In this time when church congregations have begun to, or soon will, regather together as a church family after months of not meeting inside their buildings, local churches must face the reality that many of their members who were attending regularly before the Covid-19 scare, won’t immediately return or they will attend less frequently. In that, we need to be cognizant that the reasons why some people aren’t returning might not primarily be a fear of Covid-19.
People have been deeply and painfully affected during these last several months. Not a single person has been unaffected in some way by what our nation has been enduring. There is widespread depression, doubt, discouragement, disillusion, and disengagement. Accordingly, within our congregations, the greatest need will be in ministering to our members’ spiritual, physical, and emotional needs.
Things have been different for people during these past few months. Not only different, they have been, and still are, difficult. Sadly, this time in people’s lives has swayed more towards the bitter than for the better.
Consider these conditions in America now:
Our nation’s current economy and civil state:
- The unemployment rate is the highest it’s been since the Great Depression. Over 40 million Americans have applied for unemployment following the nation’s business curtailment. With that, perhaps over 40% of those who’ve applied for unemployment will not return to the jobs they held before the shutdowns.
- A large percentage of businesses, particularly small businesses, have or will go under.
- People across the nation have been disgusted and outraged over the senseless death of George Floyd after a police officer kneeled on Mr. Floyd’s neck for over 8 mintues.
- The nation has watched recurring outbursts of civil unrest, violence, and destruction when looters, antagonists, and vandals desecrated streets and businesses.
- There are rising threats to “defund” or “dismantle” some of the nation’s police departments. This is generating fears about the spread of lawlessness in our country.
The current mental and spiritual state of individuals:
- In a recent Kaiser Family Foundation survey, almost half of Americans answered that the CoVic-19 pandemic crisis was affecting their emotional and mental wellness (i.e. depression, anxiety, fear, confusion, sluggishness, hopelessness, loneliness, etc.). And, that survey was taken before the egregious death of George Floyd!
- Over the last few months, tens of millions have developed chemical dependency on alcohol or drugs.
- The online viewing of pornography has escalated during the “stay home” instructions. This is an additive struggle for both men and women.
- Applications for divorce have risen sharply.
- Suicides and attempted suicides consequencial to the current state of our nation will likely number in the tens of thousands. Moreover, this doesn’t account for those who haven’t acted, but have had suicidal thoughts.
These dark conditions across our nation are having a direct impact on members in our local churches. So, it would be unloving and a negligent disservice if we, as a local church congregation, conduct ourselves like members of our church family are immune to the crippling hardships and demonic strongholds that are prevalent in society today. Or, if we give an impression from local church eldership that they expect these issues to simply dissipate if left alone untended.
People have been, and are, going through disheartening times; struggling with desolation, desperation, or ungodly dependencies. These aren’t distant problems. These are things affecting people we are close to—those in our community and, yes, within our very congregations!
How has this dark period affected the individual members of local congregations?
Picture a herd of sheep who have become scattered, disoriented, and wounded during a long, dark, damp, dreary storm. Through the storm, some will be malnourished or wounded. Others will have grazed on harmful foliage. Some would’ve been stalked by wild beasts. All would be adversely weakened in some aspect.
The conditions of our nation in this present time are like injuries, diseases, or predators among a herd of sheep.
Bible teachers, elders, and pastors need to be watchful over their church fold—as shepherds tending the flock. “To the elders among you . . . Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under you care, watching over them” (1 Peter 5:1-2). “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).
Yes, there are those who are specifically called to help pastor, or shepherd, a collected body of believers. However, the calling to care for one another is delegated throughout the body. As a unified body, we are to be attentive of, and tend to, needs of our fellow Christians. We need the entire body of believers using their spiritual gifts now for the strengthening of the body. “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up . . . encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:11-14).
Christian brethren, we are now in a unique time. Many within our local congregation are like sheep who have fallen into pits or wandered gravely off the trail. Many have become scattered or weakened.
Recall Jesus’ words, “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off” (Matthew 18:12-13). The point of Jesus’ message isn’t on leaving the herd of sheep that are safe and accounted for, but to have so much concern for that one missing sheep that a shepherd is compelled to go after it. For, the herd isn’t whole until all the sheep are joined together; as our local congregation isn’t whole and healthy if any member is missing or hurting.
Our entire church family suffers when one member is missing. Therefore, we ought to be so consumed with love for Christ’s sheep that it stirs us to intentionally seek out and minister to any who were, but are not now gathering with the body.
We must purposefully and passionately reach out to those who are absent and lovingly reconnect with them. In doing so, realize that some may be embarrassed by something in their life now. Thus, it is highly important that we genuinely show love, humility, compassion, nurturing, and forgiveness.
There are countless reasons why some who were regular in attendance before the CoVid-19 scare, will be slack now. Some are legitimately having to stay away because of health concerns, while others are using CoVid-19 as an excuse for not attending.
Truthfully, during the lockdown of Covid-19, a large percentage of our church family, perhaps the majority, have spent less personal time in their walk with the Lord. As a result, many of our fellow brothers and sisters have felt distant from the Lord during this time. And, that sense of being distance from the Lord is fostering itself into distancing themselves from other believers.
Spiritually weak and tired, they are desperate need of spiritual food, drink, and rest. Yet, it may take another to come alongside them to encourage them to (spiritually) eat and drink. Like a sick person who ignores their need to eat, it helps when another prepares food, places it in front of them, and reminds them of the necessary to keep up their strength.
Next, some will be reluctant to return because they’re ashamed or embarrassed by something ungodly that has infiltrated into their life. Their embarrassment may cause them to shy away from other Christians. (While that shouldn’t be, it often is.)
We need to be brothers who show genuine compassion and receptive love; as compared to acting like the older brother when his “prodigal” younger brother returned to their father’s house. The older brother was so bitter about his brother’s wayward past that he wouldn’t join in the celebration of the brother’s restoration to the family (Luke 15:28-32).
We should reach out and emphasize to fellow brethren who are stumbling (and to ourselves as well) their worth to the Lord. For, they are worth the previous blood of Jesus Christ!
“We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself, but as it is written: ‘The insults of those who insult you are fallen on me’” (Romans 15:1-3).
“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). In this verse, Paul implores us to reach out to our family to gently restore them. But he also warns us to watch ourselves. So, keep in mind, there is a possibility that some have become lured into demonic enticements or dark addictions during these months. And, in reaching out to restore them, we need spiritual discernment.
What do we do if we learn of a fellow Christian who has become ensnared under demonic strongholds or become spiritually infected with false teachings? We want these back in the collective body as soon as it is safe to do so—but we must be cautious. For, just as one sheep can become infected with a contagious disease and should to be temporarily separated from the herd; there are people, too, who can become contagions of sort. They are in need of pastoral counseling or for a spiritually mature Christian to disciple them, to tend and care for their condition. As a shepherd does for his sheep, spiritually mature Christians should treat their wounds, nurse them, and stand guard over them until they are spiritually well enough to return to the herd.
Building up, teaching, encouraging, and strengthening our fellow brothers and sisters is part of our calling to make Christ’s disciples and Christlike disciples. With that, we must always be aware of, and obedient to, our command to evangelize.
Jesus, our Lord and Savior, calls us to go into the world and “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). In these times, as we go out the doors of our building and into our communities, we must be aware that some groups of Christians have not presented themselves well before the eyes of the world during these past several months. And, this has left a poor impression on many outside the church who see “Christians” as selfish, uncaring, senseless, arrogant, or fearful.
- During this period, some proclaiming themselves as Christians have used the name of Christ to demand their personal “rights” at the expense of tarnishing the name of Christ in the eyes of the world. There have been some “conservative leaders” and pastors who have gathered in large groups in direct defiance of safety precaution instructions announced by government authorities.
- Conversely, other churches have come across as being quite fearful during this time. Yet, to live in fear goes against the command of Christ and is foreign to the Spirit of Christ who indwells us. If a community sees a local church as being a cowardice and fearful group of people, what impact will their message have on the community. For, if we portray fear, does our message of hope appear genuine?
To overcome these fallacious representations of Christians, individually and collectively in our local churches. we need to intentionally pursue being so filled with the Spirit of Christ that when people think about our church, they think about “that church” where Christ is exemplified by their love and His wondrous glory is magnified in their voices.
Throughout our nation, people are struggling spiritually, physically, and emotionally. As followers of Christ, we hold the message of the only true hope—Jesus Christ. For, He is “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). He is the Lord Almighty, “our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear” (Psalm 46:1).
In Christ springs a well of indescribable peace and unfathomable joy. The message, and the hope, that America needs now is the same that it always has. The answer and the hope for America, and each individual in particular, is: Jesus Christ.
Through whatever we face in this life, in Christ, we hold this assurance: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors, though him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present not the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).