Pastoring Through a Pandemic

This feels like we’re experiencing a biblical plague. 

Well, maybe it’s not a plague, but it is a difficult time for church members and leaders alike.

I awoke this morning to emails from a restaurant that I frequent and a mall I’ve visited. Both assured me that they are stepping up efforts to sanitize bathrooms, tabletops and handrails. In short, they want my business in a time of financial danger to them, let alone the corona virus and whatever it might do to whoever created the emails.

The virus, we know, is not airborne so breathing on an airplane is safe—as long as you don’t interface with someone who has the illness. However, to interface is not the same as embracing, or even holding a short conversation—you just need to be within a six-foot radius of a sneeze or a cough to catch the disease. This is both comforting and disquieting—comforting because the radius is small, disquieting for the same reason.

A Time for Caution

It’s time to take precautions and your church needs to be at the forefront of care, nurture and safety. So what does that mean?

Let’s start with me, personally. Six days ago I was in Florida with 5,000 others at the Exponential conference. It may have been the best conference I’ve ever attended. Did I get exposed to the virus? I don’t know. I do know that no one coughed on me or tossed a sneeze in my direction. To and fro, getting to the conference took me through airports six times and into a dozen restaurants and coffee shops. I may have been exposed.

Along with Ruby and I being potentially exposed to the virus, two other members of our small group are in constant contact with many hundreds of people—they might have the virus. For this reason we cancelled our meeting for the duration. No amount of hand sanitizer can protect you from breathing on each other in a tight space.

This brings us to church on the weekend. I live in San Diego where the air is warm(er) which is supposed to be a plus and we’re a congregation of 200 in an auditorium that can accommodate three times that many. In short, I don’t need to sit within six feet of anyone. But, I’m not so sure about the hugging reflex—for me it’s pretty automatic. Also, I’m in my 70s and a male so I’m vulnerable on two counts. My wife has respiratory problems and she’s as old as me. We’re skipping church for the next few weeks. And, I think you should, too.

I’ve always seen the church building as more than a box to hold a crowd. I think the “clubhouse” effect is in full force. For many Christ-followers it gives them a sense of place—something that is tangibly theirs in an era of high rents, homelessness and too little home ownership. I’ve always felt that the church building should be a backup gathering place during earthquakes, heavy winds and the like. This time I see it differently. If I were still pastoring, I’d shut the building until we got word that the corona virus was subsiding. Our people, and our staff, need to know that we value their safety far more than we value our program or even church finances. We’re simply better at shepherding our people than the local shopping mall or a restaurant.

So What Can We Do in the Meantime?

Shepherd the flock. During times of threat you need to stay connected to your people. At a minimum I’d use Facebook Live to preach on Sundays, or whenever you hold your primary church meeting. I’d actually do this twice a week, once on Sunday and again in the midweek. The sheep need to hear their shepherd’s voice.

I’d be sure to keep up on the news so my people knew their pastor was well-informed about the threat that is disrupting their lives. I’d also work hard to build faith during this stressful time. I’d remind people that we can cast our cares on Jesus. That Jesus is our healer. I’d take them through the 23rd psalm. You get the point.

In addition to preaching (actually, I’m more of a teacher than preacher), I’d start a daily devotional again using Facebook Live, etc. Whatever I’d use, it would be social media because of the built in sharing capacity. I’d stay home and produce daily connectivity and reassurance to those who might be in financial fear along with the health scare. I’d be sure to teach through Philippians 4 because our God will supply all our needs…

Finally, when this thing is over I’d be open about the inevitable financial hit that churches will take during this trying time. For some it will be major. This thing has thrown stocks into a bear market—it may seem as if the sky if falling, financially. That, accompanied by a general recession will impact your people and your church coffers.

I’d come out of the crisis comforting those who suffered loss and would teach on tithing and stewardship because we need to engage God at this level as he’s promised to provide for us if we do. Also, the “storehouse” will need help after missing several weeks of offerings.

So How Threatening is This?

Church as we know it is under stress in the United States. The virus only makes it worse as it disrupts our patterns and brings financial fallout. However, Jesus is under no stress. Nor is his ecclesia. The very gates of hell don’t cause heaven to fret. They should not worry us that much, either.

We may find that the pattern and operating system of the U.S. church is in jeopardy, but the Church of Jesus Christ is not! He will prevail through whatever. We just need to walk in faith and try to remain in lockstep with him. He will protect and he will provide.

This morning as I was in the Word I came across John 15:16. You did not choose to lead your ministry. Jesus chose you. You need to abide in him and love your neighbors. Responsibility for bearing fruit rests in the vine, not the branches. It’s his job to get us through this disaster so ask the Father whatever you will and expect your fruit to grow and remain whatever happens.

 What advice can you add? Please use the comments box below to let us know. This site works better as a community effort.

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10 thoughts on “Pastoring Through a Pandemic”

  1. Thank you Pastor Ralph. Your words and encouragement are comforting and help as we are navigating these days.

  2. Thanks Pastor Ralph. Excellent insights. Especially valuing people over money or convenience. If we do this right, we will shine brighter for Christ when things around us look darker.

  3. Cheryl Zarbaugh

    Thank you Pastor Ralph!
    You’re words are comforting and the message is clear!

    Keep your eyes on the prize!

  4. Consider also how your church can mobilize to care for those who have to self-isolate or are quarantined. Could your church deliver meals and other supplies? How could your church bring hope? God has blessed the church with a window of opportunity to prepare to serve our communities during this outbreak. Will we take advantage of it and prepare so that we can serve effectively.

    Some things to think about:

    • Who would you want to serve? – e.g. people who don’t have immediate family or a support network in your city
    • What do you need to do to prepare to serve these people?
    • What equipment (gloves, etc.), resources will you need when you go out to serve these people?
    • What training will your volunteers need? (consider practical training to keep them safe, spiritual & emotional training to know what to say)
    • Would your city’s emergency response team be able to provide advice? Could you partner with them?

  5. Dear Pastor this is a BIG ‘Thank you’ all the way from Delhi, INDIA. You have UPlifted my/our souls at a time such as this. PANIC is an understatement – unfortunately even to the Church be it in the U.S. or India. We must not be ignorant of the devices of the evil one. Unfortunately we are falling prey and are being influenced by what’s around instead of LOOKING UP to where our help comes from. Advisories for the Church and its members are indeed valid. But we need to rethink the shutting down of God’s house and the assembling of ourselves. It’s only in such deadly contemporary plagues we experience and reclaim ‘divine sanitization’. What better and more superior protection than the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ on our doorposts?. Be it our homes and Churches? Yes, at perilous times such as these, our Lord’s never failing promises stand the test of time and circumstances. Listen in – ” No evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent”; ” the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore”. There are scores more of blessed assurances. Praise God for the ideas of Facebook Live. Yes pursue them through the week. But on the Lord’s day – Sunday – let’s return in greater numbers than ever before to our Churches, defying every virus and bind them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let’s gather, in spite, and pray for the healing of nations. No vaccine can ever achieve this. With prayer and thanksgiving let your requests be made know to God. Let’s follow His Advisory – give thanks to the Lord and rejoice in the Eternal Salvation we have already received. Let us not permit the gates of hell to prevail by shutting down “my Church – the Lord’s very own”, for even one single Sunday. Time to call Satan’s bluff. Let’s take the Lord at HIS WORD ! Stay blessed!

    1. Thank you for your words of encouragement. As a servant of God, I have experienced the consequences of closing churches. Churches becomes casual, and comfortable.

      I now attend a church that is open. “To live is Christ, to die is gain”.

  6. Great post and podcast! Thank you Ralph. Santa Cruz, where I pastor recommended groups of 50 or more to cancel, so we opted to serve our community by going to an online / home church model until this all shakes out. I appreciate your perspective and ideas here.

  7. Dear Ralph, I was one of those 5,000 who gathered with you in Orlando a few days ago, and also enjoyed a breakout session that you led. This is the second time that we attend and once again The Lord blessed us with great teaching and worship. I am thankful for your work for The Kingdom and for your servant heart the leads you to put Jesus first in everything you do. May He continue using you in great ways for many years to come.
    Your brother in Christ,
    Manny Ruiz

  8. Aloha Ralph
    As always, I enjoy listening to and reading your teachings. And learning. And today I learned a new word. Ecclesia. Mahalo plenties.

  9. Pingback: Pastoring Through a Pandemic | Exponential

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