Social distancing. It seems like an oxymoron. If you are social, you are not “distancing”, and if you are distancing, you are not “social”. Yet, here were are in an era when a virus has birthed new concepts of connecting.
Throughout history, there have been times of plague and disease which have swept through communities. These have resulted in paranoia, fear and anxiety, as people sought to distance themselves from the disease by distancing themselves from others.
In the present time, we are social distancing and waiting for a vaccine to be developed. While we wait, church services are in a holding pattern. We are waiting for word from the control tower to tell us when we can land.
Pastors now have to consider longer-term strategies of how to minister to their congregations. Some will undoubtedly defy the “stay at home orders”. Others have a different conviction of conscience as they seek to protect the members of their congregations from what is a deadly virus for some (90,000 dead in the U.S. at the time this article is written).
In the larger picture, the virus has created a diaspora of saints from their own local churches. It bears a resemblance to the effects of persecution of the church in the first century as described in the book of Acts. When the hammer came down, the Christians fled.
Some stayed to face the local persecution, but others spread to surrounding and even distant regions. And, when they did, they also spread the Gospel; like a virus.
As communities of Christians were established in the Gentile world, the Apostles would go and visit them. But, they couldn’t follow up with Zoom meetings, so they followed up with the next best alternative; letters. And thank God for that! Those letters contributed significantly to Christian belief and practice.
For the first audiences in the diaspora, these letters were more than dry doctrinal statements. These letters proclaimed life and forgiveness in Christ in the physical absence of the preacher.
Some contain prayers. Some contain sermons. Some rebuke and correct. Some express joy. All of them ministered to the diaspora and to the new churches. They were distributed to other churches, as well. They spread like a virus.
Fast-forward to today. Facing the frustration of not being able to do physical ministry, pastors now have the task of ministering remotely. Yet, it is not “all bad”. Technology has improved connection significantly.
Some pastors are using Zoom to meet with members of their congregations in small groups. Others are calling individuals to find out how they are doing and to pray with/for them.
In fact, some pastors are doing the work of a pastor for the first time. They are getting to know individuals in their congregations on a much deeper level. And the members of the congregation are feeling connected to their pastors and to Christ in ways that are personal and powerful. The church is being strengthened.
Additionally, some members of congregations have become activated. They are reaching out to others on their own initiatives. Having seen the need and having concern for their fellow congregants, they are connecting to those who are in need of connection. They are serving as fellow workers with the pastor. If you are in a congregation which has activated members like this, it is a great encouragement.
In fact, the dormant parts of the church have been awakened. They have been looking for an opportunity to serve. Like the call of a nation at war, previously passive participants have answered and are presently serving with joy and thanksgiving.
And, through it all, they are the hands, mouths and ears of Christ to those in need. As the pastor seeks to do ministry, he/she is also encouraged by the rising of co-workers in Christ.
Deeper bonds have been formed. Churches divided by social distancing are becoming closer than ever. The lonely and despairing have compassionate ears who eagerly listen and speak Grace to them.
So, as you continue the work of ministering to the diaspora, take heart! Jesus Christ has given His life for you. He will be with you wherever you go…or don’t go. He is with you in the phone calls, Zoom meetings and pre-recorded services given in empty rooms.
As you bring Him to the members of your congregations, the diaspora, don’t be surprised if you receive Him from those who have been activated from their previously passive state. Christ has given them a call in the midst of this pandemic, too. They are fulfilling their callings as a priesthood of believers.
And dear pastor, you are fulfilling yours.
To the Glory of Christ,