In just a few short days the whole world has changed! What started as an illness halfway around the world has turned into a global pandemic that has disrupted health systems, employment for millions, freedom of movement, and retirement security for the elderly. The unthinkable has now become the new global norm! Churches are unable to meet. International travel has ground to a halt. Grocery shelves are stripped bare the moment they are restocked with essentials. All over the world, entire populations are asked (sometimes compelled) to shelter in place and submit to voluntary quarantine.
No one could have predicted the disruptive impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
At times such as these, the role of the faith community has become an invaluable resource to political and global health leaders. Faith-based community leaders are indispensable as a resource in the fight against the impact of the pandemic. As we review the literature, there are three critical roles that the faith community should play.
The 24-hour news cycle has the advantage of providing constant accurate information on the status of the global crisis. However, it has the detriment that it tends to increase anxiety and fear of doom. There is no doubt that the disease can be fatal, and many of us have now experienced its devastating effects on friends, colleagues, and family members who have succumbed become a victim of to the virus. But news cycles also tend to distort reality. The fact is that 80% of the cases produce only mild symptoms, and the remaining 20% are then moderate, severe, and critical. Although it is prudent for us to encourage our church members to follow the most up-to-date guidelines on how to avoid being infected, we cannot allow our enemy to rob God’s people of their hope. Jesus admonished his disciples, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27). He has not given us a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7). We are in a unique position to address the unnatural fear response in our brothers and sisters that leads to anxiety and destroys their capacity to live life to the full. Paul encouraged us to prophecy, speaking words of comfort, exhortation, and edification (I Corinthians 14:4).
For many years we have admired the phenomenal growth of the home-church movements in places like China and Iran. These are nations where God’s people are often legally prohibited from meeting publicly, but it has not hampered the growth of the church at all. They were not able to go to a building to be IN church, so they had to learn to live life as a body of believers who ARE the church. Let us encourage one another to look past our preoccupation with buildings and facilities, and to live a holy life seeking out the fellowship of the body of Christ apart from our dependence on buildings.
The celebrated Baylor University social historian, Rodney Stark, reminds us that the Church experienced its most phenomenal growth in the context of global plagues. In his 2011 book, “The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World’s Largest Religion” he relates how two historic plagues ravaged the Roman Empire, killing a quarter to a third of the population. While it ravaged the empire, striking down emperors, Christians risked their own lives to help the sick and dying who were being discarded into the streets for fear of contagion. By extending biblical compassion, Stark estimates that the movement grew from around 1000 persons in 40 A.D to 33 million Christians in 350 A.D. That was a growth of 40% per decade!
This rate of church growth was coupled to a Church body of believers that understood compassion and sacrifice for the needy and those who needed comfort in their distress. There is no doubt that the impact of the pandemic has disrupted the global economy and, already, we are seeing millions of people in danger of losing their source of income. As the graphic indicates, there are currently 37 million US jobs at risk. The loss of a stable source of income also means the loss of medical coverage, an increase in food insecurity, and living from paycheck to paycheck. According to a 2018 Federal Reserve Survey on Economic Well-being of US Households, 40% of Americans would struggle to come up with as little as $400 to pay for an unexpected expenditure.
Not only will there be a great need to for the church to provide emergency financial support for vulnerable families, there is a need for something as practical as babysitting for working mothers, or food for families whose children no longer receive meals at school.
Let us transform what the enemy has meant for evil, into a magnificent opportunity to DO GOOD. “And let us not be weary in well-doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” Galatians 6:9-10