By Bob Bickford
Every pastor and church leader I know is wrapping their head around the current realities we find ourselves navigating. With paused public gatherings and limits on private groups, the fear of carrying an unseen contagion capable of harming or killing the vulnerable necessitates we do ministry in ways our experience and education may not have specifically prepared us to handle.
Today, it is abundantly clear how we go about engaging people who live in our communities in need of hope, and the good news of Christ has to adapt.
How do churches (the local body of believers) fulfill the mandate to declare the good news of the gospel when “going” to all people is curtailed by health concerns, discouraged due to risk and dissuaded by public officials?
Here’s how normative-size (less than 199 in average weekend attendance) churches can move forward in engaging people with the gospel during the COVID-19 (the new coronavirus) crisis.
DECENTRALIZED, EMPOWERED AND MOBILIZED
One of the reflexive approaches to addressing the needs of people in our community as a church is to invite them to come to us physically—expressing their need in person, via text, call or email. Then we do our best to meet that need with our resources.
It’s a good approach, but it’s also passive, and it places the burden on the person in need. It could also create frustration and disappointment. If enough people take us up on our offer, we could be overwhelmed and potentially disappoint and tarnish the name of the Church and the reputation of Jesus.
We decentralized our approach by empowering and mobilizing our people as missionaries in their neighborhoods, workplaces and schools. They are closer to people in need, already have relationships with them, hear of needs first-hand and can respond quicker.
We can support them with resources, coaching and encouragement as they require. Now, our people are asking, “Who is near me, and how can I serve them where God has placed me?”
REACH OUT TO PRE-EXISTING RELATIONSHIPS
Last night around midnight, I received an email from one of our ministry partners who work with University students in our town. His request was simple and straightforward: housing for displaced students, storage space and food. I sent two emails the next morning: one to our School Superintendent and another to our City Council and Mayor, offering encouragement and support where possible.
Jesus invites us to do good to our neighbor, loving them as we love ourselves. The word “neighbors” can be interpreted as “near ones”, and after years of cultivating relationships with these neighbors, they are some of the first people who come to mind when I think of those who might need assistance meeting needs.
Relationships are often the conduit from which ministry opportunity and assistance can flow. Which neighbor near you can you and your church reach out to today?
OFFER WHAT YOU HAVE
As a normative congregation, our benevolence fund is smaller than some churches, and our church body is fewer in number. Some members are younger parents with small children, school-age children and college-age children home on break, while others are seasoned saints who are vulnerable and at risk.
We could muster some to serve but certainly not a massive army, but we do have a large facility—specifically a large education building with a wi-fi network. As the weeks wear on and our school district will likely implement remote learning, we’ve offered our many classrooms, which would provide self-contained, private space for those in need of internet access. It’s what we have, and we’re open to sharing it freely if needed.
UNCHARTED TERRITORY WITH JESUS
While we navigate the next weeks and months as the people of God, we can do so with confidence that God will lead us as we follow him, and we can trust that Jesus is with us as we seek to fulfill the last mandate he left his followers:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20, ESV)
Published April 2, 2020