An Urgent Plea To Fellow Pastors Six Months Into COVID-19 by Joshua Wallnofer
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An Urgent Plea To Fellow Pastors Six Months Into Covid-19 by Joshua M. Wallnofer
This is not a painless blog to write. Mainly, because there are many pastors that I love, men that I feel are more accomplished, seasoned, and knowledgeable than me, whose ministries have greater influence, who will diverge with what I am about to propose.
There have been no easy answers, instantaneous fixes, and absolutely no consensus on how to pastor during a pandemic, or how to advance the worship of a congregation in response to the current challenges and panic we are encountering. All this to say, I do not stand in judgment of those who disagree, I instead plea with my friends, colleagues, and fellow shepherds to consider another way forward.
An acquaintance on social media recently posted, “You guys think things are bad now in 2020? Wait until you see our nation without church until 2021.”(1)
I imagine this kind of statement comes in response to those following the lead of “megachurch” pastor Andy Stanley who recently made an announcement that his 38,000 attendees will not be gathering in person until at least 2021. Sad to me, at least five percent of pastors say they will follow this course.(2)
I urgently plead with you to reconsider following such advice for multiple reasons.
PRAGMATIC: First off, there is the pragmatic. Every day, members of our congregations are engaged in essential aspects of daily life during this pandemic. They must go to work to provide for their families, make Walmart trips for supplies, grocery shopping for nutrition, the salon or barbershop to tidy up, gas station to refill, restaurant visits for special meals, chain stores for new clothes that are fading….you get my point.
We have all learned how to accommodate, adapt, and new ways to do life in this season. Regardless of your view on face masks, social distancing, having one-way directional guides in the grocery aisles, and not trying on clothing in the store, we have adjusted and life goes on. All agree this is a good thing, or we would have no economy left.
Pragmatically, your church can surely protect your people better than the barber shop, gas station, or Walmart. Distance your people farther apart in the aisles (not six feet like the stores, go to 15 feet); absolutely no physical contact as a rule (you can’t even do that in the drive thru, as they will touch your credit card); adopt facemasks as a policy if you feel its important (we all see people not wearing them in public); let greeters hold the doors so no one touches the handle and provide hand sanitizer stations (again not possible in most places); dismiss one row at a time so people don’t hang around after service (you might have more contact and conversation with the person who checks you out at Walmart); have one row go up at a time to take the Lord’s table, and only your leaders with proper protection will hand out the elements); have multiple services; have an overflow room in your gym or fellowship hall. My point is, adjust. Worship of the living God is more important to the eternal souls of your people than getting gas or new shoes at the store. Even if they only come in the building once or twice a month, it is better than not coming for 6 months.
Many churches have found some unexpectedly blessed moments of ministry during this season, doing safe food distributions to their communities; providing prayer to those who are crippled with fear or paralyzing loss; and seeing many come to faith in Christ as they have hit bottom during a crushing time. “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). I just sat with a woman yesterday who has dramatically come to faith in Christ and will be baptized this Sunday. Don’t miss out on this season of ministry.
SPIRITUAL: Our church went to an “online only” time of worship for a few months, which in hindsight I believe was a great mistake. The comment I heard from my people, and from countless friends of other congregations over the last six months, is that online worship “is not the same.” This is a genuine and correct assessment of the online experience. There is an ontological (3) deficiency with online worship. We have all been preaching this for years. Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube are lousy substitutes for authentic friendship, community, and experience. Seeing the grand canyon in person is far better than watching a YouTube video about it. The church is by nature a family that is called out of the world and comes together. This is simply not possible ontologically with online worship. Think of the metaphors of Scripture, showing Christianity is not an individual sport. Flock/Shepherd. Subjects/King. Building/Builder. Bride/Husband. Body/Head. We were not a people, now we are a people (I Peter 2:10).
Not gathering together in real presence; children not seeing other children worship, not seeing elderly members, elders not seeing the youth, and the middle age not beholding one another with our eyes; hearing one another sing; coming under the ministry of your deacons and elders; abandoning the accountability of the Lord’s table; all this is dangerous to the soul.
The medium of screens is better than no medium, but it is dangerously deficient for the long haul. We have members who we have encouraged to stay home due to their health condition. But this should not be the norm, it should be the exception to the norm.
I have much more to say, but this is supposed to be a blog, so I end with this thought. We all know there is a risk to meet together. It has been a risk for me as a minister to visit sick members in the hospital the last 20 years. It is a risk to operate a car on the roads each time we drive. It is a risk for our health care workers to go to work each day during the pandemic. It is a risk to go to Walmart. Christians have been a risky people. They refused to stop meeting under threat of death by the sword of Rome, Islamic Sharia persecution, Communist oppression, even under the “supreme leaders” of North Korea.
COVID-19 is real. I do not make light of it. According to John’s Hopkins, 42 per 100,000 that contract COVID-19 have died from the virus. (4) Our job during seasons like this is not to hide the light, but to let is shine. How much darker will 2021 be if we stop meeting together between now and then? Dear pastor, I know you love your people, and want what’s best for them, and I would never question that. May God grant us all wisdom and courage.
Matthew 5:14-16 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. (15) Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. (16) In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."
1. Marcus Pittman, Facebook post, 7/17/20 (https://www.facebook.com/marcuspittman)
3. Ontological: “A branch of metaphysics concerned with the nature and relations of being.” (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ontology)
4. Johns Hopkins University & Medicine (https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/data/mortality)