Not since Sept. 11, 2001, has our country grappled with such fear and uncertainty as we are now with the spread of COVID-19.
And just like in the aftermath of 9/11, we are seeing everyday, ordinary people become heroes right before our eyes. People going out of their way to extend kindness to neighbors as well as strangers as we face this coronavirus outbreak together.
Jesus told us in Acts 1:8 that we are to be His witnesses in our “Jerusalem.” And as Christians, we have a golden opportunity to minister to people who are anxious and afraid — especially those who are seeking something or Someone to put their faith in during this frightening time of pandemic.
Naturally, believers and seekers are turning to pastors for reassurance and answers in the face of COVID-19. And pastors are in a unique position to comfort panicked people with the hope, the promises, and the love found in God’s Word. In 2 Timothy 1:7, it tells us that “God has not given us a spirit of fear but of love and a sound mind” (paraphrase).
As we all pull together to get through this, even pastors may be struggling with how best to deal with the chaos. So, we’ve put together some suggestions for how church leaders can continue to minister and encourage their congregations while the coronavirus keeps churches from meeting together physically.
9 ways to minister well despite the coronavirus and “social distancing”
• Communicate with your church members often through emails or texts and call older members who may not have Internet access. Scripture, prayer, and other words of encouragement are important. Urge your congregation that this pandemic is not a time to be fearful but a time to live out their faith. Remind them of Joshua 1:9 (NIV):“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
• Be mindful of the elderly who are scared and vulnerable to the coronavirus, of those with serious medical conditions, and of stressed-out parents who are working from home and have kids out of school. Just having someone check in can make all the difference. And don’t forget this change in routine is upsetting for children, as well. You can suggest resources to parents who are struggling to have appropriate conversations with their little ones about COVID-19.
• Look for creative ways to show kindness to others. Praise the workers at grocery stores, drug stores, restaurants, banks, etc. They are doing their best to serve people while dealing with their own “new normal.” A smile and a kind word go a long way. And don’t forget the truckers who are driving across the country to bring goods to retailers — goods that we all depend on. Many truck drivers rely on fast-food restaurants for their meals and with dining rooms closed, they may not be able to walk through the drive-thru. Offer to go through the drive-thru to order their meal — and pay for it if you’re able.
• Use available technology! Start online prayer meetings through Skype, Google Hangouts, or Zoom. You can still conduct Bible studies virtually, too. And consider posting video messages every day or two on YouTube or your church’s Facebook page. Seeing your face and hearing your voice can have a calming effect on your flock. You can also include older church members in worship services with recorded options on CD or DVD if they can’t stream online. Social distancing during this coronavirus outbreak is a huge adjustment for everyone. The more ways you can stay connected with your congregation, the less isolated they will feel.
• Those forced to stay at home due to COVID-19 — especially the elderly and the sick — may need assistance picking up groceries, restocking basic household items, getting prescriptions, or going to pay bills. Organize a phone tree and invite church members to call and check in with each other and see how they can help. The phone and/or email is also a great way to keep a prayer chain going.
• Don’t forget to minister to those serving on the front lines of this pandemic. Health care professionals and first responders need your prayers and words of encouragement. Send a note or email of appreciation to let them know you’re thinking about them. Parents in your congregation can even get their kids involved by writing cute notes or drawing pictures.
• Put together “acts of love” kits for people in need. Have church members donate household items, food staples, books, notepads, pens, activity books, crossword puzzles, etc., and then have volunteers deliver the kits to the doorsteps of families in need. One church rented a small trailer, stocked it with necessities, then traveled around the community and allowed people to come and choose what they needed. Don’t forget to tuck a Scripture verse, a small New Testament, or a note of encouragement inside the kits. This is a wonderful way to share the Gospel through acts of love.
• If you don’t already have one, start a weekly newsletter that you share by email with your church members. It will be reassuring for them to know the church is praying together and for each other. Include things like prayer requests, volunteer and giving opportunities, devotionals, and the names of members who may need a little extra support right now.
• And there’s no reason you can’t have communion during virtual church. Get on Facebook Live with church members and have them use whatever is in their kitchens. Ritz crackers and water, Triscuits and cranberry juice, or a piece of bread and coffee. The more you can keep things “normal” and on schedule, the better. Coronavirus can’t keep you from worshipping!
In all things pray
I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13, NLT)
As you share prayer requests with your congregation, don’t forget about the needs beyond your community. Here are some prayer points to get you started:
• Pray for individuals who are affected by the coronavirus and for their healing.
• Pray for doctors, nurses, and first responders who are on the front lines of the pandemic caring for those who contract the virus.
• Pray for medical researchers to quickly find a vaccine for COVID-19.
• Pray for our government leaders who are guiding us through this crisis.
• Pray for the thousands of people who have been laid off and business owners who’ve had to close their doors — some permanently.
• Pray that we, as Christians, respond with compassion, wisdom, and understanding to a frightened world.
• Pray that the Gospel will still advance during these trying times. Now, more than ever, people are searching for answers and seeking God.
If you have other creative ideas that you and your church are implementing to stay connected despite “social distancing” or ways you’re ministering to others during this pandemic, please share them with us on Facebook. Because … we’re all in this together.