COVID-19 has devastated my city of Detroit. Multiple church members and countless others connected to our church have contracted the virus. All of us planters are learning to adjust to the slow-moving progress of flattening the curve and preparing for contingencies based on government policies. We’re facing decisions, making plans, and processing priorities daily.
The first week or so, I was doing more but accomplishing less, and quickly approaching the wall of exhaustion. I was grasping at too many things in the initial confusion of this pandemic.
So, after some repentance, reevaluation, and resetting, I’ve settled on a few priorities that will serve my church and glorify Jesus. Church planter, consider committing yourself to these as well.
Robert Murray M’Cheyne famously said, “The greatest need of my people is my personal holiness.” Planters, our purity must be preeminent. In the daily hustle, we must pay attention to the crisis of sin in our lives. Is there any pride, self-sufficiency, lust, selfishness, or ungodly motives that you’ve been attempting to hide from in the pulpit? Do you have any unhealthy rhythms preventing you from drawing closer to Christ? Now is the time to put to death the deeds of the body and live (Rom. 8:13). Today is the day to prioritize your own purity.
This unexpected slowness has forced me to confront the idols, unhealthy patterns, and fruitless rhythms I’d been ignoring.
Ministry productiveness doesn’t supersede, replace, or equal personal holiness and devotion to our Lord. This unexpected slowness has forced me to confront the idols, unhealthy patterns, and fruitless rhythms I’d been ignoring. By God’s grace, much of what I’ve been attempting to hide in ministry and busyness has been uncovered.
As COVID-19 became an immediate crisis, much of church planters’ discussions revolved around Sunday mornings. But I realized something somewhat startling and strangely encouraging. While my church embraced virtual Sunday morning worship, that’s not what they valued most. To my surprise, our little flock has appreciated my pastoral touch more than my preaching content during these uncertain times.
Our little flock has appreciated my pastoral touch more than my preaching content during these uncertain times.
I’ve had moments of high stress, indecision, and helplessness. I’ve been overwhelmed with pastoring a family giving birth to a child, serving our multiple sick members, and mourning with those who’ve suffered loss. But this was a needed reminder that our churches need fully engaged and compassionate shepherds, not just spiritual content providers. Brother, find ways to express your love and concern (phone calls, handwritten notes, delivering meals and necessities, and visiting from a distance) and watch God’s people be edified, encouraged, and equipped to do the same.
These are times in which none of us has planted or pastored before. The realities of COVID-19 create both challenges and also opportunities for our growth as pastors and planters. On a recent Zoom town hall with 150 fellow church planters, I was exhorted by Brian Howard to be a “constant, calming presence” to my people during this time. With abundant social-media noise and a news cycle spinning wildly, we must be a settling, stabilizing force in other’s lives, always drawing them back to Christ.
Our people are facing circumstances completely foreign to them. Instead of unfruitful conversations, speculation, and debates, our churches need calm consistency and clear spiritual direction (Titus 3:9). Our calling to convert the unconverted remains even in the age of coronavirus. While many are hurting and panicking, we continue to proclaim the gospel (2 Tim. 4:1–5) and provide spiritual care (1 Pet. 5:1–4).
The pandemic’s immediate effects have been hard, and they won’t magically vanish once governing officials lift stay-at-home orders. When social restrictions are lifted, there will be countless people attempting to rebuild their lives from the rubble of COVID-19. When we’re able to meet again, I foresee both celebrating and weeping. While we’ve mastered the art of celebration, I think as a church, the grace of lament has often been forgotten. As the apostle says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). Some will shed tears of joy; many others will weep tears of loss. We can’t expect “church as usual” after people’s lives have been completely altered by this pandemic.
Our churches need fully engaged and compassionate shepherds, not just spiritual content providers.
As pastors and church planters, let us prepare our hearts to receive broken, grieving people as we celebrate our return to corporate gatherings. No one knows how long this strange season will last, but we do know that God has purposefully placed us in this season to lead our flocks. Let’s be a means of grace to them.