By Joel Rainey
Over the past month, I’ve been amazed at the resilience and flexibility of churches and church leaders. In a day when most of our churches can’t physically meet for worship and ministry, most pastors have proven their ability to pivot and provide.
At my church, our staff team has worked both tirelessly and with unparalleled excellence to ensure our people continue to be served and equipped. I’m incredibly proud of them.
At the same time, as I said to them just last week, that was the easy part. What comes next—especially as our nation prepares for the worst of this outbreak in the coming days—will be much harder.
And yet, there are some things a church and community need during times like these that pastors can provide. Here are four things your church—and the community you and they serve together—are going to need from you.
1. A non-anxious presence
When we minister in situations like marital conflict, addiction, or financial hardship, most often we have the luxury of being outside observers to the crisis.
In a global pandemic, we have no such luxury. Everything from the fear of catching the disease to economic uncertainty follows us home every night.
I’ve been tempted a few times to allow that anxiety to take root in my own mind as I think of everyone from my wife and children to my aging, and thus vulnerable, parents three states away.
Thankfully, being the non-anxious presence doesn’t require me to deny my anxieties or concerns. But it does require me to process these things in healthy ways.
When our people find themselves in emotional turmoil, they need a presence that brings them calm. This requires a listening ear and a reassuring tone.
When we’re so filled with the peace of God that we can provide that presence, we remind our people of Jesus, who slept in a boat rocked by a strong storm while everyone around him was going to pieces—and who spoke “peace” to that storm.
In a moment like this one, with no shortage of drama and upheaval, our people need a non-anxious presence.
Since this crisis began, the public has heard from every perspective, from ambivalence to alarmism.
Early dismissals of this crisis as a “hoax” have turned out to be dangerous to human life, while a constant stream of “breaking news” from some media members does nothing but encourage panic and continuous unrest.
Pastors can be a conduit of reliable information that recognizes the seriousness of the situation on the one hand and empowers rather than frightens on the other.
So be sure you’re getting sound, accurate information from state and local authorities, and health officials in the know.
At our church, we had a team of medical professionals (a physician, a nurse, and a nursing professor) who assembled a FAQ document that was simple, and which gave our congregation all the information they needed to protect themselves.
In this case, fellow brothers and sisters who were known and trusted gave expert information that equipped our people for this moment.
If those resources don’t exist within your church, find them in your immediate community. Cooperate with health officials and local government authorities to get the right information to the people who need it.
Knowledge is power, and this kind of knowledge can save lives and instill confidence.
We pastors are already well-acquainted with grief. We deal with it every time we preach a funeral, every time a rebellious child runs away, and every time addiction takes a life.
But what we’re about to face is a level of grief unprecedented in our lifetimes, and it must be met with a level of compassion equal to the moment.
If your congregation loses someone to COVID-19, you won’t just be ministering to a grieving family. You’ll be doing so in a time when the entire planet is engulfed in sadness.
It’s one thing to pray with the wife who has just lost her husband—as I just did last week. It’s another to have that conversation when no more than a few can attend the funeral.
Prepare yourself spiritually and emotionally for what’s coming, because compassion has never been more needed.
4. God-centered preaching
So much modern preaching—especially in the U.S.—has focused on a type of “practical teaching” that provides listeners with “5 steps to a happy life.” That type of preaching has been exposed by moments like this to be as trite as it really is.
Sometimes, there are no “easy steps.” Sometimes, there aren’t even any clear answers. But there’s always a sovereign God.
And just as in the multiple stories in Scripture, when this God chooses not to provide the answers, He always provides Himself! Let your preaching reflect the greatness—and goodness—of this God!
For the past four weeks, I’ve told our people repeatedly, “This is going to end!” I believe that. I look forward to that day, and I’ve encouraged our people to speak hopefully about when that day comes.
I’m ready for handshakes, hugs, and high-fives again. I’m ready to watch with joyful tears as the grandparents in my congregation get to pick up their grandchildren in our church foyer for the first time in months. What a day that will be!
Still, there’s a greater moment I’ve told our people we should be more anxious for: That day when the eastern sky splits, and Jesus brings an end to this present world and all its sickness and death.
After that day, there’ll be no more days like we now face. And only our great God can bring that day. Now more than ever, point your people and your community to Him—and do it every single Sunday!
Your people may not even realize it, but these are the things they need most at this moment from their pastor.
I pray you’ll be faithful in this moment, for the good of your church, the flourishing of your community, and the glory of our God.
JOEL RAINEY (@joelrainey) is Lead Pastor of Covenant Church in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. He’s husband to Amy, father of three, serves on the adjunct faculty of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, is the author of four books, and blogs at Themelios.