The world has become so weird and scary that a lot of people who hate buying groceries – and formerly laughed at the crazy doomsday peppers – are beginning to squirrel away food in their basements.
It goes without saying that the COVID pandemic and all that it involved caught most of us, as individuals and as churches, off guard. Sadly, the experts are telling us that it will likely happen again.
So let’s get ready. Maybe next time we can “crush” this thing and glorify God with our response. Here are some – hopefully – helpful thoughts:
- Prep your people for trouble and trials. Jesus said it:
“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33b
The Apostle Paul said it:
“We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God…” From Acts 14:22
Many of us Americans have had it so good for so long that we were psychologically and spiritually unprepared for the trials of the last one-and-one-half years. Life may never be that easy again. Hot tub Christianity may have permanently gone down the drain. Good riddance. It wasn’t good for us anyway.
Pastors and other church leaders can employ every method they use for growing disciples, including sermons, classes, small groups, orientation sessions and personal conversations, to warn people that the Christian life is not going to be a Sunday School picnic. God IS good but that doesn’t mean that life isn’t sometimes hard, or even very hard.
- Prep your church for the departure of stony ground and thorny ground Christians.
Without diving deeply into the theology of the parable of the four soils (Matthew 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, Luke 8:4-15), Jesus is clearly warning His servants that some who hear the message of the gospel and profess to “receive it with joy” (presumably: make joyful professions of their newfound faith) will “fall away” (drop out of the Christian life) because of trouble or persecution “because of the word.”
In other words, they’ll assemble with God’s people for a while, but drop out immediately when asked to endure any degree of persecution or hassle on account of their “faith.” (John adds the observation that “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us…” in I John 2:19.)
There are also those who hear the message of the gospel – and presumably, profess to believe it – and become unfruitful because of the “worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth.” In other words, they are busy with other things they deem to be more important, especially the making of money. How many times have you heard, “We work six days a week; Sunday is our only day to sleep in”?
So Jesus said that many people who profess faith in Him were going to drop out. This has always happened (see John 6:66), it is happening now and it will continue to happen until Jesus returns.
A pandemic with its accompanying lock-downs, social distancing, economic repercussions, strife, anxiety and fear is sufficient reason for many to fall away.
Pastors and other church leaders can “prep” their churches by carefully teaching Jesus’ words-to-the-wise.
- Prep your people to accept their brothers and sisters in spite of their differences of opinion.
We have a whole chapter (and more) devoted to this subject: Romans 14:1-15:13. In the first century, Christians disagreed about certain ethical issues which were not specifically addressed in Scripture and over which sincere Christ-followers disagreed. The “biggies” seemed to be (1) Eating food which had been ceremonially offered to idols (2) The keeping of the Jewish dietary laws (3) The keeping of Jewish holy days.
Paul made no attempt to settle any of these issues. Instead, he gave the young church at Rome guidelines and principles for making up their own minds on these issues and treating those with differing opinions with love and respect.
Some of our churches did quite well at applying these principles to the issues of masking, voting, distancing, shutting down and getting vaccinated. Others? Not so much.
If your church didn’t do so well with handling these differences of opinion – or even if it did – go to work right now at helping your people to get good at accepting the brothers and sisters with whom they disagree.
My prayer is that we never face anything like the pandemic of 2020/2021 again. But if we do, I want to be better prepared for it than I was last time and I would want my church to be better prepared for it as well.
“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
I Corinthians 10:31