As global cases of COVID-19 continue to climb, many Christians have rightly pointed out that we should not be living in a state of fear and panic—God is still in control amid the apparent chaos of life in a fallen, broken world.
Many others have also pointed out that following public-health guidelines and reducing exposure for the sake of the elderly and immunocompromised members of our churches and communities is a vital part of loving our neighbors in this season.
However, all those activities that we’re rightly refraining from to stay physically healthy—such as attending school, dining out, taking vacations, or attending conferences, concerts, or sporting events—have immediate and downstream effects on our economic health.
Calls for vigorous action here are not the same as panic. They may actually be its exact opposite.
Bracing for the Next Wave
As of this writing, U.S. stock markets are down nearly 25 percent from highs of just a few weeks ago, and economic forecasts are grim. What will the long-term economic effects be? We don’t know—we really can’t know—but it seems reasonably certain that for the foreseeable future there will be job losses, cashflow problems, and a real contraction of wealth and economic activity.
God is still in control in the midst of the apparent chaos of life in a fallen, broken world.
Many of us in office jobs, freelance work, or white-collar professions are being told to work from home for a while. We may have to juggle our work with parenting kids who are home from closed schools. We may have to wrestle through dwindling household supplies. But at least in the near-term, we’ll hang in there.
If you’re self-employed or own a small business, a tight cashflow during this time might mean making hard decisions about laying off staff or even going out of business and starting over later.
But the materially poor are likely to feel the effects first and most keenly. A total shutdown of public life looks a lot different when you can’t telecommute. What happens if you lose your job because you can’t find childcare, or have to forego income because a lockdown took away your hourly job at a plant, restaurant, airport, or hotel?
Benevolence in the Long View
For the next few weeks, as we watch and wait for the peak of the outbreak to pass, our churches should be quick to respond to benevolence requests from our members and those in our neighborhoods. We have been blessed with resources for such a time as this.
Most of us, if we’re honest, do only passably well at providing benevolence care from a place of prosperity. We’re woefully unprepared to do so from a place of need. What happens when everyone—or a significant portion of us—loses our income for a season?
Most of us, if we’re honest, do only passably well at providing benevolence care from a place of prosperity. We’re woefully unprepared to do so from a place of need.
Mercy ministry from our churches in this situation becomes not a luxury, but a necessity—which it was always meant to be. Your church is a family; if you’ve never considered the fullness of this metaphor before, it’s high time we started acting like it’s true. We dare not insulate ourselves from the suffering of others.
Looking Forward, Looking Back
Of course, the church has been here before.
It was born into almost immediate persecution and social isolation. Yet we see the church sharing “everything in common” (Acts 2:42–47), laying land sale proceeds at the apostles’ feet (Acts 4:32–5:10), and arranging to distribute food (Acts 6:1–7).
We have been blessed with resources for such a time as this.
These passages are not describing the behavior of a prosperous and comfortable church responding to need, but of a persecuted minority banding together in solidarity to weather a social and economic storm.
Later, Paul describes the Macedonian believers giving to the famine-stricken church in Jerusalem from a place of hardship themselves: “In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity” (2 Cor. 8:2). These believers provided for the needs of people they’d likely never met in person.
What if we saw these texts not as hypothetical scenarios or stories of some halcyon “early church” days, but as models for actual behavior of churches whenever a crisis hits?
We often give out of excess income. Are we prepared to leverage other, less liquid assets for the sake of others? We often do a good job of caring for our own nuclear families and even our own local churches. Are churches, associations, and denominations prepared to pool their resources to help those in other communities?
Keep Calm and Give Well
It’s time to move from alarm to action.
We’ve heard health officials mandating social distancing and quarantine to “flatten the curve” of the outbreak—reducing the daily number of new cases so that the health-care system can cope with the increased demand.
In the same way, the church can work to flatten the curve of the virus’s economic effects. This might mean setting up a separate “COVID-19 crisis fund,” asking for extra donations to fill it, and then dispersing it to those who lose hours or jobs.
The church can help to ‘flatten the curve’ of the virus’s economic effects. . . . The virus has required us to change our social behaviors for the sake of the most vulnerable among us. We should consider doing the same with our economic behavior.
If things get worse, it may necessitate cashing out assets or even selling property to help the materially poor buy food or pay rent. Or it might include helping the elderly, the poor, and others navigate social systems and fill out complicated forms to access whatever government assistance becomes available.
The virus has required us to change our social behaviors for the sake of the most vulnerable among us. We should consider doing the same with our economic behavior.
So give. Give generously and continuously, and then find new ways to give. A crisis is a time to stop the financial bleeding for people, not to work on longer-term solutions for chronic poverty—though the trust built now can pay dividends later.
Make sure everyone in your church knows they won’t go hungry. If unbelievers want to join in because of our shared concern for one another, praise God for the opportunity for the gospel to spread!
The church is uniquely positioned to survive and even thrive under these conditions. But to do so will require love, compassion, and obedience that most of us have only lackadaisically applied before. Let us be known for our love in these times.