Ever hear someone say “church isn't a building, it's the people?” Well, that sentiment was on full display this past weekend as the coronavirus crisis hit home for many. Churches throughout the country shut their doors to physical gatherings and moved to online services in order to reduce the spread of the virus. Social media feeds filled with images of families gathered together around a computer or television screen to worship God. People still came together — without a building — to “be the church” and seeing all those images online was a welcome respite from the panic-driven behavior that most of us have witnessed after Covid-19 was declared a global pandemic.
You can say that the time for the church to awaken is now.
Here at Newbreak, our mission statement is “connecting people with God, through authentic relationships, to serve communities.” We believe that one of the ways we can serve our communities during this crisis is by limiting physical gatherings where the most vulnerable in our population may be exposed to a deadly virus. Gathering together online will be our reality for the next few weeks. Instead of being a cause for concern, we can be grateful for the opportunity to use technology to create community.
At the same time, we are all facing restrictions on our activities over the next few weeks. Kids are home from school, large meetings and events are cancelled, grocery stores are limiting hours and purchases to try to keep up with demand. Fear and panic are driving a lot of behavior and decisions. And public officials warn it will likely get worse before it gets better. Each day's news brings information about additional closures.
At times like this, what is the role of the church? Is there a way for us to “be the church” in new and practical ways during this time? Here are some thoughts on what we can all do right now.
Lead with facts not fear.
From people speculating that the coronavirus was spread as a political conspiracy to preposterous advice to drink bleach to avoid catching the coronavirus, we face plenty of opportunities to respond in fear. Okay, so maybe you aren't prone to worry in the face of the ridiculous. But perhaps you are facing some pretty real challenges and questions that can create legitimate angst: What if I can't go to work? Will I still get paid? How will I take care of my kids now that they are home from school? What if I catch the virus? Will my business be able to survive a lack of customers?
These are real questions many of us have to face. And the fact that many of these questions do not have ready answers is what causes worry and fear. But that is precisely why Jesus told us taught us how to handle worry. Read Jesus' words from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:25-34. Two ideas from that passage are specifically helpful for us in our current situation.
“Worry does not change anything.”
Jesus asked the question “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Matthew 6:27 Applied to our current reality, this question could be rephrased as “can any of our worrying prevent the virus from spreading?” “Can our fear protect our finances during this crisis?” “Can spinning out in anxiety stock our grocery stores with supplies?” No, of course not. Our worry does not change anything. And for people who like to think we are in control of our lives, this is a very hard reality to face. The truth, though, is that we are up against a situation none of us can control. That is not easy to accept!
“Fear about tomorrow does not help us today.”
Jesus ended His teaching about worry by saying “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34. At times like this when the reality we all face changes day by day, it is tempting to be fearful about what will happen next week, next month, or even just the next day. However, this robs us of our ability to take action in the only moment we actually have: today.
It is not a coincidence that just a few verses earlier, Jesus taught His followers to pray “Give us today our daily bread” Matthew 6:11. When situations are changing moment-by-moment, we need all of our effort and energy focused on what is immediately before us today. Asking God for daily provision flies in the face of our propensity to want to stockpile supplies during this crisis. While preparation is wise, God wants us to trust that He has our back. And that trust is built at times like this when we resist the desire to hoard and panic and instead trust that each and every day, God will direct us to what we need. Am I trusting in my supply of food that will last me for the next 9 months, or am I trusting in God?
Be creative in serving others.
We have all learned a new phrase recently: “social distancing”. When it comes to serving others, keeping our distance is not usually appropriate. That's why creativity is needed at this time. How can we serve our neighbors without inviting them over for a block party? How can we bless our community if we are cautioned to stay at home?
Throughout the gospels, Jesus often asked people questions. When a blind beggar was calling out from the roadside, Jesus famously asked “what do you want me to do for you?” Mark 10:51. That is a question we can all adopt. Got a friend who is unsure what to do with elementary school-aged kids for the next few weeks? Know an elderly neighbor who doesn't get out often? Work with someone who is struggling to manage home and work during this crisis? Call, text or email any of them and ask “what can I do for you?” “How can I help?” Listen to what they need and do what you can. Let's get creative in how we can help others and be of service to our communities.
Use social media for calm during a crisis.
Social media feeds can be full of ugliness, fear and vitriol right now. We can add to that when we “like” a conspiracy theory, retweet a fear-based post, or share a critical attack. Or we can use the “social” part of social media to really connect with others. Post creative ideas of how you are spending time with your family. Share resources you find helpful. Send video messages to your life group. Write encouraging words to others. Proverbs 15:4 (MSG) tells us “Kind words heal and help; cutting words wound and maim.” In the face of fear and panic, Christ-followers can lead the way on how to remain calm, kind, and loving even in the midst of uncertainty.
Regardless of the outcome of this current crisis, we can all find ways to “be the church” and show a confused world the love of Jesus. Let's find ways to serve with creativity, kindness and courage.