have been particularly evident in the church and appear to be causing a great deal of pressure on pastors and church leadership. Here are few observations and suggestions regarding how we walk together in the body of Christ.

First, my observation is that people are not as much frightened of COVID as they are frustrated by it.  The time spent with much of life shutdown, the disruption to normal patterns of life and the uncertainty of the future has people on edge. They can’t yell at their boss, better not yell at their spouse, but don’t seem to mind speaking harsh words to their pastor or another member of their church family.

I’m heartbroken at some of things that I have heard said to pastors and fellow church members in the past months in person and on social media. Here’s a suggestion, try praying for your pastor or fellow church member before pointing out the problem or passing judgment on them.

There may be something that legitimately needs to be addressed, but I want to make sure I do it with the right motive and in the right spirit. Prayer prepares my heart for that conversation, and the Lord often convinces me just to wait before I say anything.

Second, being the pastor of a church is a difficult job in the best and easiest of times, but it is especially hard in this season. I don’t know of a pastor who took a “leading during a pandemic” class in seminary.  The reality is, there is no playbook for this situation, and pastors, rightfully, feel very ill equipped to lead in this season.

Pastors can never please everyone, but today, it is becoming increasingly difficult to please anyone. In more than 30 years of ministry, I have never seen anything as polarizing as the opinions regarding our response as a church to this season.

Most pastors are treading very lightly as they seek to lead the church in uncharted waters. Here are a couple of suggestions to consider. Remember that there are no quick and easy answers to the issues of our day. Make every effort to extend grace and mercy to your pastor and support him. Make an intentional effort to encourage your pastor. A kind note, pat on the back and encouraging words will go a long way to lift him up. I promise you, he needs it now.

Third, when we emerge from the thaw of the COVID winter or ice age, will the church recognize or realize what God was trying to show us in this season? Some people have talked about God wanting to use this time to call the church to revival and prepare us for His return. I don’t disagree with either of those ideas, but I’m afraid we have been more focused on the storm than its significance.

Personally, I fear that I have spent more time and energy on responding to the crisis than being responsive to Christ. I am concerned that I have been more focused on regathering people in buildings than praying for revival in the body of Christ. In recent days I have been reminded of this great Biblical principle: without repentance there will be no revival.

We are eager for God to restore, but I’m not sure that we have practiced repentance. I’m praying that the Lord would continue to break my heart and the hearts of people—that we turn from trusting in what we can do and rely on Him. I’m convinced God is using this to gain our attention, and I pray we will respond with humble obedience.

James Swain

Author: James Swain

James Swain is the Associate Executive Director for Church Relations, Oklahoma Baptists

View more articles by James Swain.

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Like so many other organizations around the state and country, Oklahoma Baptists are closely monitoring news and information about the spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus).Learn More Here.
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