Andy Crouch has written a remarkable document I encourage all Christian leaders to read.
At this extraordinary moment, local leaders—people who lead groups of 10 to 1,000 people—have perhaps the greatest opportunity to shape culture in the United States that they have ever had. This is a guide for those of us who are Christian leaders at this moment.
Crouch argues that with the arrival of COVID-19 in the United States, we need to rapidly “change the horizons of possibility” in two fundamental ways:
(1) We need to change norms of social interaction literally overnight to minimize the transmission of the virus. I will outline below what I believe are the most important steps, based on the best public information about SARS-CoV-2 (the virus) and COVID-19 (the disease). These steps feel drastic. Crucially, implementing them early enough will require tremendous leadership because they will not initially seem necessary to most of the people we lead. When dealing with pandemics, the measures that will actually make a difference always need to be taken sooner than we think.
(2) We need to redirect social energy from anxiety and panic to love and preparation. This crisis presents an extraordinary opportunity to fortify small communities of love and care for our neighbors. That will only happen if we lead in a way that reduces fear, increases faith, and reorients all of us from self-protection to serving others
For the past month Crouch has been intensively studying the the medical and public-health information about COVID-19 that has been available to the public. His essay has four parts:
- What is happening? An overview of the most important things for Christian leaders, anywhere in the United States, to know about SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19.
- What should we communicate? A list of the most helpful messages others can hear from us—and the most harmful messages as well.
- What decisions should we make? Recommendations for decisions about large gatherings, medium-size gatherings for Christian worship, and small groups meeting in households.
- What can we hope for? A few reflections on the genuine possibility that our decisions in the next few weeks could reshape the practice of Christian faith in our nation and, God being merciful, lead to a revival of the church of Jesus Christ in America.
I’ll try to outline some of his key takeaways below. But I would strongly encourage you to click through and access the entire thing.
1. What Is Happening?
- Everyone, anywhere in the continental United States, should assume that the virus is present in their community even if there have not yet been any reports of disease.
- COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, is considerably more deadly than ordinary flu, especially for vulnerable populations: the elderly and those with existing medical conditions.
- The disease can be mild in many people, even unnoticed. But this actually increases the risk to others, as “asymptomatic” carriers can transmit the virus to the highly vulnerable without realizing they are infectious.
- Therefore there is a serious risk beyond the virus’s simple fatality rate: its potential to overwhelm our health-care system, leading to many more otherwise preventable deaths from COVID-19 and other causes.
- Without question we are in for extended financial turmoil and real-world economic pain.
2. What Should We Communicate?
“Just as important for moving the horizons of possibility are what we say, how we say it, and even how we appear to others as we say these things. The way we communicate will shape the choices others make, and how they approach their own decision-making.”
“This means that all of us have a primary responsibility as leaders, as far as it depends on us, to be well-rested, soaked in prayer and contemplation, and free of personal fear and anxiety. We need to start and end each day as children of our heavenly Father, friends of Jesus, and grateful recipients of the Holy Spirit. We need to pray for genuine spiritual authority, rooted in the love that casts out fear, to guard and govern our lives as we lead, and trust that God will make up what is lacking in our own frail hearts, minds, and bodies.”
Out of this basic posture, he says, we can communicate specific messages.
The 2 most harmful messages from Christian leaders right now
- We should not say, “Everything’s going to be fine,” or even, “You’re going to be okay.”
- We should not say to fearful people, “You’re overreacting.”
The 3 most helpful messages from Christian leaders right now
- We should say, “Love is the reason we are changing our behavior.”
- We should say, “Prepare for trouble.”
- Above all we should say, “Do not be afraid.”
3. What Decisions Do We Need to Make?
[Note this update from Crouch: As of the President and federal health officials’ afternoon press conference on 16 March 2020, this advice, which was intended for leaders making decisions on or immediately after12 March 2020, is obsolete, though still helpful both for modeling how Christians might make such decisions and in helping us comply with existing restrictions (e.g., in places where gatherings of up to ten are allowed). I will not be updating it further. All leaders should obey both the requirements and the requests of public officials at every level.]
- Groups of less than ten people can meet together with minimal risk, provided that
- no one present is sick or has any reason to think they have been exposed to SARS-CoV-2,
- shared surfaces are disinfected before and after the meeting
- everyone washes their hands thoroughly (more than 20 seconds) upon arrival and upon returning to their home
- food and drink are served individually
- as much distance as possible is maintained between members of different households and their belongings.
4. What Can We Hope For?
- We have every reason to trust that this epidemic will pass.
- We can reasonably hope that the economic costs of this epidemic, though severe in the short run, will be limited in the way that past epidemics have been.
“Real Christian hope is our ultimate confidence, rooted in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, that the Creator of the world is also the Redeemer and Sustainer of the world, and will one day return to renew the entire creation. This hope is not just cosmic but personal, in the astonishing and wonderful words of the Heidelberg Catechism:
What is your only hope in life and death?
That I am not my own,
but belong with body and soul,
both in life and in death,
to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins
with his precious blood,
and has set me free
from all the power of the devil.
He also preserves me in such a way
that without the will of my heavenly Father
not a hair can fall from my head;
indeed, all things must work together
for my salvation.
Therefore, by his Holy Spirit
he also assures me
of eternal life
and makes me heartily willing and ready
from now on to live for him.
“One of the great opportunities of this crisis is the chance to relearn these words, teach them to our children and to new Christians for the first time, and live them out together.”
Penultimate hopes that should animate our leadership:
- We have an unprecedented chance to act redemptively in the midst of crisis and fear.
- We can reclaim the household as the fundamental unit of personhood, the place where we all are best known and cared for.
- We may see the revival of genuine Christian faith and discipleship, and the renewal of the church of Jesus Christ in the United States.