While many churches have adjusted quickly during the pandemic, the effects have sadly taken a toll on many of those in smaller, rural communities. I recently spoke with Larry Steen, the Director of Missions for the Mid-Maryland Baptist Association, who mentioned that many of these churches have essentially closed. Meanwhile, urban congregations that have members in high tech jobs and can work from home are doing well. The question is, for how long?
As a pastor, I’ve given this much thought and continue to pray for our church family and other churches in these unprecedented times. As I’ve said many times, I take great comfort in the sovereignty of God. In last Sunday’s sermon, I quoted Scottish theologian James Orr who said, “There is recognized in Scripture a natural and universal kingdom or dominion of God, embracing all objects, persons, and events, all doings of individuals and nations, all operations and changes of nature and history, absolutely without exception.”
Pondering his words, I find myself wondering how God will use the COVID-19 crisis for his glory. In relation to that, here are three trends that I think will come to fruition as we ride out the pandemic.
1. The marginalized may disappear.
When I speak of the marginalized, I’m thinking of those who remain unconnected to the overall life of the church. They are not involved to any degree in any aspect of ministry. They remain on the periphery and basically attend at their leisure without commitment or connection. These, I fear, will disappear, and not return. Being out of church for them will become part of their own “new normal.”
However, my prayer for the marginalized is that they will sense their need for attachment within the body of Christ and determine to return as soon as possible. I also encourage them to take the Apostle Paul’s advice and “examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? —unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Corinthians 13:5)
I find myself wondering how God will use the COVID-19 crisis for his glory.
2. The weak will become weaker.
For lack of a better term, I’m using the word “weak” to refer to those who, in the past, were faithful yet not really engaged in the work of the Lord. Paul refers to this in Romans 14:1 as being “weak in faith.” Such are babes in Christ who need to grow up spiritually, and, who in their immaturity, tend to focus on their own needs before the needs of others.
My concern is that these will only become weaker during this crisis. The external threat of pandemic and the disruption of daily life can lead to anxiety that results in an even greater inward focus. Thus, it is my prayer that they will realize their need to grow spiritually and take advantage of the “down time” to deepen their faith.
3. The strong will become stronger.
We’ve all heard the saying, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Those strong in the faith are usually made stronger through crisis. They are mature enough to feed their own souls and daily spend time in God’s word and in prayer. They manifest concern for others and how they can serve the body. The strong step up and make themselves available for ministry. These blessed saints are a joy and encouragement to their pastors. My prayer for these faithful ones is that they will continue to persevere throughout the crisis, and that they will reach out to the weak and marginalized as directed by the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, churches in which the marginalized and weak remain that way will have the most difficult roads to recovery.
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So, where do you fall in the scenario? If you’re one of the marginalized, I pray the Lord will bring you off the sideline to find meaningful connection and service within the body of Christ. Should you be weak in your faith, may God give you a hunger for his Word so that you might grow spiritually and begin to seek how you can be a blessing to others. For the strong, I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, and pray you will continue to persevere and continue to “abound in the work of the Lord.”