The Crisis That Could Strengthen Churches

As the Coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt Church life, I want to live in hopeful anticipation of ways that churches may actually grow stronger. The coming weeks and months may hold great pain for all of society, including local congregations. One of the ways we can survive trial and hardship is to fix our eyes on what gives us hope. Believing that God can make His Church stronger during this time gives me reason to hope, and I pray the Church might be affected in the following areas:  

Better measures of impact: We’ve known for some time that measuring attendee numbers, ministry budgets, and activity levels doesn’t necessarily equate to spiritual transformation. However, when the Church cannot gather, and normal ministry activity is disrupted, Christians everywhere are pushed to identify new ways to spread Kingdom impact in their neighborhood. Not every approach will work, but we will certainly discover incredibly fruitful ways Christian community can affect our neighbors for the glory of God.

“…but we will certainly discover incredibly fruitful ways Christian community can affect our neighbors for the glory of God.”

Discipleship growth without weekly contact: God’s children are expected to practice weekly rhythms of sabbath, worship, and community gathering. For several centuries, the Church’s primary means of forming disciples was through weekly in-person gatherings for lecture style instruction.  Recently, Christian leaders have grappled with the shortcomings of this model. When considering that individual church attendance may be as low as once or twice a month, pastors question the effectiveness of disciple-making when grappling with only a handful of opportunities to reach their congregants.  

Now as we are forced to be apart, we have an opportunity to encourage spiritual growth in new ways. Likewise, the lack of children’s and student ministries will force faith-formation discussions back into the home to be led by parents. This is not an unwise shift. 

Forced adaption to the digital age: We live in a digital age that is redefining and reinventing many sectors of our society. In some ways, we want congregational life to be distinct from how the rest of society operates, but this is not license for us to be out of touch or ineffective. We are currently each in a digital army boot camp, forced into rapid learning to communicate, connect, care, and collaborate. While I don’t think any of us want to live this way indefinitely, let’s anticipate that the skills we are learning will likely have applications in future ministry.

“Let’s anticipate that the skills we are learning will likely have applications in future ministry”

Confidence to face persecution: Western Christians have spent a lot of energy preparing to protect ourselves from persecution. I pray to God that we will continue to enjoy the protections in place for Americans to practice their faith freely. I am encouraged that when the Church cannot physically gather for prayer, worship, or fellowship–tens of thousands of churches in America have found a way to continue meeting. This ingenuity is a gift from God and I see Him displayed in the ways small groups continue caring for one another, the vulnerable are being ministered to, and individuals are nurturing their own faith. Furthermore, the speed at which this change was required should bolster our confidence to overcome future trials and (I pray not) persecution. 

Strengthened faith of current believers: I hope that every Christian turns to God in this moment to place greater trust in His unchanging character. This has been true for me, and I can already tell that this trial is refining and purifying my faith. Before this virus, I worshiped God, loved Jesus, and believed in the Bible, but I’m learning to rely on God even more completely. I’m being forced to strip away all the other trappings and crutches that I depended upon: steady income, predictable life routines, plans for the future, etc. Anxiety sets in when I realize how fleeting and unreliable each of these truly are. But my faith in God grows purer as I strip away these worldly props that we too easily trust in, and I can see the loving, eternal, compassionate God who is my ultimate source of security more clearly.  

I desperately want the Coronavirus pandemic to end. I want to return to normal. I want to worship in-person with my spiritual family. We don’t know when any of that will be possible. While I wait, I keep my soul fixed on the good things that God can accomplish in our churches and each Christian life.  

March 27, 2020
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