COVID-19 is seemingly omnipresent. Its reach has stretched into more than 100 countries or territories, and the coverage is almost 24/7. There are no signs that normalcy will return anytime soon.
Amid all of the uncertainty, what are some practical responses the church can take during this time? How can the church be what Edwin Friedman described in his book “A Failure of Nerve” as “a non-anxious presence” in the midst of a global pandemic? Here are four simple ways the church can respond well during this uncertain time.
Practice the presence of God.
With meetings, sporting events and restaurants being shut down, time is being gift wrapped back to us. How we choose to spend that time will either fuel more anxiety or help us become less anxious. I remember preaching through Luke a few years back and after sitting in chapter six for some time and reflecting on my anxious heart, I sensed the Lord telling me, “Josh, prayer and anxiety are, in many ways, the same thing. The difference is whose hands you are placing the outcome in.” Recapturing some of the time to pray, to take in the promises of God and then live in God’s omnipresence is a surefire way to calm lurking fears in our hearts.
Get creative with gatherings.
The president’s directives to avoid gathering in groups of 10 or more will topple a “come-and-see” ministry strategy. However, with the advancement of mobile work environments, there are many tools at our disposal that can help us stay connected, even if we can’t physically meet together. One tool we use both at work and in our discipleship groups is Zoom, which can allow many people together in a virtual environment. Livestreaming from Facebook, YouTube and other platforms also gives us the ability to get more content out to more people.
Exercise neighborly love.
Wisdom will tell you whether to take food to someone or to stay at home. If your goal is to love your neighbors well, reflect on who they are, what they need and how best to be a “non-anxious presence” in the midst of your community. Some ways to do this include: prayer over the phone, short texts reminding singles that they are not alone, brief phone calls to widows offering encouragement and help with grocery runs, buying only what you need, leading the way in civil obedience for the good of the community, offering to perform yardwork as a way to help others, helping provide food for children who are out of school, or offering a room for college kids who have nowhere to go. Neighbor love, not self-preservation, is the way of Jesus.
Let the gospel permeate conversations naturally.
The “3 Circles” is a great tool to share with people as you are discussing the coronavirus. Let it flow naturally, but listen to how people are discussing the virus. Are they fearful? Of what? Do they have hope? If so, what is their hope in? How are they responding? One question that can be a bridge into the “3 Circles” is, “Do you think this is the way things were meant to be?” From there, see where the conversation goes. God may just lead it into a gospel conversation.
Having a non-anxious presence doesn’t just happen because someone is a Christian. It is a counter-cultural act of faith that is received daily from the Lord. Jesus took the fullness of the curse on Himself and then rose from the dead, meaning that the ultimate fear lurking in every one of us — the fear of death — no longer applies to the church.
His perfect love casts out fear, so we can move into the world with a non-anxious presence, testifying in both word and deed that things aren’t the way they are supposed to be. The coronavirus is the latest example from history that illustrates this point. But one day, soon, all things will be restored.