I became pastor of a church and three weeks later the quarantine started. I had been searching for a church for about four months, but then everything came together remarkably fast. I candidated, the next day we sold our house, and a week and a half later I had my first day. My wife and I were left in awe of all God’s providential workings.
During this time (late February, early March), the Coronavirus narrative was really taking shape. Like many, I was caught off-guard by the seriousness of it all, not in small part because of the busyness of getting acclimated to a new church. I also had the daily trips (2.5 hours roundtrip) from our old home to the church. After over three weeks of this intensity, just like the rest of the world, we were stopped dead in our tracks by the quarantine.
Once again, we couldn’t sit tight for too long because we needed to move. The closing date on our house was set for March 27th. We didn’t know if we would be able to move with all the restrictions laid out, but God answered our prayers. All the paperwork got signed and we had plenty of church members chip in to get us moved. As we loaded and unloaded the truck, we all struggled with “social-distancing,” but at least now we would be near the church.
After 3 weeks of services, then the quarantine, and then our actual move, what next? Like virtually all churches, we had to figure out on the fly how we would do ministry in a COVID-19 world.
One of the decisions we made early on was not to livestream church services. Instead, each week I put together an order of service which included Scripture readings, prayers, worship songs from YouTube or Vimeo, along with a recording of my sermon. In a roundabout way, we were promoting family worship. Rather than just sitting in front of a screen watching a church service, this was more participatory and engaging. I really grew to like this form of “home-church” because it is simple, reproducible, and offers men the chance to lead their families in worship.
I also starting doing a weekly pastoral letter. Ever since the Church was born 2000 years ago, Christians have been a letter-writing kind of people. A pastoral letter is nothing new, but I have received a lot of positive feedback, and I have continued them even after we resumed our regular services. These little letters allow me to pastor from a distance and I always try to remind our people of the comfort and hope that we have in Christ.
A Caution Against over-isolation
While trying to be sensitive to the recommendations put forth by the authorities in order to slow the spread of the virus, I also tried not to over-isolate. Not long after we transitioned, a man in our church passed away of cancer. Though we couldn’t have a regular funeral, I still did a graveside service. As I provided to counsel to the family both before and after the service, no one was worried about social-distancing. The death of a loved one has a way of putting things in perspective.
I am guessing that most pastors, elders, and church leaders would say that things didn’t slow down much during the quarantine. That is certainly true for us. Even after our worship services were discontinued, we continued meeting, planning, and pastoring as elders. This “pause” afforded me the chance to really bond with our leaders. Looking back, I see God’s hand in this. We needed that time to come together so that we could move forward as a church.
Some Things Never Change
A few weeks after the start of the quarantine, a friend of mine emailed and asked, “what’s it like starting at a church right now?” After pondering his question for a time, I gave a surprising response – “not much different from normal.” I could have easily answered, “crazy!” But after 12 years in ministry, I have some sense of what “normal” looks like, and it just didn’t seem all that different. I was still preaching sermons, doing funerals, counselling, chairing meetings, leading in times of prayer, and teaching the Bible. Sure, there was a need for more creativity, but there will always be a need for that.
Ministry is all about the fundamentals. It is about ministering the gospel to people in need, which is everyone. It is a real challenge to connect with people in the 21stcentury. I don’t see that getting any easier, but I do believe that COVID-19 is an “open door for the Word” (Colossians 4:3). God is giving His church a chance to pause, reset, and prepare for a great harvest of souls that I believe we are on the verge of.
The Blessing of Ministry
After 10 weeks of no services, for the past 11 weeks, we have once again been meeting as a church. Things are starting to return to normal and I am grateful for the countless ways God is at work. They say it takes 3-5 years to get to know your people and truly become their pastor. I have a long ways to go, but by the grace of God, our time of quarantine was not wasted.
Whether you have been at your church for a few months, a few years, or a few decades, never forget the blessing of ministry and how it is all about the fundamentals – the Word of God, prayer, worship, counseling, discipleship, and in an ultimate sense – the gospel. May we be about our Master’s business, and not miss the opportunities that are all around us!